A Mixed Bag

We arrived at our summer destination a little over two weeks ago. Those two weeks have been filled with a mixed bag of emotions, poor energy, and stress. In addition, we celebrated an anniversary.

Wedding Anniversary

Al and I met toward the tail end of 1980 … nearly 40 years ago. That’s a lot of time to spend with one person. We’ve certainly had our fair share of ups and downs but no regrets. During the month of June, we celebrated our 37th wedding anniversary.

Our special day was spent visiting the city of Duluth, Minnesota. We had some errands to run while we were in the ‘big city’. After our errands and lunch, we strolled a Lake Superior beach and talked … reminiscing and wondering where has the time gone. Northeast Minnesota – Minnesota’s Arrowhead, will always hold a special place in our hearts.

This photo of Al was taken 38 years ago. Near Gunflint Lake, MN

Al and I used to spend our summer vacations in northeast Minnesota camping and canoeing. At the time, we worked in the airline industry; he a Pilot and me a Flight Attendant. We could’ve flown anywhere in the world for either free or mere pennies, but we chose to escape civilization and immerse ourselves in Minnesota’s Northwoods. Ah, the memories!

In light of those memories, our anniversary gift to each other was a couple of Minnesota coffee mugs. We rarely set foot into a Starbucks, but when our daughter introduced us to the “been there series” of mugs, well let’s just say it was time for a Starbucks visit. These mugs make us smile every morning while enjoying our coffee.

By the way, Al spent seven years in the Navy, twenty-two years as a Commercial Airline Pilot, and twelve years as a Residential General Contractor and NEVER drank coffee. But after just two short years of living full-time in an RV with me, I was finally able to corrupt him, and for the past five years, he has been an official coffee drinker. I started drinking coffee when I was sixteen during a summer spent in Germany and it took me 35 years to bring Al to the dark side. And yes, he drinks coffee black just as I do!

Other news – RV repairs and Stress

So although we enjoyed our actual anniversary, those first two weeks in Wisconsin were very stressful and sleep-deprived. During our long drive to northern Wisconsin, we encountered some problematic issues with our RV.

Anytime the belly of the beast leaks, that’s an issue for immediate attention. Fortunately, it was not of the stinky nature, but a serious problem nonetheless.

Slicing open the belly of the RV, diagnosing the problem, AND then figuring out the fix was a stressful situation … a situation that caused many sleepless nights.

First, we wondered if this was a project we could tackle, and second if we couldn’t, would we be able to find a place to get it fixed? Oh, and we haven’t even addressed the money issue yet.

Spoiler alert – the RV is almost put back together. Al and I fixed her up and are in the testing phase to make sure there won’t be any future leaks. We’ll give her another week or so before we close up the RV belly with new material that is on order.

So while we’re almost done with this major RV project (relief), how about doing some more projects – fun projects? Insert serious eye-rolling/head shaking from husband Al. Ah, and to think he thought he’d have nothing to do all summer but fish 😁. After thirty-seven years of marriage, did he really think he could just idle away his summer? He should know better! Besides I can be rather persuasive … lots of fresh baked goods, steaming hot coffee, and logical reasoning are in his future, amongst other rewards. Stay tuned for RV Fixer Upper!


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Insane Drivers & Road Trip Cost

Insane Drivers & Road Trip Cost

I wish I could say Al and I knew exactly what we were doing when we decided to drive 1,900 miles (3,058km) in four days, but I’d be lying. That was clearly some insane amount of driving and we’ve already promised each other never to push like that again. There was, however, a method to our madness!

Even though those four days weren’t consecutive, they were still exhausting. At the end of day three, we arrived at a beautiful CORP of Engineers campground just north of Des Moines, Iowa, and ended up sitting for two days waiting out some very nasty weather. I still don’t know how we managed to get so lucky snagging such an amazing campsite without a reservation. All I can say is the travel Gods smiled upon us and this turned out to be the perfect place to rest and wait out the weather.

Prairie Flower Campground, Iowa

Our reasoning for the insane driving was the weather. Tropical Storm Cristobal was hitting the Gulf Coast and edges of the leading winds from that storm could be felt across the Midwest. We endured some challenging crosswinds while driving east through Kansas as the winds were blowing up from the south. Once we turned north in Kansas City, we enjoyed a nice tailwind and brief respite from the negative winds.

It’s very unsettling to see semi’s turned on their sides from high winds. During our trip, we saw two overturned semi’s and witnessed numerous others swaying from the wind gusts and trying to stay in their lanes. Fortunately, our RV handles rather well in the wind. However, with that said, we do our best not to test Mother Nature which is why we planned to wait out the worst of the storm at a campground in Iowa.

Our crazy schedule

We departed Phoenix, Arizona, on Saturday, June 6th, and by 5:45 in the morning, we were rolling north on Interstate 17. It was already 70 degrees Fahrenheit (21c) and would rise to over 100 degrees F (37c) in just a few short hours. Considering we had some serious elevation to climb (5,000 feet within a two-hour drive), we wanted to make that climb during the coolest part of the day. Over the years, we’ve seen one too many RVs / trucks stuck on the side of the interstate due to overheating. Plus, we know never to run the A/C as we make that climb while pulling the RV. So hitting the road early in the day at this time of year was paramount.

Travel Day 1

Phoenix, Arizona to Tucumcari, New Mexico = 615 miles / 12 hour day
Lodging/camping = Elks Lodge $20 for electric hookup (Elks members only)

Travel Day 2

Tucumcari, New Mexico to Newton, Kansas = 491 miles / 10 hour day.
Lodging/camping = Harvey County East Park $20 for electric hookup.

Harvey County East Park, Newton, Kansas (just north of Wichita)

This was a great little find. It’s about 7 miles east of Interstate 135 and north of Wichita, Kansas. Harvey County East Park appears to be an extremely popular place on weekends with anglers and boaters. We arrived around 4:00 in the afternoon on a Sunday as campers were clearing out. Check out time was 3:00, but folks didn’t appear to be in any hurry to leave. We snagged a nice long site so we wouldn’t have to disconnect, but the majority of sites appeared to be geared toward smaller RVs.

