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Archive for the ‘Personal Blog’ Category

I hated beer.  Maybe it was because my first taste was at a family gathering when I was eight and included a cigarette butt discarded into the bottle. Maybe it was because hops didn’t make anything taste good. Or maybe I didn’t drink to get drunk, so I was more discerning as a drinker, once I started to imbibe, than my wilder cohorts.

I didn’t have my first drink of alcohol until I was 35.  That was purposeful because I came from an extended family of heavy drinkers and didn’t like what that did to them.  Also, I wasn’t entirely sure I wouldn’t become an alcoholic with my first drink.  When I finally decided to join mainstream society, not only did that turn out to be untrue, I found I had quite a tolerance for it.  Out of all the shots I tried over the next several months, only tequila stood out as a favorite.  Trouble is, blood alcohol levels rise quickly with such tequila, so I had to space them out over a long evening.  I hated beer and wine, and also sweet drinks, so that left only iced tea and water all night, in between shots.

I lived in the midst of Washington’s wine country at the time, not far from the Yakima Valley Wine Region, so I had a unique opportunity to try a drink I could actually sip all evening.  Surely with all the varieties, I surmised, I could find one I could learn to like. 

I started my quest and followed the footsteps of many a wine novice, finding only a couple of sweet white wines I could drink – Riesling and Gewurztraminer (but good luck finding Gewurzt in a bar or nightclub).  White Zinfandel was also tasty.  As with most wine neophytes, I visited many wineries and tried more and more varieties.  Eventually, my tastes changed and I began preferring dryer wines like Chardonnay and Merlot. I became somewhat of a wine snob but loved to visit wineries and try different vintage years of varieties, sometimes even meeting and discussing oenology with winemakers or winery owners.  It was fun.

When I began playing in traveling pool leagues, I realized I now had two issues. First, there were few corner bars with wine that wasn’t swill. In addition, my original problem had returned.  It only takes me around three glasses of wine over an evening to potentially become too impaired to drive.  Sipping or not, drinking that amount of wine was a risk I wasn’t willing to take.  Yet, some alcohol can be favorable for playing pool and being social.  Enter beer.  I realized that 12 oz. of beer had about the equivalent of alcohol content as 5 oz. of wine.  I had learned to like wine, so I decided to learn to like beer, which also had the side benefit of lesser cost.

I tried a few common beers with little success, and light beers didn’t do it for me either.  I was worried – perhaps beer really was the liver and onions of my beverage world. I talked to a liquor store owner and mentioned my problem.  By the way, I hate liver and onion.

The proprietor asked if I had tried a particular brand of apple ale.  I hadn’t, so she hooked me up with a six pack and I tried it that night.  Apple ale did the trick.

As with wine, I began visiting microbreweries while my tastes changed.  Soon the apple ales began tasting more like Kool-Aid, and I graduated to light beer with lime, then without lime, then the world of varietals opened up.  To this day I don’t like the hoppiness of IPA’s, but I’m slowly finding myself able to drink them. 

When we began traveling the country, I stopped at more and more breweries, enlarging my beer repertoire.  Of course, that was before the pandemic. I’ve realized since then that, to my taste, draught beer is inherently better than bottled or canned, even compared to the same make and variety.  My faves include stouts, bocks, Irish red ales, most European lagers and kolsches.  However, I’ll drink just about any beer that isn’t a sour or too fruity.  

Indeed, the pandemic put a kibosh on bars and breweries for nearly two years.  I have had only the occasional draught beer during this time, so I’ve been shopping for interesting cans and bottles in supermarkets and liquor stores that carry stock from a wider selection of breweries.  

My pool playing and karaoke time also took a hit, so I’ve been drinking a variety of beers at home.  I long for the day I can safely visit an establishment created for beer connoisseurs, free to try brands and varieties I may not have ever seen before.  That will be soon, I hope, or I may have to shop for a countertop kegerator.

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Whoever said that living in the past is unhealthy only got it partially correct.  True, it can prevent you from dealing with issues in the present or positive planning for the future.  But, at my seemingly advanced age, I have come to realize that thinking about the past is not exactly the same as clinging to it, and there are benefits in reminiscing.  

Experts say that people relive the past because there are no surprises there.  It’s predictable.  There is a comfort in knowing what transpired and what happened next.  If you have an especially brilliant or exceptional success story, an acclaimed achievement, an unlikely victory or a bout of fame, it’s fun to relive the moments, especially if you are unlikely to ever achieve them again.

I admit that dwelling on those occasions can prevent you from dealing with or enjoying the present.  However, I often find myself reliving some of my past achievements and have totally allowed myself to re-experience my joy from them.  

