Sisters on the Fly!

Sisters on the Fly Travel Trailer Club

What a cool little rig…

 

If there’s one thing we’ve learned during all these years of living this crazy traveling lifestyle, it’s never to leave home without a camera.

The debate, though, is whether to take the big camera or the small one.

Of course, everyone knows that the best camera in the world is the one you have with you.

 

 

Sisters on the Fly Cowgirls

“Cowgirls are Forever!”

 

This morning we had a brief errand to run at Walmart.

As we were walking out the door we looked at our big cameras lying on the sofa.

What could we possibly see in the next hour between our campsite and Walmart that would be worth photographing?

It was a rainy, gloomy day. There was no chance we’d see anything exciting.

 

Yee Haw vintage travel trailer

“We have more fun than anyone!”

 

So off we went, each with our little snapshot cameras in our pockets.

When we pulled into the Walmart parking lot, Mark suddenly pointed.

“Look! It’s your gals — Sisters on the Fly!”

Lo and behold, a brightly painted vintage travel trailer was parked right in front of us, with the words “Sisters on the Fly” emblazoned on the side.

We both jumped out of the truck and ran over, so glad to have our pocket cameras with us.

 

 

Honor the earth for all her beauty

“Honor the earth for all her beauty.”

 

When we looked around the parking lot, we realized this adorable red and white trailer wasn’t the only one in the lot!

Colorfully painted trailers were parked all over the place.

And grinning women with their hair blowing in the breeze were piling out of the trucks and cars that were towing them.

 

 

Sisters on the Fly Adventure Club

 

Suddenly, I found myself standing with three lovely ladies learning about their upcoming adventure weekend.

A group of Flying Sisters was headed to Idaho for a weekend of camping, late night chats, kayaking, cocktails, fishing and hiking.

Most were driving their own trailers to Idaho, but a few from Arizona were flying in to stay in cabins at the gathering place.

The most important thing about the weekend was that their hubbies were staying at home.

How fun!!

 

Sisters on the Fly is Outdoor Adventure for Women

Catch that moon!

 

“What I love about this group is that we get to do what we want to do.” One woman was telling me.

“We talk, we shop, we stay up late and chit-chat, and when we travel we don’t have to listen to someone whining, ‘We saw this already, why do we have to see it again?'”

We all laughed.

 

Wild paint job - Sisters on the Fly RV club

“Cowgirls rule the planets!”

 

 

What a great idea and what a terrific group of women they were.

This wasn’t our first encounter with Sisters on the Fly, however.

Five years earlier, while camping at the White Tanks Regional Park in Phoenix, Arizona, we had found ourselves amid an equally lively group of women adventurers.

 

Traveling off to a great outdoor adventure

To think that I saw it at Walmart!

Bohemian Belle Travel Trailer

An elegant bohemian belle…

 

They had been camping in charming antique trailers just like these, all done up and painted up, each one cute as a button.

When that friendly group of gals in Phoenix had told me about their intriguing club, a few of them had even given me tours of their sweet little rigs.

(See our blog post about it here).

Re-reading that post this evening, I see that back in 2009 their numbers were 1,000 strong. Today, these women told me, in June, 2014, Sisters on the Fly has over 5,000 members!!

 

Independent women love adventure

“Boots, beer and bling – It’s a cowgirl thing!”

This little group was at Walmart for just a brief pit-stop.

No sooner had I met a few gals and started chatting than a signal came from the wagon master and it was time for them to return to their rigs and hit the road.

Mark — always so sweet and patient with this kind of thing — quietly took photos from a safe distance while I ran around between them like a madwoman.

After all, our little errand to pick up a few cans of soup could wait a few minutes!

Cowgirls & whisky for Sisters on the Fly

“Head ’em up, move ’em out!”

 

The colorful vintage rigs began to move.

They circled the parking lot in a small proud parade as they made their way over to the exit.

“I saw you guys in Phoenix five years ago!” I yelled at one gal driving past me.

“I was there!” She called out as she disappeared around the bend.

Sisters on the Fly adventure travel club

“Cowgirl Moon-Inn”

Once they had all pulled away and we were walking into the store, I could only laugh and shake my head at my indecision this morning. Big camera or small? Gosh, I sure wish I’d taken the big one…

 

 

To learn more about Sisters on the Fly, click here. To see some other fun rigs we’ve come across in our travels, click here.

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How big an RV do you need?

A lot of future full-timers assume that you need to have a big motorhome or fifth wheel trailer to “live the RV dream.” However, we have met a few folks living very happily in much simpler and less expensive rigs.

A few months back, we ran into Ruth and Randy who live in a pickup camper.

Truck Camper on a Toyota Tundra

Full-timing in a truck camper on a Toyota Tundra

Their camper isn’t a big Lance or Arctic Fox camper with a slide-out that requires a dually diesel one-ton truck to lug it around. Continue reading

World Cruising Done Right!

Fixing the boat alternator Mexico cruising blog

Mark fixes our boat in an exotic place

Sailors often say with a sigh that, “Cruising is fixing your boat in exotic places.”  While this sounds funny and always elicits a laugh, it is unfortunately a very true statement.

When you cast off the dock lines to go cruising, you are signing up to spend long hours working on your boat.

Paradise Village Marina Sunset

Paradise Village Marina at sunset — dreamy!

The further afield you go, Continue reading

Finding the Fountain of Youth!

Marcel on his mountain bike

Our new friend Marcel is a great inspiration

Posted March 20, 2014 – We meet a lot of interesting people in this crazy full-time traveling lifestyle, and they often give us great inspiration.

While we were camped on the eastern fringes of Phoenix Arizona recently, we found ourselves surrounded by mountain bikers.

Mountain biking gal with cactus

Mountain biking in the desert is exhilarating

These guys would hop on their bikes every morning and hit the trails with vim and vigor. They would return later in the afternoon, worn out and very happy.

Mark on his mountain bike

The scenery out on the trails is breathtaking

Mark has always had a passion for mountain biking, a passion I didn’t share with him at all. Since high school, I have been an avowed roadie!

He started chatting with these guys about their bikes, the trails nearby and whatever else mountain bikers talk about.

One fellow among them sported a white goatie, a few craggy lines on his face, and a foreign accent, and we soon discovered his name was Marcel and he originally hailed from Switzerland.

Marcel checks out the components on my bike

Marcel checks out my new wheels

Marcel was a compact build and very fit. Every time we saw him, he was wearing a t-shirt that said something like, “Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim” (a grueling hike between the north and south rims of the Grand Canyon) or “Rock ‘n Roll Half Marathon.”

Mark and his new mountain bike

Mark is beside himself getting a new bike on a rainy day!!

When we asked him about these shirts, we found out he was quite an athlete.

Now 76 years old, he had been a runner until recently, and he had a wonderfully competitive spirit.