Travel Day 3

Newton, Kansas to Saylorville Lake, Iowa located just north of Des Moines and west of Interstate 35 = 398 miles / 8 hour day. Lodging/camping = Prairie Flower Campground $22 a night – half off with the National Park Senior Pass. Thus, we paid $11 a night and stayed 3 nights for a total lodging cost of $33. Our site had electric hookup only and was plenty long for us to stay connected.

Saylorville Lake, Polk City, Iowa

Our two-day break here was planned due to impending weather. Al and I are originally from the Midwest and are all too familiar with the possibilities of tornados in this part of the country. Therefore, we kept a close eye on the weather radar via my phone app. Much to our surprise, it wasn’t tornado activity we had to worry about but rather a tropical storm. Yep, remnants of a tropical storm had made its way into America’s heartland. As Tropical Storm Cristobal made its way inland, it brought sustained winds of 20-35 miles per hour with gusts much higher along with heavy rain … conditions we certainly didn’t intend to drive through. Nope, we would wait it out and return to the road during fair weather once the storm passed.

We enjoyed traveling the 2 lane roads through the Midwest. Windshield shot.

Travel Day 4

Saylorville Lake, Iowa to Al’s sister’s house located about 30 minutes outside of Hayward, Wisconsin = 390 miles / 8 hour day. We arrived in Hayward on Thursday, June 11th. Lodging/camping for the summer $0 in exchange for kitchen and bartender duty 🥧🍹 😎. Sounds like a fair trade to me especially since it’s lakefront property with a pontoon boat at our disposal 💃. We are happy campers, indeed!

How much did this road trip cost?

We drove 1,894 miles and consumed 214 gallons of diesel fuel at a total cost of $491. The most we paid for diesel was in Holbrook, AZ at $2.69 a gallon and the least was in Bethany, MO at $1.75 a gallon. Seriously, a $1.75 a gallon … how awesome was that! The average price was $2.29 a gallon.

Diesel fuel          $491
Campgrounds        73
Meals eaten out      0
Grand total         $564 for six days of travel and almost 1,900 miles

Total hours on the road = 38 hours which does include quick stops for gas. Only once did we sit at our RV dinette for lunch. The rest of the time, we ate while driving. So the breaks were short with our focus kept on outrunning the weather. In order for us to drive those long distances with an RV in tow and maintain our sanity was for Al and me to split the driving. Some days, Al drove more miles while other days I did more driving. It all depended on how rested we each felt. Safety always comes first!

Settling in!

We’ve been settled in at our summer location for a little over a week now, and are finally starting to feel recovered from the long drive. Al has been able to get in some fishing while I’ve been able to get in some photography. And although we intend to get in lots of playing this summer, there will also be a fair amount of work on the RV that we’ll need to tackle. Some projects will be a bit more serious than others. Ah, such is life!

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The Do’s and Don’ts of Photography for Beginners

The Do’s and Don’ts of Photography for Beginners

Photography offers us the chance to be an artist and to witness the world through a lens – creating art through imagery, all while witnessing something unfold right before our eyes. This is why photography is such a worthwhile pursuit that you should seriously consider taking up. However, newbie photographers (me included) may find themselves frustrated at the beginning, as there are some growing pains to endure before getting that perfect shot. Fortunately, I’ve compiled a list of do’s and don’ts to help you get better relatively quickly:

Do use what you already have

As a beginner, any camera you currently have for photography will suffice, whether that’s your phone or a point and shoot camera, and then you can work up to a DSLR or Mirrorless camera. For now, use what you already have to get a good understanding of the different camera settings and practice composing pictures until you can buy that upgraded camera. Fortunately, there are plenty of good, entry-level cameras listed by Tech Radar that you can begin with. The Nikon D3500 and the Canon EOS 90D are a good start, as both are packed with features and are reasonably priced, but there are certainly others to consider.

Don’t go crazy buying equipment

Some beginners make the mistake of going for the most expensive camera, mistakenly believing that the pricier, the better. While others, stock up on pricey equipment, thinking that all that gear will make them a great photographer. Don’t make the same mistakes. It’s important to remember, it’s not the gear that makes a great photographer. Rather than focus on stockpiling equipment (some of which you might not even need), devote your energy and budget to learning about photography by attending seminars, taking courses, reading books, and learning from others.

Do accessorize

While you don’t need to buy everything professionals have in their kit, accessorizing is still important to make the process much easier. Luckily, there are plenty of accessories to begin with, depending on your needs. In fact, the range of photography equipment on Adorama such as tripods, battery packs, and lighting equipment is a testament to just how much equipment is out there to help make the job easier. Whether you’re looking for your camera to last longer by purchasing additional battery packs, or looking to get a steady shot using a tripod, there’s bound to be an accessory to assist you. For beginners, you should start with a lens cleaning kit, a couple of new lenses, spare batteries, a bag to keep your gear organized, and a basic tripod.

Don’t settle for Auto

Photo Pro Magazine state that it can be hard to steer clear of the automatic settings, as it makes capturing photos easy and convenient. However, you should break that habit if you want to become a better photographer as there is a lot to explore beyond the typical settings. At the end of the day, the more you explore your camera’s settings, the better you’ll be at photography and shooting in different scenarios. Not to mention, you may have already invested in a DSLR/Mirrorless, so make the most out of it by testing out new things.

Do Practice

You get better by taking photos of different subjects in diverse scenarios using a multitude of settings. As you practice, keep in mind some guidelines, like the rule of thirds, where you divide a frame into a 3×3 grid and place your subject on any of the four intersections. It’s a purposeful misdirection, as it goes against the eyes’ natural inclination to look directly at something. Nevertheless, it creates a dynamic balance and compels the viewer to look at the entirety of the image. Now, as you practice, it’s important to keep those creative juices flowing, and my ’10 Tips for Finding Inspiration’ post will hopefully help inspire you.