I once bowled an 808 three-game series in league, an accomplishment that few bowlers attain.  There were nuances during the match that only very good bowlers would understand, like needing a 279 in Game 3 for my 800 series.  That typically requires bowling a strike in 11 of the game’s 12 frames and, on the one frame that wasn’t a strike, an 8-count or lower would have ruined the pursuit.  I had thrown a ton of strikes to give myself this once-in-a-lifetime chance, and I didn’t need to throw a long string of strikes to do it.  I had one opportunity for missing.

Except that I missed the very first frame, leaving a four-pin.  I picked up the spare, but now the situation had changed.  The 279 strategy did not take into account a spare in the first frame — anywhere else in the game would have worked.  Now I had to throw ten strikes in a row and any legal count in the twelfth and final frame.  Finishing with 11 strikes would have given me a 290, but anything besides a strike in frames 2 through 11 would mean I couldn’t realize my elusive goal.  One ball at a time, one strike at a time, and I was able to get all ten of the necessary strikes, with my legs and arms shaking more nervously each frame as I approached the end of the game.  I threw a seven count on my final ball for a 287, my best game ever, and an 808 total for the three games.

It is rare to throw an 800 series, even more so without a 300 game, and I often relive those moments, not because I am avoiding anything in the present but to repeat some wonderful feelings about an extraordinary sports achievement.  I could say the same about other things in my life I take pride in, from hitting a grand slam in a childhood pickup baseball game to running the table against a vastly superior opponent in pool, getting three straight 9-ball breaks in another match, enjoying the standing ovations I have received in karaoke, singing with my brother in a karaoke finals that took place in front a huge crowd in a county fair (with well-known, retired rock stars on the judge’s panel), and more. 

On the main stage in a casino in Reno, Nevada, I once competed in a karaoke contest that, unbeknownst to me, included professional singers. Though an opera singer won the event, go figure, I held my own and came in fifth. While attending a laser light show inside the Planetarium at the Griffith Park Observatory in Los Angeles, I was first introduced to music from U2, in vivid surround sound. In the ’70’s, when my brother, Mike, was about to leave for his Air Force boot camp, I took him and another brother to see James Caan’s Rollerball in the fabulous Cinerama Dome in Hollywood, California. Scenes like each of my kids’ births, which I attended in person, my meeting Nadyne for the first time, my final day at work upon retirement, first-time awesome views of various travel destinations and other notable events in my life also invade my day at random.

But here’s the thing — reliving those moments helps extend my life’s experiences.  I feel like I allow them to live on rather than becoming the forgotten past.  My memories are vivid, like how the bowling ball or cue stick felt, or even smelled, in my hands, my nervousness before and during each, the trajectory of the bowling or billiard balls, the outcomes.   

​I lived about 17 hours in my 16 waking hours today, since several minutes were added a few times from my reminiscing.   Why wouldn’t I want to do that?

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I’ve always been a photographer, at least since I was ten years old — my grandmother gave me a black-and-white Brownie camera that took 126-speed film — and even then my photos often looked like picture postcards. It was difficult to do enough chores to pay for film and developing. For those too young to remember, “developing” was the process of getting the photo from film shot in your camera to photo paper and it cost money for each print.

My photos spoke for themselves and I eventually knew that it was a skill I possessed. In hindsight, perhaps I should have gone to school and become a photojournalist as soon as I could manage it. Getting married and having kids at a young age effectively prevented any further thoughts of pursuing that career.

hat being said, I’ve truly enjoyed this pursuit as a semi-professional over the decades with various 35mm cameras, first with film and then digital, when it was available, and I estimate that I have taken about a quarter-million snapshots in my life. My current collection of higher-resolution photographs consists of over 50,000 pics, or about 2,500 photos per year for the last twenty years. There is no better feeling of snapping a pic of an awe-inspiring scene, person, critter or event, and then inspecting the result.

However, all is not sunny and roses for a true photographer, with downsides that are all-too-common for most of us. Here are a few of those drawbacks.

No “off” switch

I take my cameras with me nearly everywhere I go, ready for the spur-of-the-moment or once-in-a-lifetime photo opportunity. But, since I’m married, I recognize that wearing my harness with both my Sony digital cameras (one has a long telephoto lens) doesn’t always make me socially present. She’s a real trooper about it but I feel guilty monopolizing our outings, so I’ll sometimes leave the gear at home in our fifth-wheel RV, or at least stowed away in the truck.