At age 74, he had noticed that one particular fellow kept winning a certain 7 mile running race in the 70+ age group, so he set his sights on that prize.

He trained and trained, entered the race and beat the defending champion to claim the title for himself. He told us that he then hung up his running shoes, on that very high note, with pride.

But he still puts on his mountain biking shoes and helmet almost every day, and we watched in amazement as he faithfully went out for one vigorous ride after another.

Mountain biking in the Superstition Mountains

The Superstition Mountains in Phoenix Arizona make a spectacular backdrop to a mountain bike ride

Mark and Marcel

Marcel shares his passion with Mark

Mark was so inspired by Marcel that he began scanning Craigslist for used mountain bikes, and before I knew it, we were driving out into the Phoenix neighborhoods and picking up his-and-hers mountain bikes.

In turn, our trusty cyclocross bikes that had been with us in our trailer since we started our adventures nearly seven years ago ended up on Craigslist themselves.

Mountain biking in the Arizona desert

I look back and see Mark happily riding in this stunning scenery

My history with mountain biking is not good. The last time I rode one was a decade ago on the notorious Bootleg Canyon trail outside Las Vegas. We were at the bicycle industry’s big Interbike trade show where bike shop owners and employees can test new bikes.

Out on the trails, I had flown off over the handlebars of my test bike on some kind of wacky double jump that was way beyond my skill level, and I’d knocked myself out cold. The next thing I knew, an EMT was asking me if I remembered my name as he gingerly lifted me onto a stretcher.

Mountain biking in Phoenix Arizona

Happiness is a new bike

But mountain bikes have come a very long way in the last 10 years, and these new bikes are unbelievable. Sticking to trails I can handle, I have been having a blast. I never would have thought it could happen, but I’m hooked.

Marcel sent us off to practice on a beautiful trail called Wild Horse, and after a week of exhilarating rides together, Marcel took his motorhome down to Tucson to ride with some buddies down there. When he returned, we went out as a three-some to tackle Wild Horse all together.

Wild Horse mountain biking trail

Mark squeezes between an ocotillo cactus and its shadow

What a ride!! Mark and I were thrilled to get through it without putting a foot down for the very first time, but while we high-fived each other, we noticed Marcel was kind of shrugging. For him, cruising through the gnarly bits on this trail was routine.

Gosh. I had admired his racing stories and watching him zip between our rigs on his mountain bike before, but seeing him in action was truly awe inspiring.

Marcel on his mountain bike

Marcel has showed us the fountain of youth!

What was even more fun was to discover that he has been RVing since 1970 when he built a Class C motorhome for his family. Class C’s were new to the market back then, and he saw his first one at an RV show.

Sweet mountain bike ride in the desert

Sweet ride in the desert

He crawled all through the thing with a tape measure, took copious notes, and went home and built one onto his one ton truck.

His wife Charlotte laughs that they took their three kids everywhere in that homemade rig and never spent a weekend at home after that.

For the past twelve years, the two of them have been wintering in the southwestern states in a Class A. One of the highlights for them each season has been connecting with their kids, grandkids and great-grandkids.

Marcel has passed on his passion for fitness, and not long ago his whole family entered a running event together — four generations pounded the pavement side by side.

Mountain biking in the Superstition Mountains in Phoenix Arizona

We feel blessed everyday to be living this quirky life, and certainly one of the best things about it has been meeting inspiring people that we never would have encountered if we hadn’t gone traveling.

Thank you, Marcel, for showing us your unique fountain of youth!

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Cheap Veggies in AZ – Superstition Ranch Market

Superstition Ranch Market in Mesa AZ

A special find: Superstition Ranch Market in Mesa, Arizona

Posted March 11, 2014 – One of the crazy things about our life on the road is that everything in our lives is done on the road!  This includes basic things like getting groceries and doing laundry.

Gone are the days of knowing where all our favorite goodies are on the shelves of our local supermarket or following the weekly flyers for discounts.  We’re happy just to find the local supermarket!

But every so often we find something much better.

While doing laundry the other day down at the “Fluff and Fold” laundromat where we’ve been going each week in Mesa, Arizona, we left the washing machines to do their thing while we went exploring in the area.

Just a few doors down, we discovered a fabulous little neighborhood strip mall grocery store called Superstition Ranch Market.  After noticing that the parking lot was packed and that a steady stream of people was coming and going through the glass doors, we idly wandered inside, curious why it was so popular.

Suddenly we were swept up in a sea of seniors who were all stuffing their shopping carts with produce of every shape and description. And soon we knew why.  The prices here were crazy cheap!

Cheap pineapples in Arizona

At Mesa’s Superstition Ranch Market,
pineapples are just 99c each!

Right in front of us was a huge stack of big juicy ripe blackberries in plastic containers.  Three 6-oz containers were just one dollar.  What?!  That’s less than a dolloar pound!  Mark grabbed a few (he’s a huge berry lover).

Right behind the blackberries was a similar stack of plump red strawberries, three 1-lb. containers for a dollar.  Wow!  Yum!  I snagged three.

Expensive pineapples in Phoenix

At Safeway those same pineapples
are $3.99 each!

We looked around some more, eyes popping.

— Pineapples were 99 cents apiece.
— 15 lbs. of russet potatoes, 99 cents.
— Grape tomatoes, 2 10-oz boxes, $1.
— Big slicing tomatoes, 69 cents/lb.
— Vine cluster tomatoes, 39 cents/lb.

How could this be?

I got chatting with a store clerk and learned that much of the produce comes from Mexico. Ahh…how we MISS the fresh veggies we found in certain ports while sailing Mexico!

The market also buys in bulk from local supermarkets that have overbought.

She told me the store has been here on Main Street in Mesa for forty-five years.  Another shopper was evesdropping and chimed in, “Yeah and no one knew about it until last year when Daphne Munro (you know, the Smart Shopper TV talk show?) did a huge TV special about it.  It’s been crazy here ever since!”

Cheap strawberries in Mesa Arizona

How about strawberries —
three 1 lb. boxes for a dollar!

Long lines or not, what a boon for everyone in Mesa!

Most of the shoppers we saw were savvy seniors that live in the area or are snow-birding here, and it was an absolute zoo scene all around us.

Some five or six cashiers were frantically busy — and very cheery — as lines of shoppers six and eight deep kept forming in front of them, their carts overflowing with cauliflower, grapes, lettuce, peppers, mangoes and other things, all purchased for dimes on the dollar.

Expensive strawberries at Safeway in Phoenix

At Safeway those same three boxes
of strawberries will cost $9. Ouch!!

We braved the crowds and bought our share, murmuring along with a few others, “I wish I’d known about this place a long time ago!”

Just for kicks, on the way home, we stopped at Safeway.

Yikes!