Even walking around with your camera on you at all times will help you to flex those creative muscles.

Don’t check too much

Photography pro, Caio Guatelli, notes in ’17 Essential Photography Tips for Beginners’ that checking your resulting shot is counterintuitive for two reasons. First, the camera’s screen doesn’t always show the tonal details and will cause you to adjust your settings immediately even when it’s unnecessary. Second, said habit can result in you missing a better moment, as your eyes are needlessly glued to your camera’s LCD.

Do you have any tips or recommendations for those new to photography?

Happy Shooting!

On The Road Again!

On The Road Again!

Willie Nelson is currently on replay.

On the road again
I just can’t wait to get on the road again
The life I love is makin’ music with my friends
And I can’t wait to get on the road again

As I type this post, I’m currently sitting in Tucumcari, New Mexico. Yesterday (Saturday) was a very long day on the road. We left Phoenix, Arizona at 5:45 in the morning and arrived in Tucumcari about 12 hours later … 615 miles (990 km). Whew! That was a very long day.

Fortunately, Al and I took several breaks and switched drivers a few times. What also helped was my focus on fueling us properly. Al thinks about the truck and I think about our bodies. The day before departure, I did some serious meal prep knowing we intended to put in some long driving days.

Yesterday, we started off our day with a rare treat … while driving, we had our coffee accompanied by coffee cake. Ok, a sugary breakfast is not necessarily the best fuel, but it’s always a fun (and rare) splurge to start our travels in a festive mood.

Lunch consisted of Turkey club sandwiches on fresh sourdough bread with a side of crisp red grapes. For dinner, we enjoyed salmon patties (that I had prepped the day before) accompanied by homemade potato salad (also made the day before) – dinner prepared and eaten while parked at a rest area. One of the things that was super important to me when we purchased our RV was the functionality of it while the slides are pulled in. I was able to fry the patties and serve dinner and dine at our dinette all while the slides were left in.

Oh, and did I mention the homemade brownies we had for dessert? Yeah, I’d say I fueled us up just fine for the 12 hour travel day. And then the day ended with one of my famous margaritas and a good night’s sleep.

I love RV travel. Because we were able to enjoy meals at our own table, meals I had made, and use our own restroom whenever the urge struck, it enabled us to arrive at our destination with energy to spare … not much energy, but we weren’t exhausted. Staying hydrated, being well-fed, and making regular stops allowed us to crank out some serious mileage.

Today, we plan on putting in another long day of driving, but not as long as yesterday. We’ll be on two-lane roads most of the day today (Sunday) as we angle up toward Kansas City from New Mexico into corners of Oklahoma and Texas and then into the state of Kansas. Unfortunately, we expect to encounter more wind today. Yeah, yesterday as we headed in an easterly direction, we encountered winds from the south ranging from 15-25 mph. Fun times trying to stay in our lane along with the semis swaying from the gusts.

Time to hit the road. I’ll catch ya later!


A Broken Tooth and Derailed Plans

It’s 110 (bleeping) degrees Fahrenheit outside today without a cloud in the sky. It’s hot! Who would’ve thought Al and I would still be sitting in Phoenix, Arizona during the first week in June? Certainly not I. Thank goodness we have a flexible mindset and were able to readjust our plans after this most recent delay.

But it’s fricken hot 🥵 No sugar coating it by saying it’s a dry heat. Even an oven is a dry heat. Oh well, this ain’t our first rodeo experiencing extreme desert heat. We lived in Las Vegas, Nevada in the nineties. You learn to adjust.

a flowering saguaro cactus with a mountain backdrop

Our initial plan was to depart Phoenix in mid-May and point the RV toward Wisconsin, but a few things happened that derailed those plans. First and foremost is that nasty virus that shut the country down … shut the world down. We wanted to wait for some level of normalcy to return (even just a glimmer) before we hit the road.

In reality, we didn’t mind changing our departure date until after Memorial Day Weekend because one of Al’s sister’s recently (April) moved to Phoenix. We were enjoying visits with her and her husband and assisting any way we could as they settled into their new home. So a couple of extra weeks in the valley spent with family would actually be fun.

a bird with a quizzical look on a saguaro cactus

Extending our stay turned out to be a good thing, a very good thing, as I encountered a potential little hiccup in my health. A couple of medical tests later followed by a teleconference with my doctor and we were once again good to go and set a new departure date. (I’m fine BTW)

The truck was ready. The RV was ready. Al and I were ready, and after one final gathering with the family to say our goodbyes, we’d be hitting the road a couple of days later, or so we thought. The day prior to rolling, Al lost a crown while eating a relatively light lunch. No peanut brittle involved. Well, he didn’t exactly lose it, it ended up in his hand instead of being securely attached to the tooth in his mouth.

Poor Al! However, after three uncomfortable hours in the dental chair enduring some major work, he’s doing great and currently waiting on the permanent crown to be ready for installation. Turns out, that old crown and root canal were most likely older than the dentist. Now that’ll make ya feel old! 😆 So obviously, that tooth was something that needed to be taken care of before traveling and we’re glad we were still in the valley when the crown fell out.

saguaro cactus flower

As soon as Al gets his new crown installed, my crowned king and I will be hitting the road. Fingers crossed 🤞 we won’t encounter any more faux pas. We’ve already encountered one too many for my taste!

Happy trails!

Remembering Mom

Remembering Mom

Staring at the pink diamond earrings laying in the palm of my hand seemed to open a flood gate of memories. I remember the day as if it were yesterday when I became the proud owner of these pretty little gems.

I was seven years old and our family of five had taken a trip to Germany. My parents hadn’t been back to their homeland in several years and this was a trip to help alleviate mom’s homesickness and/or to see if they wanted to move back to Germany.