Two things often happen while I’m trying to enjoy scenery or a function sans my gear. One is that my attention is always focused on the possible shots all around me, never to be taken. I’ll see a flower or a bird and instead of just thinking about its beauty or uniqueness, I’m thinking that if I had my camera I might stoop down just so to get the correct angle or background, or move a little left to frame it between trees or buildings. Don’t get me wrong, I do think about its beauty or uniqueness, but that is short-lived.

Second is that an awe-inspiring scene, person, critter or event appears before me and all I have is a smart-phone, which isn’t even in camera mode when I want it. Wildlife photos, in particular, can be fleeting when you aren’t ready for them.

Equipment envy

No matter what I have invested in equipment, someone else has better, especially authentic professionals. I see photos published all the time that make me think about how I couldn’t get that shot with what I have.

You’ve seen the pros (or the wealthy wanna-be pros) walking among us with the telephoto lenses that are white (instead of black), two feet long, six inches wide. Some pros even mount their cams on anti-vibration, anti-shake gizmos that seem to hover in front of their faces. I estimate that the last pro I saw had equipment that cost over $50K, and that was just what they had with them. I’ll always envy that.

Dangerous situations

Always on the lookout for a shot can get you into trouble, like the time I passed a photo opportunity in the Colorado mountains and slowly backed up on a cliffside road, nearly driving off the edge. I stopped in time, one wheel having dropped off the road, and my four-wheel drive pulled me back onto the dirt road. I was shaken, but this highlights what can happen.

On average, two to three deaths per year in the Grand Canyon are from falls over the rim, and similar accidents happen all over the country from photographers, pros and amateurs. It’s so simple to lose sight of where you are, how precarious your position, with your focus firmly on the subject at hand.

Then there is the public, which may not want you taking photos nearby. I was shot at by a rural resident with a shotgun once, even though I wasn’t on their land or shooting in their direction. Fortunately, they were too far away to actually hit me with buckshot, but it shocked me. Photojournalists have to be incredibly aware in some situations, depending on their subject matter.

Bad timing

I can’t tell you how many times traffic on country or farm roads has prevented what looked like great shots. Once, in Georgia, I slowed down when I saw a picture-perfect ranch house at the end of an incredibly long driveway. Unfortunately, like much of the South and Midwest, there was no shoulder to pull off onto. The six cars behind me weren’t exactly thrilled that I slowed, let alone stop. I continued down the narrow road and looked for a place to turn around. After about five miles, I ended up giving up on the shot, convinced that I would have an opportunity for a similar pic on my drive. That didn’t happen.

Likewise, I had to pass on a stunning farmhouse that had crumbled to the ground in Alabama and a century-old ranch entrance sign in Texas. Wildlife isn’t usually cooperative, either, and I often miss by mere fractions of a second near-perfect views of birds, elk, moose, bighorn sheep, wolves and others, but especially birds, which can be frustratingly quick and skittish.

When I miss those opportune moments, they sometimes haunt me.

Photography doesn’t pay

Everyone with a smartphone is a photographer these days. Teach a monkey to shoot an iPhone 12 and look through its camera shots at the end of the day — you’ll probably find at least one really good photo. Likewise people who turn their phones briefly away from their selfies in time to get a great pic, then plaster it all over social media like they’ve been doing it all their lives. Sorry, do I sound bitter? I’m not.

Professional and experienced amateur photographers have a difficult time selling their work. Writers are experiencing the same issue, with over a million titles being self-published every year from authors of various skill levels. It’s difficult to complete with the sheer volume of it all.

At one time an average person seeing a splendid landscape print would consider buying it to frame and hang in their homes. I have bought many prints in my lifetime, even though I consider myself an accomplished photographer. Now, that person may well be convinced that they can take one for themselves, taking note of the aspects of the shot so they can try to duplicate them in the future. Of course, average people haven’t invested the same money in equipment and haven’t spent long hours, sometimes hundreds of hours, trying to be in the right place at the right time. But, somehow, they believe they can easily take a shot to hang on their walls.

Photographers that make a living from their passion are fortunate indeed, and those few career positions are scarce. I’m jealous of my granddaughter, who just became a photojournalist for the new US Space Force. Many popular magazines and websites, such as nature, science, news, fashion, leisure, travel and entertainment periodicals, use in-house photographers but do accept outside work. However, there are just too few opportunities for the number of talented shutterbugs, let alone the masses with smartphones.

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You may be aware that we purchased an RV site at an Escapees Co-Op in Texas in order winter in place. But, why winter in one place?