— Strawberries were on sale, 2 one lb. boxes for $6.
— Pineapples were an “everyday” low price of $3.99 each.
— Grape tomatoes were $2.99 per 10 oz. container.
— Rusett potatoes were 99 cents a pound.

We don’t always come across great finds like this in our travels. Much of the time we end up paying a premium because we don’t know the best places to shop.  But every so often we bump into something that is a true gold mine like this fun little grocery store on Main Street in Mesa.

Superstition Ranch Market is at 4755 E Main St, Mesa, AZ, (480) 832-3421.

They have a second store at 7 N 114th St., Apache Junction, AZ  (480) 984-3568.

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How much inverter is enough?

Living totally off the grid on battery power in an RV or sailboat requires a good sized inverter to power the AC appliances like TVs, laptops, microwave, camera and cell phone chargers, hair dryers and vacuum cleaner.

But what is “good sized?”  How much is too much — or not enough?  What happens if you go over the limit? A recent mishap when we first returned to living in our trailer a few months ago sent us back to the basics and reminded us about limits, living skinny and living large while boondocking and living on a small inverter.

Exeltech XP1100 Power Inverter in the basement

Our Exeltech XP 1100 watt pure sine wave inverter lives in the
fifth wheel basement.

Figuring out the math behind the theory — the amps, volts, watts and conversions between them — and doing that for each appliance while guessing how much time each one will be used every day is downright daunting.

What’s worse — for people like I once was who are dealing with this stuff for the first time when they contemplate full-timing — just the terms “inverter,” “converter,” and “inverter/charger” leave us scratching our heads in bewilderment.  Techie phrases like “modified sine wave” and “pure sine wave” made my head spin when we first started out.

If that is the case for you too, have a look at our multi-part Solar Power Tutorial series where those terms (and many more) are explained in plain words.

As for inverter capacity, it is given in watts, and after living on several different sized inverters and inverter/chargers for almost seven years in two trailers and a sailboat, we have gotten a pretty good feel for what our moveable household of two people requires.  But that doesn’t mean we are immune to slipping up!

When we bought our full-time fifth wheel trailer in 2008, like most trailers, it did not have a factory installed inverter.  It had a 55 watt converter, and that was it.  (Most motorhomes have a factory installed inverter/charger that is wired to the AC outlets instead of a converter.)  So, we installed a pure sine wave Exeltech XP 1100 watt inverter

This is a top quality inverter that is built to such high standards that it can run very sensitive medical equipment off the grid. Exeltech inverters are used on the International Space Station to provide AC power to both the American and Russian sides of the station!

Sinergex Pure Sine Wave 600 watt inverter

This 600 watt pure sine wave inverter powered almost all
of our activities on the boat.

We chose that size because there was a huge increase in pure sine wave inverter prices once you got over about 1100 watts, and we had no single appliance on board that required more than that.  (In 2014 prices, the XP1100 inverter is ~$600 while the XP2000 inverter is ~$1,300).

The trailer’s microwave is 900 watts, and everything else we use (except the air conditioning which requires a generator anyways) is much less than that.  As long as we used only one big appliance at a time, all would be well.

The only real conflict that ever came up was when we used the microwave.  We had to be sure the TV was off and the laptops were running on battery power for the few minutes we used the microwave.  No big deal.

The sailboat we bought and moved aboard a few years after the trailer came with two factory installed inverters: a 2500 watt Xantrex Freedom 25 modified sine wave inverter/charger and Sinergex 600 watt pure sine wave inverter. The big inverter/charger was wired to all the AC outlets on the boat.  However, the little 600 watt pure sine wave inverter had been installed exclusively for the entertainment system: the two AC outlets on the inverter had two ordinary extension cords that went directly to the TV and the Bose 3-2-1 surround sound system.  This little inverter was independent of the boat’s AC wiring system.

The big modified sine wave Freedom 25 2500 watt inverter powered the microwave and vacuum.

The big modified sine wave Freedom 25 2500 watt inverter
powered the microwave and vacuum.

Because we had used a pure sine wave inverter in our trailer for a few years (and liked the idea of feeding our expensive computers a good quality signal), and because we assumed the big Xantrex inverter/charger would use a fair bit of power just to run in a “no load” state, we decided to rearrange the extension cords on the small pure sine wave inverter and use it as our primary inverter instead, running our laptops and charging up all our small appliances on it.

So, effectively, the only time we ever turned on the Xantrex inverter/charger was to use the boat’s 500 watt microwave that the factory had wired into the AC system, and to use our little dirt devil vacuum cleaner.  Everything else — 22″ LED TV, 13″ MacBook laptops, cameras, portable GPS/VHF radio, GMRS walkie/talkie radios, toothbrush, etc. — got plugged into a power strip coming from the 600 watt pure sine wave inverter’s AC connector.

Mark inspects inverter

Mark inspects the Exeltech inverter

This worked really well for us for the 3.5 years we lived off the grid on the boat.

However, when we moved back into our trailer, we were still living in the mindset we’d had on the boat, which made us careless with the microwave.  Whereas, on the boat, the 500 watt microwave was on a very big standalone inverter and we could use it without thinking, in the trailer, our 900 watt microwave shares the 1100 watt pure sine wave inverter with everything else on board.

One day, shortly after we moved back into the trailer, Mark popped some potatoes into the microwave for a few minutes.  We were deep in conversation as he puttered around the kitchen and I messed around with photos on my laptop.

I thought it was odd when I noticed the charging light on my laptop go out, and he thought it was odd when he went to hit the button on the microwave for the next round of potato-cooking to find that none of the buttons on the microwave worked.

What the heck?

Exeltech Exeltech XP 1100 inverter opened up

Well, at least nothing is visibly smoking!

We checked the usual things, and then went outside and around to the basement to see what the inverter was up to.  Eventually, we realized that the inverter had just died.

Yikes!!  This little black box is our life blood!  And it would be a pricey devil to replace.

After a rather solemn dinner with almost-cooked potatos, Mark removed the inverter from the basement and opened it up to have a look inside.

Ouch.  All four slow-blow fuses had blown.  But thank heavens the rest of it was fully intact and there were no charred marks or burnt looking things anywhere.

The trailer repair gods were definitely smiling on us.  We called Exeltech the next day to find out the fuse sizes (there were no sizes printed or etched on the blown fuses), and they were kind enough to put a few sets of fuses in the mail for us (free of charge!) to replace the four dead ones and to give us some spares in case of future mess-ups!

08 Exeltech XP1100 inverter slow blow fuses 451

Wait, what’s up with the four “slow blow” fuses?

However, we had a five day wait until the replacement fuses arrived.  It turns out that the size of these things is unique (35 amp slow blow). A sweep of the local auto parts stores turned up a few 30 amp slow blow fuses, which Exeltech said would work in a pinch, but Mark didn’t want to do the repair twice.