As children, we were oblivious to any ulterior motives our parents may have had and simply embraced the adventure of travel.

I thought the gems were pink tourmaline, but when I had the level clasps replaced, the jeweler said they were rare pink diamonds.

Part of that adventure for me personally was getting my ears pierced. Back in the ’60s, it was rare to see little girls with their ears pierced in America but rather common in Germany.

Being a girly-girl (no Tomboy here), I was already into fashion, dresses, and jewelry at a young age and when I noticed young girls sporting beautiful dangly earrings, I wanted in … I wanted pierced ears and hanging earrings.

Ah, my poor mother! Off we headed to the local jewelry store to pick out a pair of earrings. I was given a few choices, but immediately knew which pair I wanted.

Easy peasy, so far! I sat in a tall chair while the jeweler, an old intimidating type of man, marked my earlobes with a pen for mom’s approval. Mom held my hand while the jeweler held a strange device up to my ear. A second later a hole was punched in my earlobe. It hurt much more than I was told it would, and then it began bleeding. Blood started running down my neck and I burst out hysterically crying.

It took what seemed like an hour before I calmed down. Everyone kept trying to convince me to have the other ear pierced. Yep, dad, big brother, and three-year-old little sister were all there dealing with my antics. My mother was exhausted, exasperated, and out of patience, and clearly, the jeweler couldn’t wait for us to leave. Mom had had enough of my drama and with a firm stern voice, she ordered me to get back up on that chair, stop crying, and sit still and then ordered the jeweler, “Do it, NOW”.

Five minutes later, I was skipping down the sidewalk tilting my head from side to side to feel the hanging earrings swing. I loved those earrings (and still do) and wore them every day for years. Today I retrieved them from my jewelry case and am proudly wearing them. Somehow, it makes mom feel just a little closer.

“For everything I am today, my mother’s love showed me the way”

Happy Mother’s Day

It has been several years since my mom’s passing and not a day goes by that I don’t miss her. But I feel blessed that she lived 83 years providing my children with lovely memories of their Oma. Our family is truly fortunate to have had such an amazing woman in our lives.

I can only hope that my own children think of me and my mothering skills with equal fondness.

Wishing you all a wonderful day.

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Encounter with a Game Warden

Encounter with a Game Warden

The RVers were quarantined in their snug little homes, while visions of travel danced in their heads …

“Okay Ingrid, snap out of it”. I do believe the soaring 100 degree plus Fahrenheit temps in Phoenix, Arizona, have caused something to dance in my head, or is it the increase in consumption of brownies and alcohol? 🤫 Staying housebound in a tiny home, aka RV, during the Phoenix hot season is obviously not an ideal scenario.

Weather is temperamental

April is always an interesting month for the weather. The changing of seasons is rarely gradual. When we lived in Colorado, April always found winter making at least one final appearance by dumping a boatload of snow just when we were ready to welcome spring. It’s as if winter is talking to spring and saying, “Ah ah, not so fast”.

But it’s a dry heat! 🤪

It’s somewhat similar here in the desert southwest, but instead of cold, it’s heat. Sometime in April, the weather warns us of the impending summer heat by sending us those soaring hot temps. We’ll get a reprieve (hopefully) before real summer sets in. Last year, we enjoyed lovely weather in May, but so far this first week in May is not looking promising for any kind of break from the soaring temps. It’ll be interesting to see how the rest of the year plays out. Let’s face it, so far 2020 isn’t playing nice. So I don’t have high expectations for anything these days.

With that said, it’s that time of year in the desert southwest when those that can do and those that can’t suffer.

I’m talking about hitting the road and escaping the desert heat. Fortunately, we fall into the lucky category where we get to leave Phoenix for the entire summer.

Others will try and get a reprieve on weekends by traveling either up to northern Arizona or to the White Mountains in eastern Arizona where temperatures can easily drop by at least 20 degrees.

Our plan is to endure the Phoenix weather until the end of May and then hightail it up to northern Wisconsin to stay on Al’s sister’s property. We stayed there last year but took a little over three weeks to drive the 1,900 miles. This time around, Al has fishing on the brain and just wants to get there asap, plus with this whole pandemic thing, it’s probably best not to meander. Beam me up, Scotty!

I don’t think anyone could’ve envisioned something like a pandemic shutting down the country and impacting our freedom to travel, but I think it’ll be okay for us to drive to Al’s sister’s place by the end of May. However, we will be cautious on our drive there and reconsider doing any further excursions this summer once settled on private property. I had a list of places in Michigan’s Upper Pennisula that I wanted to visit, not to mention returning to the north shore of Lake Superior. Time will tell how it’ll all play out this summer!

Guest post

For those of us living a nomadic lifestyle, we’ve had to rethink our travel plans and some nomads have needed to do some serious scrambling just to find suitable accommodations to abide by the ‘stay at home / shelter in place’ orders. Sue and Dave over at Travel Tales of Life have recently written a series of blog posts showcasing folks from around the world and how the pandemic has impacted their lives personally. I was honored to be asked to be a guest writer. You can check out their blog here.

Back to visions dancing in my head

So with visions of Wisconsin dancing in my head, I thought I’d share a lake tale with you …

Reflections in a lake in northern Wisconsin, boat at a dock on a lake

Ingrid and the Game Warden

It was a beautiful summer day in northern Wisconsin. Al had spent the better part of the morning on the boat fishing. After several hours of fishing, he returned home to take a nap.

Considering it was such a lovely day and the lake looked so inviting, while Al napped, I decided to take the boat out. I motored out a short distance to a quiet bay, dropped the anchor, and began reading my book. “Ah, this is the life!”

While turning a page, I glanced up at the approaching boat which appeared to be a Game Warden. He pulls up alongside my boat and says, “Good morning, Ma’am, what are you doing”?

“Reading a book”, I replied, (thinking to myself, “isn’t that obvious”?)
The Game Warden informs me, “You’re in a Restricted Fishing Area”.