You may have read my article, My Top 9 Trepidations of Full-Time RVing, in which I describe several anxieties upon moving to and setting up in an RV park. Some of these trepidations are the availability and status of full hookup sites, cell and Internet access, parking and setup difficulties, weather on the road, satellite reception, road hazards, pet friendliness, and others. Consider the fact that we commonly change campgrounds every two weeks or so, meaning that I experience these emotions more than two dozen times a year.

But, it’s more than these apprehensions. Driving takes a toll, especially as we get older, and fuel is a big expense when you are constantly on the move. The cold of winter leaves little of the country available for visiting in anything other than frigid climates. The usual RV snowbird regions, i.e. Florida, Texas, Arizona and Southern California, are rife with more large rigs than small, leaving space, convenience, solitude and privacy all wanting.

Even with RVillage, a virtual RV community with over 500,000 members nationwide, telling us which other members are camping in a specific park we arrive to, RVers in a park are often strangers, even more so during the pandemic. RVers are people, meaning that they include all types of personalities, social acumen and political persuasions, and not everyone is open to meeting newcomers.

I guess I’m saying that we miss friends and social circles in which to gather to share moments, stories and laughs. A two-week stay in an RV resort may afford us an acquaintance or two, but the process of our getting to know each other typically starts from scratch each time. Sure, there are stories from the RV lifestyle all RVers can relate to, such as many of the anecdotes I share in my book, “RV Life Happens,” but there are only so many black tank tales or RV park complaints you can regale. By spending four of five months in one community, we can begin building some real, longer-term relationships.

One quick mention: We have made several valuable personal connections in RVillage and on the road, and some will become lifelong friendships. We don’t diminish this possibility and always leave ourselves open to making new friends wherever we go.

Then there is the convenience of staying in a place long enough to see doctors and dentists, and to get RV repairs or make sure maintenance is performed. Although we had been returning to Denver each year for a couple of weeks to get medical and dental treatment, two weeks isn’t always long enough. After our first year on the road, I had to forgo one medical appointment when they couldn’t make space within our travel window in Colorado. RV upgrades and repairs can be especially difficult when moving around the country, with parts and materials taking longer to arrive than we are camping in any particular area.

One of the reasons we decided not to spend considerable time in any one park when we started this adventure is that we both had many, many items on our must-visit list and we were anxious to experience them all. We circumnavigated the country three times in our first three years and will embark on another grand circle as soon as the pandemic lets up, perhaps checking Yellowstone and Nova Scotia off our destinations lists. We have camped in 36 states and driven in 44, with more in our future itineraries.

Now that we have seen so much of the country, we can afford to take time to relax in a single community for the winter. The Escapees Co-Ops make this affordable but some have waiting lists with hundreds of names on them. The sites have space and hookups for an RV of nearly any size and for one or more sheds or casitas. Fortunately, in our Texas choice, we started at #42 on the waiting list and, in less than two years, we will were awarded a property last spring. We quickly moved our stored stuff from Denver to the new site and moved in, just in time for a tornado and major hail storm, but that’s another story.

Lastly, it would has been nice this year during the pandemic to have had a permanent spot to hunker down in rather than having to worry about whether any or all of the RV parks we had booked would decline our reservations when we arrived. During national emergencies, it’s comforting to have a home base to go to.

So, why Texas? Several reasons:

  • No state income tax
  • Milder and longer winter and spring seasons than most winter locales
  • Friends and relatives living in Texas
  • Availability of affordable sites
  • Driving distance from Mexico (for drugs and medical treatment)
  • Driving distance to the Gulf (for recreation)
  • Lots of DQ’s (Nadyne’s favorite) and several In ‘n’ Outs (Jack’s favorite)

All told, we have many reasons for being stationary in the winter, but that doesn’t mean we plan to give up traveling the country. We’ll still have eight months a year to continue our adventures.

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Contrary to the title, this post is really more about our lifestyle than travel. We spend, on average, two weeks in each campground or resort we stay, meaning that about twice a month we have a travel day, moving our house to the next stop, sometimes taking three of four days to arrive, boondocking at Walmarts or Cracker Barrels on those nights in between destinations.

Often during these commutes, I have anxieties about our next stay. Here are some things I think about, in no particular order.

  1. Availability and status of full hookup site
    We belong to Thousand Trails so that we don’t have out-of-pocket resort fees to worry about, but most of them are first-come, first-served, for full hookups, meaning that we may or may not find sewer or 50 amp electric hookups. This is important because without sewer, we can’t shower more than once or use our toilet more than one week during our stay. It takes a couple hours to set up or break down camp, so even if there is a dump station on-site, it takes much time and hassle to make use of it.