We liked our boondocking spot and didn’t feel like moving just to get electrical hookups, so, for the next five days we lived on a 350 watt modified sine wave inverter.

Sound crazy?  Well, it CAN be done!  We didn’t have to sacrifice too much.  We just had to pay attention.

We aren’t big TV watchers unless the Olympics or Tour de France is on, but we use our two laptops for hours every day.

In the good old days of 2007, this little inverter of ours could power our white 13″ MacBook without a hitch, no matter what application we ran or how discharged the laptop was.

Slow blow 35 amp slow blog fuses

All four “slow blow” 35 amp fuses are blown

However, we soon discovered that today’s 13″ MacBook Pro’s (2011 and 2012 vintage, non-retina display) — and today’s software (2014 vintage) — all use a lot more power.  Plus, we now have two laptops instead of one, which is more than the 350 watt inverter can handle.  So, we had to devise a sharing scheme.

There are a few tricks to this.

The power required to charge a laptop varies depending on the laptop’s state of charge and the way in which it is being used:

  • A laptop that has discharged batteries (nearly dead) requires more power to get charged up than one that’s 90% charged already.
  • A laptop in use, especially if it is running disk-access intensive programs (like photo manipulation software), requires more power to charge than one running something tiny like a plain text editor (think Mac TextEdit or Windows Notepad).
  • A sleeping laptop requires less power to charge than one that is in use
  • A laptop that is completely shut down requires the least power of all to charge

I don’t have any firm numbers, but my hunch numbers are that it takes about 5-10 times more power to charge a laptop that is nearly discharged and is humming away on a bunch of really big photo manipulation programs (or moving lots of files around on disk) than it does to charge a laptop that is near full charge already, is shut down and is simply plugged into AC power.

With all these things in mind — and since our laptop use was our biggest power use in the trailer (we didn’t even try running our 26″ TV with surround sound on the 350 watt inverter) — this was our daily strategy:

350 Watt Inverver

This 7-year-old 350 watt modified sine wave inverter powered our lives for five days.

First thing in the morning, we would run the laptops from their own internal batteries until they were about 50% discharged (about an hour or two). If we weren’t done on the computers at that point, one of us would connect to the little inverter while the other continued on battery power.

After an hour or so, we would usually want to get outdoors. We would turn both laptops off and connect the most discharged on to the inverter to get charged up.

We’d return home later and either begin charging the other laptop up, or, if we both wanted to get back on our computers, we would alternate use of the inverter and go through the cycle again.

As for the Exeltech XP1100 inverter repair, as soon as we got the replacement fuses, Mark popped them into the inverter, installed it back in its home in the basement, and life was good and AC power was abundant in our home once again.

Boondocking in North Phoenix Arizona 521

We were in a good spot. Why leave if we could make things work
for a while with a small inverter?

What did we learn from all this?

We can live simply when we need to!

Also, I’m really glad I asked the NuWa factory to install a cigarette lighter style DC outlet in the living room part of our trailer behind the TV (it came with one in the bedroom already).  This makes it easy to use a small portable inverter in a pinch.  In all honesty, I had questioned my sanity in asking the factory for this upgrade until this episode!

Then — on our next trailer (not that we’re getting a new one, but it’s always nice to think about that dreamy “next one”) — we will get a bigger inverter.  There is nothing wrong with 1100 watts, as long as we think for a moment before flipping the switch on the microwave.  However, in the next installation, we will be much more willing to spend double to get Exeltech’s 2000 watt pure sine wave inverter instead of their 1100 watt version.  A bigger inverter will also allow us to use our Vita-Mix (1600 watts) which has been waiting in storage until we finish this crazy off-the-grid traveling lifestyle (which isn’t happening any time soon!).

Lastly… we learned that the Exeltech XP1100 inverter is well protected from absent-minded users with four wonderfully precious slow blow fuses. Very fortunately for me, it was an easy fix for Mark to do. But it seems that it is a fix that anyone who dares open the inverter case could accomplish. They were inline buss fuses and they didn’t even require a fuse puller — just a screwdriver to lift them out.

Note: We installed an Exeltech XP 2000 inverter in April, 2015, and what an incredibly worthwhile upgrade that has been.

Learn more at our page: RV Electrical Power Overhual: New Batteries, Inverter and Converter

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To Catch a Hummingbird (on camera!)

Our fifth wheel has a hummingbird window feeder

We love watching the hummingbirds come to our window feeder.

One of my favorite things to do when we set up camp is to put out our hummingbird feeder.

Hummingbird window feeder with suction cup

It’s hung with a suction cup – easy!

Hummingbirds always seem to recognize a feeder when they see one, and within a few hours of putting it out, we invariably have a tiny customer sitting on the perch drinking his fill.

There are lots of different kinds of hummingbird feeders on the market, but the one I like most for an RV mounts on the window with a suction cup.

 

Humminbird at our window feeder at dawn

A hummer visits our feeder at dawn

Humminbird hover

“Hello!”

 

We first saw one of these feeders when we spent a happy afternoon with our friends Bob and Donna Lea in their trailer during our first year of full-timing ages ago.

The hummers came by their feeder all afternoon, and the best part was that we could see them up close and at eye level while sitting comfortably on the couch.

This kind of feeder can also be a great way to get hummingbird photos, and the other day, while out in the Arizona desert, we decided to try our hand at being wildlife photographers from inside the comfort of our fifth wheel.

 

Hummingbird lands at our feeder

Swooping down for a drink

 

A simple concoction of 4 parts water to 1 part sugar (stirred up well to get the sugar to dissolve) is all it takes to lure the little guys to the feeder.

But the thing is, hummingbirds dart about erratically and move really fast.

Sometimes they hover for a while and look at you while they weave their wings back and forth in a figure eight pattern, as if they’re treading water.  But then, suddenly, they turn and disappear in a flash.

Catching one on camera is not such an easy task!

 

Flying hummingbird

He kindly hummed a little higher to give us a blue sky backdrop

Just as you get the bird in your viewfinder and have lined up the shot the way you want it and are ready to click the shutter — he’s gone.

Plus, the lighting can be tricky. Hummingbirds have irridescent feathers that light up like neon when the sun hits them in a certain way. But at other times their feathers look dull and dark.

Our feeder is often backlit by the sun, since we like to point our wall of windows to the south in the wintertime.  This makes the hummers look like silhouettes, and frequently the lighting is such that their feathers don’t glow. at all

 

Hummingbird's feathers are dark in this light

Hummingbird feathers appear dark when they aren’t lit up by the sun.

The way we have our trailer oriented right now, though, the hummer looked truly stunning at the feeder when we stood in one particular spot during the early afternoon.

The only hard part was that in this light the hummer had a pretty good view into the trailer from his perch, and our movements inside made him nervous.  So, he wouldn’t stick around, especially when we were aiming a big black thing at him through the window.