In a very polite voice, I responded, “I’m sorry officer, but I’m not fishing, I’m reading”.
“Yes, but you have all the equipment. So, I’ll have to write you up a ticket”.

“For reading a book?”, I asked quizzically.
“You’re in a Restricted Fishing Area, Ma’am”, he says rather matter of factly.

Somewhat exasperated, I stated once again, “Sir, I’m not fishing, I’m reading”.
“Yes, but you have all the equipment. For all I know you could start at any moment. I’ll have to write you up a ticket and you’ll have to pay a fine.”

“If you do that, I’ll have to charge you with sexual assault,” I responded.
“But I haven’t even touched you”, explained the Game Warden.
“That’s true, but you have all the equipment. For all I know you could start at any moment”.

“Have a nice day ma’am”, he responded and quickly motored away.

campfire
Tales around a campfire!

So maybe this didn’t actually happen in real life, but it could’ve.🤣

MORAL: Never argue with a woman who reads. It’s likely she can also think.

I hope you enjoyed a little chuckle and you all are having a great day and staying healthy. And although we may have to rethink our travels and possibly make new plans for the summer, we’ll get through this challenging time and may even discover new hobbies in the process. Cyber hugs!

a canoe on a lake at sunset

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Freedom and Independence Halted

Freedom and Independence Halted

A nomadic lifestyle may seem like a dream and for many, it is especially in the beginning, but there are some disadvantages to the nomadic life that become evident over time and more so now than ever before. Al and I have been living in our RV full-time for the past seven years, and we have a pretty good handle on the slew of emotions, good and bad, that come with living a nomadic life.

The life of an RV nomad is usually filled with a mixture of thoughts and emotions that will ebb and flow from day to day … excitement, dreamy, adventurous, rewarding … along with challenging, uncertainty, and fear. Let’s add in a worldwide pandemic and those challenges, uncertainties, and fear are taken to a whole new level.

a sidewalk meandering through a desert landscape. Social distancing.
No problem social distancing when I take my morning walks.

Shelter in Place – Stay at Home – Social Distance

Those are new phrases that many of us have never used or used on any sort of regular basis prior to March of 2020. These days, stay at home, shelter in place or social distancing are phrases we hear routinely on a daily basis. We’re living in a new reality that has brought to light a major disadvantage for those living a nomadic life.

We’ve seen our favorite nomad YouTuber’s stuck in foreign countries or scrambling to get back home … wherever they consider home. We’ve seen our fellow RV nomads posting on Facebook and RV forums asking for help in finding a spot to shelter in place. Across the United States, campgrounds and public lands are closing left and right and in the process canceling reservations that full-time RVers were counting on as a place to live. RVers are told to return home. The problem for a full-time RVer is they have no physical home to return to. Home is where we park it. So, where are these full-time nomads expected to shelter-in-place?

a bee on a purple wildflower

Fear and uncertainty

When local governments started ordering non-essential businesses to close, that included campgrounds – public and private. Apparently, no one took into consideration the million or so Americans that live in their RVs full-time.

With the help of several RV organizations, a few state governments were flooded with pleas, and fortunately, we’ve seen either a rule reversal or a little leniency regarding the essential need for private RV Parks to remain open.

home is where your honey isThe situation varies from state to state and here in Arizona, the rules aren’t as strict or cut and dry as in other states.

Sure the Grand Canyon is currently closed to all visitors, but private RV Parks throughout Arizona are open and left to make their own judgment call in regards to accepting new guests.

Also, most BLM  (government-owned) land in Arizona is still available as a place for RVers to hunker down.

Considering Arizona is such an RV friendly state with a huge population of full-time RVers living here half the year, I believe our local government is well aware of these facts and realize cutting off RV access would not solve anything but rather cause a whole new problem.

In addition, many of these private RV Parks in Arizona and Florida have year-round residents. Some of these folks live in Park Models while others in an RV. Asking folks to leave an RV Resort would be tantamount to asking anyone in a traditional subdivision that they’d have to move out of their house.

So, since Al and I rent an annual lot, we weren’t in any jeopardy of not having a place to shelter or ‘stay at home‘, and we’ll stay home in Phoenix until we’re told it’s safe to travel again. But many of our RV friends aren’t as lucky and are scrambling to find a solution. No one wants to be the cause of spreading this virus any more than it already has and most full-time RVers aren’t traveling unless forced to by circumstances.

We’ve seen the good in people when complete strangers offer up shelter to those in need. Whether it’s a room in a house or a driveway or piece of land to park the RV, these stories are heartwarming. We’ve also seen the not so good from rude individuals posting nasty comments on social media (biz as usual for some, I guess). But overall, good seems to prevail during this time of crisis.

Freedom and Independence

Pinterest pin, lone tree in grassy meadow, inspirationMost of us choose the RV lifestyle to immerse ourselves in a sense of freedom and independence. We long to discover the country’s deepest secrets and hidden gems. We strive to capture the perfect landscape photo and/or Instagram selfie (guilty of both). After all, it’s the stuff dreams are made of … trading in the traditional nine-to-five routine for a freewheeling, wind in your hair kind of carefree lifestyle – a lifestyle of freedom.

Freedom: the absence of constraint in choice or action. The state of being free, independent, without restrictions.

For RVers, freedom usually means having the ability to go wherever whenever one chooses. We live independently on our terms. We’re adventurers, explorers, and out of the box thinkers.

But what happens when we’re told we can no longer move freely about? What does our life begin to look like? We’re not the kind of people to linger in one spot long enough for the grass to grow under our feet, but we’re living in uncertain times and unchartered waters and the wheels need to stop rolling. Some RVers have found a place to ride this unconventional storm out while others are still struggling and wondering where they can park for the foreseeable future. We’re all in this together and trying to find a new normal.