    A couple of years ago, we called ahead to confirm that we could easily get a full-hookup site with at least some cell signal for Internet, and they assured us that was the case. When we arrived, however, neither was available. We ended up passing up the resort and paying out of pocket for a private campground.

    Often water pressure is an issue as well. For that reason, we always keep our fresh water tank full in case there is little or no water from the park spigot, which sometimes happens mid-stay.
  1. Availability of cell coverage and Internet
    Speaking of confirming Internet availability, both Nadyne and I work on the road, Nadyne remotely doing insurance agency accounting and me writing and marketing. Both of us require Internet and Nadyne must be able to speak to clients across the country, so early on we purchased a cell booster to give us a stronger cell signal and more reliable Internet, along with utilizing cell coverage from Verizon, AT&T and Sprint. Among the three service providers, we almost always have something we can use, but every once in a while, we don’t. This was the case in the resort I mentioned earlier, where we only found two bars of coverage in one parking lot on one end of the park, and no signal from any campsite. You can’t boost zero signal, so this was unacceptable and we had to move to another campground.
  1. Parking difficulties
    We haven’t had a massive RV: a 31′ fifth wheel until this year and now a 36′. Still, backing into some spaces requires time, energy and nerves of steel.

Only once have I not been able to, eventually, get parked, but occasionally, because of narrow sites, trees at the corners of the site entrance, narrow paths between rows of sites and/or close proximity to immovable park models, parking can be harrowing. In the case of the Palm Springs RV Resort, all four were problems. Add the situation where a truck or toad is partially blocking your path whose owner can’t be found, or the off-level nature of a site, there is a lot to dread about parking, even if we’ve been to a resort before.

  1. Weather on the road
    We are mobile and can move our fifth wheel when we know severe weather or flooding is imminent, but it’s not always foreseeable. Since we are usually traveling hundreds of miles in any particular leg of a trip, forecasting isn’t often reliable. My biggest concern is wind, which can greatly affect gas mileage at best and cause an accident at worst, not to mention risking expensive hail damage. We were extremely fortunate to not have any serious weather issues during our first three years on the road, but the fourth included a major hail storm, destroying our rig and severely damaging our pickup. This is now something we actively worry about.

  2. Satellite access
    We are often in rural campgrounds without cable or over-the-air TV coverage so we invested in a Tailgater satellite dish and Dish TV service, along with a DVR. This has worked out great except that satellite dishes and trees don’t play well together. The dish needs fairly unfettered access to the southern sky and the farther north you go, the more towards the true horizon it needs to see. In one park, in which we are often parked beneath and among trees, I tried about fifteen locations around the rig until I found a spot in which the dish could see one of the three satellites it normally uses. The only reason I was successful to that extent was because we were in Southern Texas, where the dish is pointed in a fairly vertical direction in the sky. If we had been in Ohio, where it would point farther down for the signal, we wouldn’t have had any satellite TV at all.

  3. Road hazards and clearances
    We were in downtown Binghamton, NY, having no worries about our height and underpass clearance, since we utilize three different resources (including a trucker’s guide) to check our route for low clearance bridges, etc., without any cautions. However, I turned left to enter an underpass and found myself face-to-face with a bright yellow sign warning of a 10′ 11″ bridge height. Our rig is over 13′ tall, so that would have left a mark. Nadyne had to get out and stop traffic so that I could back out of the underpass entrance and turn around. We now have a brilliant yellow vest for her to wear in case that happens again.

    I mentioned that we use three resources to check for clearance and my in-dash navigation system utilizes an app on my phone via Bluetooth to check for traffic and hazards, but no resource is foolproof, as we have learned the hard way. East of the Mississippi, especially in New England, there are far more of these low bridges than out west, but really it’s a nationwide concern.

    The road age and condition is itself a major concern, from coast to coast. The last time we were on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, the long duration of significant bumps actually broke one of the springs on the fifth wheel. Any rough road is bad for an RV’s interior and joints. Prolonged travel on such highways can be like riding out a continuous earthquake, but even a single big bump can rearrange our contents.

​7. Breakdowns and blowouts
Logging over 20,000 miles per year means that the odds are against us. Eventually we will have a major breakdown or tire blowout on the road. To help mitigate this we installed a TPMS (Tire Pressure Monitoring System), which has twice saved us a major tire issue twice since we starting using it.