To circumvent this, we set up a tripod at that spot with a remote shutter trigger.

 

Hovering hummingbird

Hovering

Our thinking was that we’d preset the focus to the perch area and then stand away from the window and click the shutter whenever the hummer turned up. A foolproof method, for sure.

The hummer made his appearance on queue and put on a great performance.

He hovered on the other side of the window, peered in at us, decided it was safe, sipped daintily while hovering, settled on the perch to drink a little more deeply, and then took off.

We happily clicked away on the shutter.  How perfect!!  These would be awesome photos!

 

Hummingbird at our RV feeder

Getting his balance on the perch…

But when we ran through the pics on the back of the camera, it was a disaster!  Every single shot was hopelessly blurry.

Arghh! The 1/125 shutter speed was waaaay too slow.

So we set up at a faster speed, 1/2000, and waited. And waited and waited. We could see him flitting about in the trees, but he was being coy and wouldn’t come anywhere near the feeder.

Mark got bored and sat down to read a book. “That’s why I like landscape photography,” He said.

But I held out.  For a while.  I fidgeted.  I yawned.  And after a while I turned and opened the fridge, figuring I’d pass the time by munching on something.

 

The Wave

He gives us a big wave!

Just as I got my hands on a snack, I heard Mark mutter, “Your little buddy’s back!”

Oh no!  I dropped everything and dove for the camera remote.

I clicked it just in time to get a shot of the tip of the bird’s tail and his feet as he took off — and totally missed the wonderful images of him hovering just outside of the field of view of the camera.

Darn!

Well, one thing was clear.  The tripod and the remote were awkward to maneuver and were too rigidly fixed to capture this speedy, darting bird.

 

Both wings going

The wings beat so very fast…

So I put the camera on a monopod with the idea that this time I’d be able to swing the camera around more freely and focus on him wherever he was rather than pre-focusing and hoping he hung out where the camera was focused.  And then I waited,  And waited and waited.

Mark chuckled at me over his book while I stood there.  “Looks like you’ve got it all set up…” He said.

“Yeah.  All I need is a bird!”

But the hummer was playing hard to get.  My feet got tired.  My knees got tired.  I rested my chin on the camera and groaned.  Where was that bird?

 

Darting hummingbird in a blue sky

Those little wings keep them suspended and stationary in the air

Then he suddenly appeared, and I flew into action.

I’d chosen 3D focus tracking to try to keep the little guy in focus as he moved around.  It was a mode someone had recommended online for bird photography.

As I pressed the shutter button partway down, little focus dots lit up all over the hummer while he was moving about.

It drove me crazy as it focused on his head, his feet, his tail, and his wings, constantly shifting from one part of his body to another.

It was totally distracting, and the result was random body parts being in focus. Ugh! This technique might work for some people, but it definitely wasn’t working for me!

 

The hummer pauses at the feeder

The colors on his head and neck changed with every move he made.

I’d read that the best animal shots have the eyes in perfect focus.  What good was it if the feathers on the bird’s round little belly were in focus but you couldn’t see his face clearly?

My little visitor disappeared again, and I was disappointed in my photos again.

Besides having great focus on everything but his face, in this group of pictures the dimming afternoon light mixed with the dimming afternoon light had made the ISO climb sky high, so the images were coming out rather grainy.

So it was back to the waiting game with a few more adjustments.  “It will be another 10 or 15 minutes,” Mark said.  “He got a really long drink that time!”

 

The hummer gives us a wave

Another wave… I like this guy!

Man! I don’t know how wildlife photographers do it.  Here I was in the comfort of my own home, yet I was impatient and bored and uncomfortable standing around waiting.

Imagine being holed up before dawn in some blind you’d built out in the wilds of Africa!  Could any animal shot be worth that kind of effort?

Well, at least I had nothing else really pressing going on.  We could hear the little hummber out in the branches of the trees making his funny little clicking noises.

 

.

A gambel's quail runs past

While waiting for the hummer, I spotted a Gambel’s quail sauntering by.

Suddenly a Gambel’s quail caught my eye.  He strutted past the window on a mission, his little top-knot feather bouncing up and down as he walked.

I love these little birds too, and I lifted the camera to my face, monopod and all, and stood on my tiptoes to get a shot of him running by.

Just then, the hummingbird was back at the feeder.  And I was out of position!

Mark laughed out loud as I tried to get lined up and refocused while muttering something unintelligible under my breath.

Hummer wings in focus high isd

Eating on the fly!

 

I jammed the shutter button down for a rapid-fire series of shots.

This time I’d nailed it.  I knew it!  And sure enough, when I looked at the photos a few minutes later the results were terrific and I was triumphant.

I gloated quite a bit as I showed a few of the images to Mark.

Now he was intrigued.  I sat down, my own little mission accomplished, and watched him set up shop.

Hummingbird close-up shot

Picture perfect!

A hummingbird peers in our trailer window

What a handsome little guy!

Ditching the monopod, he placed a tripod on the table and switched out the long 70-200 mm lens I had been using for a fixed length 85 mm.

He was bound and determined to make that remote shutter button work.  I shook my head and said there was no way… but then, after a few attempts, he got some really spectacular shots!

Lately, our little bird friend has been hanging out with a buddy, and they seem to be taking our presence in stride.

I want to take this whole operation outside to get some images of them in the trees, and I had hoped to end this post with an awesome photo from the palo verde tree that’s just outside our trailer.

But our hummer and his friend have been keeping a low profile this afternoon.  So, we’ll just have to wait and see if we can catch them tomorrow!

 

Love birds and animals?  You might enjoy some of these other posts where we communed with animals during our travels:

On the Road to your Dreams, Stay the Course!

Driving in Utah brings one jaw-dropping view after another...

Yet another breathtaking drive in Utah. For us it was worth it
to give up our stuff for endless scenic drives like this.

Getting up the guts to untie the dock lines and go cruising, or to drive out of the driveway and hit the road in an RV full-time, is often the hardest part of starting a new life of adventure and travel.

Once you’ve set up camp a few times in your rig, or dropped the hook a few times along the coast, new patterns begin to get established and eventually the new lifestyle becomes routine.

But taking that first step — saying goodbye to all that is familiar and comfortable — can be truly frightening.

 

 

Pangas in Huatulco

Before we began cruising in our sailboat,
we knew nothing about Mexico.

Before we started full-time RVing in 2007, I used to sit in our home and gaze out the window and wonder how in the world we would ever be able to leave home and go live in a trailer.

A life on the road sounded so thrilling, but in many ways it seemed so impossible to achieve. Our house “needed us” to keep everything running right…would tenants trash the place?  Our friends and family were all staying put…would our relationships survive the long distances and time apart?  And we had so much stuff (and it was good stuff too!)…would we regret letting it go?