First weeks of ‘social distancing’ followed by a ‘stay at home’ order

What is normal during a pandemic? I spent the better part of March binge-watching stuff on my computer accompanied by feelings of denial, surreal, and WTF. Now in my defense, I’ll remind everyone that I was extremely ill during the month of February and it took most of March for me to regain my energy. Hey, when I get sick, I get sick, no mild stuff for this gal…. sigh! With that said, I still have an occasional cough that freaks people out every now and then. (always uses arm to cover mouth 😷)

cactus blossom

Yep, it’s just an annoying cough. I’ve been to the doctor, had a CT scan, followed up with other medical stuff and I’m perfectly fine … finer than frog’s hair. Ever since I had Valley Fever a few years ago, I’m more susceptible to coughing than the typical person.

And now that I’ve flipped the calendar to April, I feel renewed, one might even say normal, whatever that is these days. Yeah, the world is still turned upside down, but my energy has returned and instead of being a blob on the couch, I’m once again a productive human being, well kind of. I’ve managed to stock up on way too many groceries, filling every nook and cranny in the RV. I have enough toilet paper, paper towels and kleenex to last us for the next six months. (I am sharing and not hoarding, just so y’all know)

I’ve been having fun in the kitchen playing around with new recipes and getting in some much-needed exercise so I don’t pack on the pounds with my tasty experiments. Life is slow and relaxing at the moment. Life has its stressful moments, but I have confidence that we’ll get through this.

I’m not sure how different life will look on the other side. I do have concerns, especially for the rising unemployment. Al and I know what’s it’s like to have bills, a mortgage, and a couple of small children and lose our income unexpectedly. That’s not a situation I’d wish on my worst enemy, and yet, millions of people around the globe are experiencing this unfortunate dilemma. Tourism in Arizona has been especially hit hard and many of our acquaintances are out of work … temporarily, I hope. My heart aches for these folks!

Arizona Biltmore Resort, Scottsdale, Arizona
Arizona Biltmore Resort, Scottsdale, AZ – temporarily closed

Every time I visit the grocery store, Walmart, or the RV dealer for parts (time to tend to those RV repairs), I thank the folks for working and make sure I stand as far away from them as possible. I keep those outings few and far between with hopes we can stop this virus from lingering or spreading any further.

Hitch itch and that desire to get those wheels rolling onto some new scenery are starting to settle in for many of us. I’m in dire need of a new landscape to photograph, but until we can hit the road, I’ll focus on cooking, taking advantage of this slow pace of life, and doing my part binge-watching something.

Stay safe and healthy, my friends. Remember,
alcohol kills germs.😀

survival supply store. liquor store. Total Wine and more
I visit the survival supply store and stock up!

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Margarita & Slush Machine, Makes 1 Gallon of Drinks
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Why We Love Phoenix

Why We Love Phoenix

I love the diversity of our RV lifestyle. We’re able to live in a major city one day and move out into nature the next. And when we come across a city such as Phoenix that offers both environments in relatively close proximity, I say this is an RVers dream … jackpot!

“May you live in interesting times.”

BUT … Life is anything but normal these days and I’d be remiss if I jumped right into the content of this post without mentioning a couple of things.

March is usually the busiest and best month to visit Phoenix, Arizona. Wildflowers are in abundance adding vibrant color to our desert landscape, not to mention the beautiful blue skies and near-perfect temperatures that are enjoyed by all. But not his year! Not only has the weather been schizophrenic leaving us wondering what has happened to our wonderful March weather, but the coronavirus has turned the tourism and stock markets into a volatile frenzy.

bee on purple lupine wildflower

Walmart empty isle, no toilet paper at Walmart
Walmart – Where’s the toilet paper?

The Phoenix valley’s robust tourism industry has been severely impacted by potential visitors canceling reservations left and right. Resorts that are normally booked solid and charging premium rates are now half empty and offering discounts. Baseball spring training has also been canceled and all the stores are out of toilet paper. Out of toilet paper! Really?

Ah, but let’s all revel in the fact that this too shall pass and life will return to normal eventually … soon, I hope. For now, I’ll immerse myself in summer trip planning and images of wildflowers. The wildflowers are a given, but our summer travels could be in question if current conditions were to continue.

I’m sure we can all agree that there’s currently too much uncertainty right now that might affect our travels. However, I’m optimistic and think in another month things will turn around, and therefore, our summer travels will continue as planned.

So, let’s get back to talking fun stuff!

An RV friendly city in Arizona

There are so many things to see and do in a big city; museums, restaurants, stores, sporting events, other events, and the list goes on, but the solitude and beauty of nature are always a strong pull for me. What if we can enjoy both?

It’s a rare treat to find an RV friendly city, and when we do, we like to plan a lengthy stay allowing us plenty of time to immerse ourselves in everything big city life has to offer. Since our children live in Phoenix, Arizona and Phoenix is RV friendly, this city has become our winter home.

Golden yellow poppies with a bee flying

The Phoenix valley is not only super popular with RVers but equally popular with all kinds of other visitors; snowbirds, vacationers, convention traffic, seminars, etc. Peak tourist season is January, February, and March … March is the busiest due to Spring Break, excellent weather, and baseball spring training (Cactus League).

The lodging options throughout the Phoenix valley are abundant and diverse. For those of us with RVs, we can find everything from scenic campgrounds to full-on RV Resorts complete with resort-style pools, pickleball courts, and golf courses. For non-RVers, there’s everything from inexpensive hotels, to vacation rentals, to mega-resorts, and everything in between.

An RV camped at Lost Dutchman State Park with the Superstition mountains in the background
Al and I camped at Lost Dutchman State Park located on the far east side of the Phoenix valley in the town of Apache Junction.

If you plan on visiting the Phoenix area and are looking for an RV spot for less than a 2-week stay, I would highly recommend Lost Dutchman State Park. It’s one of our favorite campgrounds. We love the views, hiking trails, and location. Lost Dutchman State Park offers a feeling of being in the backcountry, and yet, shopping and restaurants in nearby Apache Junction are less than a 15-minute drive away … the best of both worlds.