The first time a tire went flat after picking up a screw while traveling 60 mph, allowing us to pull over before a blowout ensued, and the other a slow leak developed in a brand new tire on a dirt and gravel road and we were able to get it repaired before a serious issue occurred. In both cases a disaster may have resulted and I worry about that happening again, even with a commitment to the technology. Our new rig has a new TPMS system that connects to our smartphones via Bluetooth, and, thankfully, it seems to accurately and quickly discern and communicate the air pressure details.

  1. Being pet friendly and having unfortunate park rules
    We have seen some overly aggressive park rules against pets and other uses of a campsite. We installed a doggie door flap in our rig’s screen door. By setting up a small fence around our steps and giving our dogs both shaded and sunny areas on a mat, we leave some dirt or grass uncovered so they can come and go and potty as needed. We never leave them in the pen without us being home and are always diligent about their barking while outside. Despite this, some parks forbid outdoor pens and even having pets on leashes without the owner’s full participation and attention. While I understand the purpose of such an edict, it makes our lives difficult, as does restricting clothes lines under our awning, restricting noise at 7 pm, a 3-mph speed limit and other rules that some bad apples have forced parks to include in their codes.

  2. Access to grocery shopping and gas stations
    Having a refrigerator only half or one-third the size of a house fridge means having to shop for groceries more often, at least once per week. Staying in the boonies doesn’t make this an easy chore and we often camp up to 50 miles from the nearest Walmart. Small local supermarkets (with “super” being a bit facetious) almost always have a miniscule stock and higher prices compared to a big chain store. Sometimes a rural market has fresh, locally-grown or raised food or delicious baked items, but usually it’s just missing several items we’re looking for. Not having gas stations nearby can also be an issue and requires a more thoughtful plan to stay filled up.

We don’t experience these difficulties often, but enough to cause us trepidation, No matter how much advance research we do, some things just cannot be known until you are present, and that is a cause for concern every time we begin our travel day. I’m sure we’re not the only ones.

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For as long as I can remember, I had wanted to take a sunrise photo from Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park in Maine.  Finally, I crossed that puppy off my bucket list.

Though only 1,530 feet in elevation, Cadillac Mountain is one of the highest points on the eastern seaboard.  Most people think that this peak is first to see the sun all year long, as I had thought, but we were mistaken.  Even though it’s not the easternmost point in the US, Cadillac’s height does allow it, for roughly half the year, to receive the first rays of sunshine in the continental US.  The other half of the year, from March to October, a slightly taller peak near the Canadian border has that honor.  The tilt of the earth and changing position of the sun throughout the year is what causes this difference.

Regardless, as a photographer, it was still high on my bucket list.  I’d been camping (glamping?) for two weeks about 20 miles from the Park, which resides on Mount Desert Island on the rocky Maine coast, and I longed to see and photograph the sunrise there.  However, another quirk of Maine’s environment nearly foiled that.  Almost every day I was there, it had either been raining or was extremely foggy at daybreak — until a particular Friday morning during our August stay.

I had been checking forecasts twice or three times a day since I had been there and it finally appeared that Thursday would be clear.  I went to bed early so I could get up at 4am to set out for Cadillac and was awakened at about 12:30am by a severe thunderstorm, one that had not been in the forecast.  I decided to give it one more day and fortunately, the weather stayed clear that night.  At 4:00 Friday morning it was as dark as midnight but I packed a brunch and headed out.

When I arrived at the park a little more than an hour before sunrise, it was quite foggy but it was starting to lift.  However about a half-mile from the parking lot, cars were parked on both sides of the road.  This didn’t bode well and, sure enough, I had to drive through the jam-packed parking lot and back down the road to the end of the parking line.  There must have been 500 vehicles parked in and around the mountain peak’s visitor center.  

By the time I got my gear and began the hike, time was starting to worry me.  I eventually made it to the viewing area and there were hundreds of people on the ridge, many with tripods set up, some with their smartphones out, several laying on sleeping bags on the bedrock.  

I hiked through the crowd carrying a camera backpack and my own tripod, stepping down several levels of rock shelves, and I was able to get to a large stone block with no other photographers in front of me.  I set up just as the sun poked out of the fog.  If you have never taken sunrise or sunset pictures, it’s difficult to understand the excitement of the time limit you’re given.  The sun is moving with or without your readiness or the equipment’s cooperation.

I mounted my camera with the 55mm lens on the tripod and held the other, which sported my 500mm telephoto lens, in my hand.  I alternated snapping shots between the two and kept it up for about 30 minutes.  I remembered to take a couple of photos with my smartphone and posted them nearly live on Facebook so that friends, family and followers could enjoy the sight right away.