Sunrise in Puerto Balandra

We didn’t have sunsets like this in our neighborhood back home!
Puerto Balandra in the Sea of Cortez

 

 

 

 

 

 

As we sold off almost all of our belongings and put the rest in a shed behind a friend’s house, a mixture of terror and excitement filled our hearts.

 

Rainbow over fifth wheel

A rainbow over our rig in Flaming Gorge Utah

When we drove out of our neighborhood the last time, we headed 1,000 miles east with all our remaining worldly possessions in the back of our truck.

We were on our way to pick up a new rolling home that we had purchased online — sight unseen — and we were both utterly thrilled.

But at the same time a tiny voice inside asked, “what have we done?”

When we arrived at the RV dealership outside Dallas, we discovered our brand new trailer had been sitting on the lot for a year and was full of black mold under the fridge.

Cathedral Gorge, Nevada

We found this fascinating place (Cathedral Gorge)
while driving down the road in Nevada!

Holy cow!! What had we just done?

On our first trip to a laundromat, Mark looked at me glumly. “So this is it from now on,” he said.  “Laundromats… I used to have a really nice washer and dryer of my own!”

Oh dear… What in the world had we just done?

We can look back at those early days now and laugh.

In the end, Marshall’s RV Center was very upstanding and replaced our trailer with a fresh-off-the-line unit that was perfect in every respect.

 

 

Natural Bridges National Monument

A great spot to sit for a spell — Natural Bridges, Utah.

And we gradually got used to laundromats, and now enjoy doing three (or four, or five) loads of laundry simultaneously.

We returned to our home when we had been on the road for four years, and after just 10 days of painting and repairing, the place looked better than when we lived there ourselves!

After six years on the road, we returned again to do the same thing, with the same result. Maybe our home “needed us,” but apparently in small doses!

But what a lot of panicky feelings we went through on the way to those happy endings!

 

Cathedral steeples in Guanajuato

We had no idea our sailboat would introduce us to
sights like this in Guanajuato, Mexico

I think these kinds of mixed emotions and rocky beginnings are common among many new full-timers and cruisers.

As one friend wrote to me in an email during his final weeks before he left San Diego to cruise Mexico: “This is a confusing time, as we have wanted to do this for a long time, but getting ready is very stressful. Everything about it is scary.”

Emotions run extraordinarily high as you force yourself to let go of almost every material thing you’ve ever held dear, often for ten cents on the dollar, or less, at garage sales.

 

Idaho's Sawtooth Mountains

Leaving behind familiarity, comfort and stability, we opened our lives to
experience the beauty and wonder of places like Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains.

How hard it is to see your precious things get snatched up by vulturous yard-salers.

And — for cruisers especially — how frightening it is to see all the money you have carefully saved all your life, dollar by dollar, suddenly flying out of your bank account thousand by thousand.

No one REALLY told you that this is what outfitting your boat for self-sufficiency and safety in third-world countries would be all about… did they?

 

A fawn

A fawn stops to look at us

This preparation phase can shake you to the core.

Yet if you don’t hold fast to your dream, and march through these transitional days with strong resolve, you can’t ever open yourself to the new life that awaits you on the other side.

If your heart soars at the idea of sailing off over the horizon, or you long to sample a more exotic life on the road, pursuing that dream will ultimately push you out of your comfort zone. Only by accepting that can you escape the “same old same old.”

If you get scared, and give in, and give up before you ever get going, you are effectively saying your dream isn’t worthwhile.

Dreams are flighty and delicate. They flit around us like butterflies on a warm summer day, hard to pin down, and quick to fly off out of sight.

playing guitar on a boat

A tranquil moment at anchor aboard Groovy

Reaching out to catch our dreams can be a stretch. But we have to take that leap of faith, and sometimes even suffer a little scary uncertainty, if we want to make them come true.

Ironically, after six years on the road, three in a fifth wheel and three in a sailboat, Mark and I find ourselves right where we started, as we rearrange our lives to support our new dreams.

We are giving up cruising, resuming full-time RVing, and we plan on traveling in other ways too.

For all those wonderful things to happen, though, we have to make some big changes.

Santiago Sunrise

Glorious sunrises are routine in Manzanillo Bay!

For starters, we need to sell everything we bought for the boat, and sell the boat too.

Over the past few weeks, we have held a daily Cockpit Sale aboard Groovy in San Diego and sold off piles of wonderful cruising gear

How great it is that we never needed our EPIRB (emergency radio beacon) or spare storm anchor or spare macerator pump.

But how hard it is to let them go for half of what we paid.

 

An all day every day cockpit sale on Groovy.

An all day every day cockpit sale on Groovy.

It is not quite as hard as getting rid of a 25 year accumulation of stuff like we did when we started full-timing, but it entails the same mixed sense of loss — and of growing freedom.

To make things even more complicated, our tenants’ lease on our home is up and they have moved out.

We like to choose who lives in our home, so this new wrinkle has forced us to dash to Phoenix to tidy up the place and find new people to live there.

Saguaro cactus in the clouds

A saguaro cactus stands amid
monsoon clouds in Arizona

 

 

 

Putting the Cockpit Sale on hold for a bit, we are now in Phoenix, sleeping on an air mattress and using paper plates and plastic utensils in our empty home, as we clean and repair little things and show the place to prospective tenants.

All of our incredible travels suddenly seem like a distant dream. Stranger still, I am now gazing out the windows of our former home, and I am wondering how in the world we will ever get from here into our next phase of life.

The anchorage at Las Hadas Resort

I never imagined we would anchor in places like this —
Las Hadas Resort in Manzanillo Mexico.

I can envision it, but it seems worlds away.

Gorgeous red rocks at Capitol Reef Utah

Gorgeous red rocks at Capitol Reef Utah

 

We need tenants.

We need a boat buyer.

We need to sell the rest of our cruising stuff and downsize back into our trailer.

The key, I think, both for first-timers and for folks like us that are making a midstream adjustment to their traveling lifestyle, is to Stay the Course.

I’ve said this to lots of people who have emailed me in a panic in the last weeks before they take off on their dream adventure. Now it is time for us to remind ourselves of this important message too!!

The beauty of full-timing is that we can boondock among Utah's red rocks as long as we like.

The beauty of full-timing is that we can boondock among Utah’s red rocks as long as we like.

hobie mirage i14t tandem inflatable kayak

First days with our super fun kayak in Florida

When we were going through our initial big sell-off, before we moved into our trailer, my mom asked me how I could part with so much of my personal memorabilia.

In a way, purging all that stuff was like clearing out a place in my own soul.

Only by letting go of it all could I make room for new memories, new experiences and new thrills.

 

porta-bote portabote

Mark and his son check out our slick new porta-bote.

If I clung too tightly to my past, I wouldn’t have room for the future.