Coming in second to Lost Dutchman State Park would be one of the campgrounds in the Maricopa County Parks and Recreation system. Our personal preference is either Cave Creek Regional Park or Lake Pleasant Regional Park. Our friends prefer McDowell Mountain or Usery Mountain. McDowell Mountain Regional Park is well known for its biking trails while Lake Pleasant is known for its water recreation. There’s definitely a little something for everyone around here.

And of course, there are plenty of private RV parks throughout the valley. So many, that I couldn’t possibly list them all. Most are 55+ communities but there are a few that aren’t age-restricted.

I can't adult today

Valley Talk … The term “Phoenix valley” refers to the actual city of Phoenix as well as her dozen-plus surrounding suburbs. It makes communication easier. You might hear folks comment, “That’s in the east valley (meaning Scottsdale, Mesa, etc.) or that’s in the west valley (meaning Glendale, Goodyear, etc.). Then there’s the north valley near the town of Anthem where I am currently parked. Most people in the U.S. know where Phoenix, Arizona is located, but not everyone has heard of Mesa, Glendale, or Anthem. Therefore, by using the term ‘Phoenix valley’, people have an easy grasp of where in Arizona one is talking about.

Things we like to do in the Phoenix valley …

There’s a never-ending schedule of art shows, craft shows, sporting events, or other events to attend throughout the year in the Phoenix valley. I always discover some unique event worth checking out. Although hiking and photography top my list of favorite activities, there are so many other great recreational and educational opportunities to explore. Yes, RVing in a major city definitely has its pluses.

Scottsdale farmers market
The Farmers Market in Old Town Scottsdale is a great way to start a Saturday morning. I’ll admit, it usually feels a little strange attending a Farmers Market in the middle of winter, but keep in mind, you won’t find a Farmers Market around here during the summer months when temps sore into the 100 degree plus Fahrenheit range. It takes most northerners a little time to wrap their heads around a Farmers Market in the middle of winter, me included.

Corporate conventions and various educational seminars are held throughout the year in Phoenix or Scottsdale. I always keep an eye out for these special events for us to attend. One of our favorites is attending educational TD Ameritrade seminars. We’ve even had the pleasure of meeting Joe ‘JJ’ Kinahan. If you’re a trader or CNBC watcher, then shaking hands with a “celebrity” like JJ might be a real treat like it was for me. We’ve also had the opportunity to meet some of the various traders/instructors from the Think or Swim trading platform. They are always a wealth of knowledge and inspiration.

Desert Botanical Garden butterfly display
My daughter taking a selfie with a Monarch butterfly at the Desert Botanical Garden
Chili and Chocolate Fest
We enjoyed a cooking demonstration while attending the Chili and Chocolate Festival at the Botanical Garden.
western history
Lots of western history just begging to be explored.

Family and friends Spending time with family is our favorite pastime while visiting Phoenix

Let’s get social

Because Phoenix is such a popular travel destination for RVers and non-RVers alike, we never know who we might bump into. It’s always a pleasure connecting with my social media friends in person. Every winter, we enjoy numerous get-togethers with blog readers, blog writers, or folks from other social media platforms. Over the years, we’ve developed some amazing friendships via social media. Phoenix is the perfect city to physically connect with like-minded people.

Golden yellow poppies with a bee flying

Nature around Phoenix

Although I enjoy most aspects of big city living, I have a need to be close to nature and wildlife. Fortunately, with plenty of parks and open space located throughout Maricopa County, I’m still able to get my nature fix while living in a big city.

There’s some amazing scenery in this part of Arizona. Just outside of the city, in the east valley is one of my favorite scenic drives. Driving the Apache Trail makes for a perfect day trip, but before embarking on this drive, do your homework. The stretch of road between the town of Tortilla Flat and Lake Roosevelt is a gravel road and can be pretty rough in spots. A high clearance vehicle is usually recommended. Always check with the local ranger station for up to date conditions regarding Route 88/Apache Trail.

Have you ever visited Phoenix, Arizona? What’s your favorite city to visit?
And please stay healthy and safe out there!

Golden brittle-bush in the foreground Pinnacle Peak in Scottsdale AZ in the background

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How to Take Great Photos with any Camera

How to Take Great Photos with any Camera

Photography has surged in popularity in the past decade with the emergence of social media and smartphones. Even though we’re all taking more photographs, many of us assume we’re limited in our talents due to our equipment. I’m here to say it’s not about the equipment, and you can create great, even amazing, photographs with any camera.

three sandhill cranes in a fieldI’ve had an interest in photography as long as I can remember, but my true passion didn’t emerge until we hit the road full-time in our RV several years ago.

After wearing out a couple of point and shoot cameras, I upgraded to a Bridge camera. I still suffer from camera envy and may one day switch to a Mirrorless Camera, but for now, my Lumix(s) fits my needs … certainly not professional-grade cameras by any means.

We’ve slowed down our travels somewhat and now spend our winters settled in an RV Park in Phoenix, Arizona. I enjoy this RV community and the friendships that have developed.

Although I don’t engage in many activities at the RV Park, I do co-host a photography group … a group of like-minded RVers who share a passion for photography. Not only have I learned a few things, but I’ve also been able to teach and share a few tidbits of my own photography knowledge.

I still consider myself a novice photographer, or rather more of a photo snapper and try to improve my skills with every click of the camera.

Being involved in the RV Park Photo Group has served as a great learning experience for everyone involved. Our group consists of every level of shooter along with every level of camera. Yes, we are indeed a diverse group of photo enthusiasts.

close up of a young deer

Here are a few tips that our RV Park Photo Group discussed on how to create more professional-looking images with any camera.