By the time I got back to my truck, 90% of the vehicles were already gone.  Satisfied, and with my bucket list reduced, I climbed back in and took advantage of the blue sky to explore more of the Maine coastline.  Blue is usually much prettier than gray.

One of the exciting aspects of our full-time RV’ing adventure is that these bucket list opportunities have availed themselves with some regularity.  In a sticks-and-bricks home, it’s just too difficult (and expensive) to take the time to do it all. 

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If you have been following our travels, you may already realize that we managed to visit America’s “five corners” (Southwest California, Northwest Washington State, Northeast Maine, Key West and the Brownsville/Padre Islands area of Texas), the latter of which we are currently enjoying.

I think since leaving Colorado four years ago and living full-time in our fifth wheel, we have visited 36 states.  But this is not a travel post, nor is it one of my “50 Reasons to be Happy.”

​One underlying theme across every state we’ve seen the past two years is the obvious distress or demise of America’s small towns.  At one time, soon after the Interstate Highway System was built over 50 years ago, there was a migration to the suburbs from the many urban jungles.  Now there’s a great migration away from small towns for a variety of reasons.

Nadyne has lived in a few tiny villages, mostly in Arizona.  I grew up in the Los Angeles area but spent many years in Eastern Washington State, where I used to enjoy outings to hamlets throughout the Cascade mountains.  Enjoying regional museums and cute Main Street storefronts has always been an enjoyable diversion for both of us.

Most successful small towns have one of these two advantages.  First would be a natural feature that feeds a large tourism economy, such as Yellowstone or Arches National Parks.  The other would be a major employer that keeps the bulk of its citizens working.   In each case, the dependent town often has all their eggs in one basket.  If a natural phenomenon stops enthralling the public or is lost due to a catastrophe, the small town’s workforce must find other sources of income.  Likewise, purely beyond the control of any nearby towns, a corporation can close down or move a facility, leaving workers scrambling.  These towns cannot sustain their basket disappearing and soon a blight replaces the thriving business they once enjoyed.

In town after town, we’ve seen Main Streets with 50%-90% of the shops closed and boarded up.  Towns often don’t have the legal right or the financial ability to keep their primary storefront avenues looking presentable, so they are usually shabby and unseemly.  Just outside of town, one can witness nature reclaiming large warehouses, factories, farmhouses, barns and smaller box stores.  It’s a snowball of major proportion rolling down from the economic hilltop.

Worse, the neighborhoods in and around these towns can be extraordinarily poor.  Often we are amazed when what looked like an abandoned or even condemned house with overgrown hedges and grass sported a satellite dish, a late model car and sometimes newer plastic toys strewn about in the back yard.  In one section of Louisiana, these were the majority of neighborhoods.

When we lived in Western New York a couple of decades ago, one of our weekend pastimes continued to be driving to and strolling through quaint bergs scattered throughout the region.  “Main Street USA” funding had helped rebuild and enhance old downtowns and they were a pleasure to visit.  After moving to Kansas, our jaunts through the countryside regularly brought us to villages obviously in the beginning stages of financial struggle.  It wasn’t until the first two years of full-time travel, however, that we saw the almost incomprehensible scope of the problem.

The scourge doesn’t have to continue.  Major funding or tax incentives are awarded to large corporations and mid-size businesses all the time.  At some point a governor may see to it some are spent to support their declining towns.  Circumstances may be be cyclical and a rush back out of crowded cities might be the next large population migration.  Retired communities, which do not need active jobs to survive, might sprout where dilapidated towns used to sit.  ​

​We can only hope that the unique style of living that small towns can provide will draw residents and be thriving communities once more.

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The single largest issue with the book industry is that readers are deluged with mostly mediocre work by a myriad of self-published writers.

How is an author to know if they are any good? Readers flock to receive free books, seemingly addicted to free reading, and move on to get more, no matter how much they enjoyed the read, and never leaving reviews. Traditional publishers are no longer able to find and sign excellent authors among the millions of pedestrian writers on the market, and it seems as though they aren’t all that interested anyway, unless the work is from a celebrity.

I have sold and given away thousands copies of my books 1 and 2 (with only a few dozen reviews left on Amazon), spent a ton of cash building a mailing list and countless hours creating and sending out newsletters and notices. Even with a 4+ stars rating on Amazon for each of them, my books don’t sell without a ton of marketing. After publishing seven novels in six years, I still only make about 10% more than I spend on advertising.  Think about that — on spending $500 and dozens of hours on marketing and ads, I make $50. I have cut that back with the expected results. I have used all the latest independent publisher tricks — promoting my newsletter, Kindle giveaways, book funneling, auto-posting social ads, and others — and Social media is mostly filled with authors connecting with other authors, or with companies selling book promotion services. What we really need are readers.