And so it is now as I watch other people walk away from our boat with our fins, our cruising guides, our kayak, our dive tanks, our cool portable VHF radio and our dinghy.

Each holds precious memories — both of choosing the gear in anticipation of our cruise and of putting it to use in Mexico — and in each item I see a younger and more innocent me who embraced our cruising life with such enthusiasm.

Groovy anchored in Tangolunda Bay, Huatulco

Groovy anchored in Tangolunda Bay, Huatulco

Now it is time to let it all go.

We could try to keep all that stuff — we might use some of it again — but our new life is still on the road, and there is absolutely no room for any of it in our already full fifth wheel trailer.

If we need any of it in the future, we can buy it again.  That may not be the most cost-effective approach, but at least we won’t have had to lug it around with us either.

 

 

Big hole Montana boondocking

A rainbow over our rig in Montana’s Bitterroot Valley

Likewise, as I sit between our home’s bare walls and wonder when those wonderful new prospective tenants we’re waiting for will suddenly walk in the door and fall in love with our place, I have to dig deep for the faith that they will indeed show up, that they will truly love our home, and that they will pay the rent on time.

A big part of having a dream and pursuing it is also having the faith that all the pieces will fall into place and allow it to come true.

For three straight weeks we have turned into expert salesmen, day in and day out, selling everything we have right out from under us, from tarps and fishing gear to a lease on our home.

Standing on a corner

Standin’ on the corner in Winslow Arizona

But this uncertainty, and these weird feelings, and this soul searching are all part of the process.  They are the small toll we must pay to transit the gate to where our dream lifestyle not only resumes but takes flight.

Once past all this, once our new adventures get going, I now know that I will eventually look back on these days and remember this younger me, gazing out these very same windows, wondering how it will all come together.

I will look back, too, and remember how, beneath my nervousness, I was so full of anticipation, expectation and hope.

Sunrise in Huatulco

Good monring sunshine!

 

If you are working towards a dream of escape, and putting together the many pieces that will go into a new life of full-time travel, remember: Stay the Course.

When things get a little emotional, and you question your own sanity, and you wonder if giving up your current life for a fragile dream will be worth it in the end, have faith in your vision.

If you are like us, with wanderlust and adventure in your soul, imagine yourself in your final years. Which will be most fulfilling to reminisce about, a lifetime of possessions or a lifetime of experiences?

When you fear your dream may not work out, believe — with all your heart — that your innermost yearnings and your deepest desires are right for you.

You will cherish the days when those intangible longings have become the very essence of your day to day life.

 

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Reunion and farewell – Reflections on a passage

Happy family times aboard Groovy

Happy family times aboard Groovy

One of the great joys of returning to San Diego with our sailboat Groovy is that the gods aligned our family stars and made San Diego a natural gathering place for the whole family clan.

Sheer good fortune saw Mark’s son Rory get relocated to San Diego right about the same time we sailed into port.

To make things even merrier, his daughter Amanda and her two little girls were just a day’s drive away.

There is nothing quite so fulfilling after being away for a very long time as seeing the happy faces of loved ones.

 

At the beach

At the beach

While we had been caught up in the craziness of bringing our boat north and then selling everything we owned right out from under ourselves, including the boat, the arrival of our two granddaughters made all our cares and concerns melt away in an instant.

Playing with them and watching them cut loose with their mom and uncle made our hearts sing.

They are utterly charming and as different as night and day.  As all kids do, they are rapidly growing up, and every time we see them they have changed and matured.

Sheer joy

Sheer joy

Yet at seven and nine, they are still innocent and free.

Everything is an adventure, the world is an inviting and wonderful place, and whenever life gets a little uncertain, all you have to do is hug a stuffed animal or two.

Reunions like this are so precious, and with both Rory and ourselves immersed in lives that take us to far-flung places, we will all always cherish our family moments together aboard Groovy and on San Diego’s beaches during these happy days.

Life's a beach!

Life’s a beach!

One of the best things has been listening to them all chatter about their upcoming plans and future goals.

Whether it is the promise of joining the Junior Cheerleading Squad after turning ten, or taking on the heights of Mt. Whitney on a rigorous hike with other twenty-somethings, or simply being able to go home and brag to the other second graders that you did the Atlantis ride at Sea World three times, they are all excited about everything that life has to offer.

Manning the helm

Manning the helm

The energy of the little girls running around on the beach dragging kelp tails behind them and digging in the sand left us happily breathless.

Where does that energy go as the years pass by?

How is it that we grow from eyes of wonder at seven to eyes of youthful anticipation at twenty-seven to eyes of experience and sometimes exhaustion some thirty years later?

This cycle of life never stops, and the old generation gives way to the young ones coming up behind.  Our parents walk before us, just a baby step ahead, passing through each phase of life just enough years in advance that we can pause to think about it for a minute or two before we arrive at that age ourselves.

 

 

Playing in the waves

Playing in the waves

And so it was that a few nights ago I came back from the gym here at the marina and pranced down our companionway stairs still glowing from a good hard workout and a piping hot shower to find Mark sitting motionless in front of his computer.

I made a smart remark to him about the Beatles music he was playing.  In our home there is always a musical tug of war going on between the Beatles and my classical favorites.

Invariably, as soon as I step out the door I can hear Paul McCartney serenading me as I walk down the dock.  And as soon as Mark slips away, the cabin is filled with Chopin or Mendelssohn or Brahms.

Uncle Rory

Is there anyone more fun than Uncle Rory?

“It’s John Lennon,” he said flatly.

Sure enough, it was, and I thought nothing of it as I chirped away about my awesome workout.  Beatles, Lennon, it’s all the same great stuff.  Whatever!

I washed my water bottle and stole a look over Mark’s shoulder at his computer screen.  There was a photo of a boy sitting under a big tree.

“Great photo!” I said cheerily.  “Did you take that this afternoon?” I thought it might be one of the beautiful huge trees on Shelter Island.

Mark didn’t respond, which was strange.

My eyes fell lower to the words below the photo.  “My Mummy’s Dead.”  It said.  Then I heard John Lennon’s plaintive voice singing those very words on YouTube:  “My Mummy’s Dead.”

 

Gladys

Mark’s mom, Gladys

I came around to Mark’s side and saw tears streaming down his face.  Oh no.  I reached for him as my own tears began to slide down my cheeks.  He didn’t need to say a thing.  I knew.  His mother had just died.

There are few pains in this world quite as severe as losing a parent.  The void it leaves is immense, and the rootlessness it leaves you with is shattering.  When my dad died, even though we weren’t close, my world unexpectedly collapsed.  And now, even though Mark and I had been anticipating his mother’s death for a long time, we were completely unprepared.

I looked at Mark and suddenly saw the young boy within him.  His face was innocent, and his expression no longer had the strong lines of a man.

He was his mother’s beautiful little boy, the son she had held close to her heart from the day he arrived.