15 Beginner Tips – How to take better looking photographs

1. Learn your camera inside and out. This might mean diving into that owner’s manual and actually reading it. If you don’t have a manual, no worries, a Google search will come to the rescue. And don’t forget YouTube tutorials. It really is necessary to know how all the settings work and what they mean.  Even if you won’t use all the features, it’s important that you’re comfortable navigating the camera’s menu and settings with ease, especially in the field.

Always half-press the camera’s shutter button before taking the shot. On an iPhone, simply tap the screen for your desired focal-point (a little yellow box appears around the item when you do). Once you know where your camera is focused, you can decide if this is where you want the focal point to be in the image, and if not, start over.

One of the best things I did when I first bought my iPhone 8+ last year was to attend some free seminars at the local Apple store. Needless to say, there were a few ah-ha moments by many of the attendees … me included.

a shadow of a cross reflected on a church

2. Shoot regularly. The best way to improve your photography and get comfortable with your camera is to shoot often. Considering digital photography is free, there’s no reason not to spend hours behind your camera clicking away. Learn to love the delete button but always delete in your computer (unless you’ve taken a complete dud, like your lap or something 😆).  You’ll be surprised by how an image might appear on your LED screen versus your computer screen. Sometimes it looks better in the camera and sometimes an image looks better on the computer. So give the photo a chance and review it on your computer screen before deleting it.

Experiment with different subjects, different camera settings, and different light. Over time you’ll develop a style and voice that will be authentic to you.

bee on a pink flower
Taken handheld with a bridge camera – Panasonic Lumix FZ200

3. Stabilize your camera to achieve sharp photos. Obviously, the best way to stabilize a camera is by using a tripod, but that’s not always convenient, especially if you’re lazy like me and leave the tripod at home. So, the next best thing to do is to use a wall, fence post, or another stable surface to minimize camera shake. Learn to hold your camera correctly and pay attention to your breathing when pressing the shutter. And be sure to have stabilization turned on when handholding and turned off when using a tripod.

4. Use the Camera’s “scene” modes. Cameras and phones are smarter than ever before. Therefore, take advantage of the camera’s preset scene modes. The various modes optimize your camera’s settings and do the thinking for us. Depending on your camera various modes may include; landscape, food, action, portrait, night, and more. I love using these settings, but I always shoot the same image in P (program) mode or A (aperture priority). Remember, taking digital images is free. So shoot away and shoot the same subject using different settings.

On my iPhone 8+, I use the portrait mode to capture food or flowers and create great Bokeh (blurred background).

pinkish red roses in bloom
Taken with iPhone 8+ on Portrait mode

5. See the light. Before clicking that shutter, observe and assess the light. The first step to creating better photographs is understanding light. Think about how the light interacts with the scene and subject. Is the light highlighting an area or casting unique shadows? Light plays a vital role in the mood and interest of a photograph and is the most important element in creating a great photograph.

birds in a dead tree with a setting sun and orange sky
Photography is all about the light … and a little luck!

Composition guidelines for newbies

6. Rule of Thirds. This is one of the most common tips when it comes to improving your photographs. It’s an easy technique and will aid in making an image more interesting. Think about cutting the frame into thirds by using both horizontal and vertical lines. Then place your point of interest over the cross-sections of the grid.

I have the gridlines always turned “on” on both my camera and my iPhone. By doing so, it aids in composing my image and keeping my camera level. Actually, when I attended a seminar at the Apple Store, the first thing they recommended was to turn on the gridlines on the phone.

a hiker and wildflowers at Pinnacle Peak Park in Scottsdale, AZ
The trail serves as a leading line while the wildflowers create an interesting foreground. The rule of thirds definitely applies in this image and the single hiker is an odd number of subjects creating balance.

7. Leading Lines. This is probably my favorite form of composition. I’m always looking for leading lines to photograph. This type of composition draws the eye into the image.

8. Interesting foreground. Adding an interesting foreground object will give depth to a photograph, especially in landscape photography.

9. Patterns are a repetition of objects, shapes, or colors. Patterns are everywhere if we once train our eyes to notice them.

texture in photographs
Look for patterns in nature.

10. Negative space. When shooting people, animals, or birds, always leave a little extra room in the image toward the direction the subject is looking. This creates interest and mystery. The viewer may wonder what the subject is looking at.

11. Rule of odds. While composing an image, try to include an odd number of elements in the frame. This is a common practice in interior design. With an odd number of subjects, the image becomes more balanced.

12. Include a frame. A natural frame around the main subject will add depth to the image by drawing the viewer’s attention into the photo. Think about a window or tree framing a subject.

a tunnel frames the winding road
The tunnel serves as a frame around the winding road.

13. Move your feet. Learn to shoot from different angles and varying heights. Moving your body closer to or further away from your subject can often create a more dramatic shot. Walk around looking for a unique perspective. Don’t rely on a zoom lens … move your feet and body and explore the subject’s surroundings.

flowers in front of an official building in Denver
Photograph your subject from a different angle.

Final thoughts for beginner photographers

14. Get good at processing. Every image needs some amount of processing, some images more than others. Embrace the process, learn the software, be creative and comfortable with whatever program you use. I’m a huge fan of Photoshop Lightroom while others prefer Photoshop Elements (similar to Photoshop, but geared toward beginners). These days, there are a number of photographic editing platforms to choose from. Some are free and some subscription-based. Find something that works for you and get good at it.

15. Slow down and don’t rush the process. Take the time to think about what is going on in your viewfinder before pressing the shutter. Think about the composition and what you’re trying to capture. Understand the creative process and make intentional decisions. Learn to tell a story with your photos. See the light, the lines, the moments, the little things, BUT be willing to put the camera down awhile and truly experience your surroundings and then photograph whatever makes you happy.

Happy Clicking!

Gambels Quail
Taken with a point and shoot camera

(This post contains affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. Thank you for your support ❤)

How to Create Stunning Digital Photography
Extraordinary Everyday Photography: Awaken Your Vision
Funny Photography T-Shirt – Aperture F-Stops

Pinterest pin how to take better photos with any camera