I am going to write and publish book 8 of my Pat Ruger Mystery Series in the next year or so, and I’ll continue to send out hopefully interesting newsletters, though I have even cut those back. But I feel hopeless that the market will ever come around for me.  After book 8, I will have to decide what comes next.  Will I finally be able to carve out a successful niche in the mystery genre, or should I devote my time to RV- and travel-related magazine articles?  How much time and money should I spend to promote my work?  Should I see what genres are selling and abandon my modest mystery reader base or continue to tell the stories I want to tell?  What if I’m just not that good, no matter what my loyal fans say?

I am saddened by this industry, but it’s not like it was ever easy.  Carrie by Stephen King was rejected 30 times before it was published, and Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell was rejected 38 times.  Even Harry Potter was rejected. But now it’s an impossibility to land a book contract unless you are already famous (or have a million Instagram, YouTube or TikTok followers).

It’s not entirely the publishers’ fault — there are just too many amateur writers to consider for publication. And, thus, my lament.

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In applying for a position as a “Color Explorer” I was asked to provide a short essay on what color inspired me and why.  This was my submission:

Many shades of green represent life and prosperity.  In my travels I’ve been fortunate to have encountered and contemplated the flowing green grasses in the Midwest and Southwest, dark pine forests in the Rocky and Cascade Mountains, the thick deciduous woods encompassing the entire east coast, the algae- and lichen-covered rock in Pinnacles National Park, and the greens of desert blooms out west.  Greens are present in the animal kingdom from the shiny emerald feathers of energetic hummingbirds to the leathery skin of lethargic crocodiles, from swift geckos to easy-swimming sea turtles, from vivacious parrots to timid tree frogs.  All of these experiences encourage me to explore nature and its success ever more across North America and beyond.   Even the neon greens of the Aurora Borealis are proof that the planet protects us, despite our attempts to the contrary.

What do you think?

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I’ve been a novice.  Now I’m working on my eighth novel.  I’ve been writing poetry all my life and authoring articles and blog posts for a good portion of my career.  I have some simple suggestions to share that may seem intuitive to some but are definitely worth considering.

First, know your craft.  I would offer the analogy of building a race car.  If you have never worked on this type of car before, the task would be monumental.  Imagine starting the project without knowing about aerodynamics and drag coefficients.  You can’t depend on engineers correcting your design after the fact.  Similarly, poor grammar or disjointed plotlines can be caught and corrected by editors, but you shouldn’t count on an editor to know your intent.  Also, I believe you should know the rules before you break them, purposely.  

Next, strive to be profound. Dictionary.com defines “profound” as “penetrating or entering deeply into subjects of thought or knowledge; having deep insight or understanding.”  This should be the goal of most pieces of literary work.  Whether you are writing poetry, a short story, a narrative or a full-length novel, you should include a unique point of view, aspect, comparison or conclusion to make the read interesting. Why bother spending your time writing if you are just going to repeat or regurgitate what has already been written?  A narrative without insight is simply boring.

Be satisfied with baby steps.  Not many great books have been written in a hurry, nor many successful careers made in a day.  My first complete novel was actually my third attempt.  When it wasn’t working, I stopped, took some time, reviewed my process, changed my strategy, and tried again.  The third time was a charm.  I’ve written hundreds of poems, but I started with one, then wrote another, then the next, and so on.

Network.  I’m continually surprised at how many writers, even famous authors, take time to help novice and experienced writers alike.  The Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers group is a prime example of this, but I’ve found this to be true in a variety of interactions I’ve enjoyed.   

At the RMFW Gold Conference a few years ago, after meeting several best-selling authors, I wasn’t reduced to “what was I thinking?” With their encouragement, I changed my thinking to, ”I just might be able to do this!” and finished my novel two weeks later.  I have paid it forward in various ways, such as assisting members of online writing groups and other aspiring authors.

Last, gather validators, including friends, family and colleagues.  I’m under the opinion that critique itself isn’t enough, and too much critique can truly be counter-productive.  However, readers of your genre can validate a variety of factors (or not), such as plot formation, reader interest, believability, character construction, and more.  It was especially important for me to know if something was off.  I was fortunate indeed to have a wife who had read hundreds of mystery and spy novels, so she was able to validate my plotlines and believability as I progressed, as well as several friends and family members who were extremely adept at proofreading.  Reliable validation like this should be sought and cultivated.  

Sometimes cultivation is what a novice needs most.

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