Mom and baby son

Dear mom and her baby boy

Why do we lose our parents, and where do they go?  It is one thing to be stranded in a supermarket aisle at age three, terrified that mom has left us forever.

In those days, though, she always turned up again, with the help of a kindly store clerk, and we always found out she just went to the next aisle and didn’t realize we hadn’t followed.

Not this time.

Or maybe, just maybe, with the grace of God who will eventually steer us the right way, perhaps it is just the same this time.

When I held the small marble urn containing my father’s ashes at the edge of his grave, my world reeled out of control.

How could my father, a huge, six foot tall, three hundred pound man whose brilliant mind was filled with dreams and theories and really strong opinions and beautiful music possibly fit into this tiny urn?  Where was he really?

It seemed a curtain had been closed between us.  A thick, rich, dark red, velvet curtain now somehow kept him from me.

x

Mother and son

Sadly, we too will eventually pass to the other side of that curtain, and our kids and loved ones will be left standing right behind us, just as baffled as we are now, trying to heal their broken hearts while wondering where we went.

The very next day Mark’s son picked us up early to go on a little hike.  “It’s got some scrambling,” he said casually, “but it’s not too hard.”

Besides getting some fresh air, we were all looking forward to some photo ops.  How fortunate we are to share a new-found love of photography.  Mark was ecstatic to have an opportunity to pass on all he’s learned to his apt and eager son.

At the trailhead, we didn’t notice the sign that said, “Extremely steep and rugged terrain.” “Strenuous conditions.” “Technical climbing.” and “Proceed at your own risk.”

Father and son

Father and son

It was an epic hike that pushed us physically. Between the blazing sun, the scraped knees, and the dirt covered rumps, all traces of our emotional pain were blissfully swept away.

Mark and I watched Rory effortlessly glide over the challenging terrain while we pussy-footed and tripped and wimpered here and there.

I was reminded, yet again, of what a strapping, handsome and able young man he has become while his little boy self is but a memory that Mark sometimes wistfully shares with me.

As we hiked, he swung across a crevasse with a rope and leaped down from a great height with the kind of ease and grace we are sure we once had.

Leaps tall buildings in a single bound

Leaps tall buildings in a single bound

 

We scrambled along and managed those feats too, but our movements weren’t as fluid or as confident, and there was a cautiousness about us that reflected the three decades that stand between us.

As Mark said at one point while watching Rory’s beautiful physique rippling like a tiger’s, “Why don’t I have muscles like that?”

I’m so grateful I got to know Mark’s mom Gladys when she was a spry 69.  She and her beloved husband Joe radiated joy, and from what I could see they had it made in the shade.  Retired and loving life, they traveled between Michigan and Florida with the seasons and didn’t seem to have a care in the world.

Anywhere they went, whether visiting our house, or staying in a rented house in Florida, or living in their own house in Michigan, their presence always made the house a home.

I remember coming in from work one night, dog tired and a little bit cranky, to find the two of them, now our houseguests, sitting on our sofa watching TV, as content as any two people could ever be.

The lights were low and they were smiling.

Joe and Gladys - two peas in a pod

Joe and Gladys – two peas in a pod

A sense of calm swept over me.

The house was warm, and the kitchen smelled yummy, and I noticed Gladys had left a delicious dinner waiting for us in pots on the stove.

As Mark and I scarfed down her tasty home cooking, I suddenly felt like a kid in high school.  It didn’t matter that I was forty-four and that it was our house; for a few days Gladys and Joe made us feel like we were living at home with our parents again.

Gladys and Joe were married over six decades, and they truly seemed to blend into one. In everything they did there was a seamlessness between him and her.  They were our mentors in many ways, and Mark and I hoped we would be as lucky in life — and as gracious — as they had been.

This wonderful photo was taken by JR Halanski

But time marches on, and now, as we rummage through old photos to find pics of Gladys before her illness, we find pics of the grandgirls when they were just babies and pics of Mark’s kids in high school and pics of ourselves getting married.

We have always felt the press of time to pursue our dreams.  Who knows when the big velvet curtain will be drawn across our lives.  Too often we meet people who have postponed their dreams beyond their time, not knowing their time would be up so soon.

Our tears are still close to the surface as we reach out for that hollow place where Gladys used to be.  Just moments ago, Mark said quietly, “I can’t believe my mom is gone,” and the tears flowed once again.

Yet, at the same time, our kids and grandkids are growing, and their dreams are expanding, and their lives are open books still in their earliest chapters.  We will soar as they soar, one wingtip ahead of them in the paceline.

Precious memories

Making precious memories together

 

 

Finding Treasure at a San Diego Farmer’s Market

The Bahati Mamas are reaping a bountiful harvest in California

The Bahati Mamas are reaping a bountiful harvest from all that they’ve sown.

We love going to farmer’s markets, and we’ve made a point to go to the one held each Sunday on Shelter Island while we’ve been staying here in San Diego.

It’s a small market, taking up just a short side street, and they have the usual assortment of home-made honeys, jams, beautiful veggies and fruit juices with a good mix of made-to-order Mexican tacos thrown in for good measure.

But what caught our attention the first week we went was the bright red dress and matching head kerchief worn by a an African woman.

She was sitting behind a table that was piled high with bright green leafy veggies, and the colors lured us over.  We smiled at her and came a little closer.  She was busy tying the leaves into little bundles, but she looked up and smiled back.

These were the most lush and crisp looking greens in the whole market, and I said so to her.  “Yes.”  She replied softly.

I noticed a large sign nearby and began to read it, and quickly became absorbed.  It turned out she was one of a group of 11 women farmers called the “Bahati Mamas.”  Bantu refugees from the war in Somalia, these women had been gifted with a second chance at a new life here in America where they had been taught sustainable farming techniques and farm business management.

I looked back at her — a big, jovial and very dark woman dressed in vividly joyous red.  I asked her about the farm and the produce, but when she quietly answered “Yes” a few times in a row, I realized she was probably struggling with learning English the same way I have been with Spanish these past three years in Mexico.

The sign said that “Bahati” means “Lucky” in her native language of Kizigua, and that this group of women had been fortunate enough to come into this farming opportunity after nearly 17 years of living in refugee camps.  Many of them were single moms, as their husbands had died in the conflict.

Their produce is all sown and grown by hand organically, but because of the high cost of obtaining a USDA Organic Certification, it doesn’t carry that official stamp of approval.  They lease their land from the farm where they were taught, in the Pauma Valley at the foot of Mt. Palomar outside Escondido.

I found all this very moving.  The other California farmers at the market all had lovely things to sell too, but this woman had an amazing history.  I just wished that she and I shared the same words so I could hear the rest of her story, as she would tell it.

The following week we returned to the farmer’s market, and this time a different vendor caught our eye.  We had hustled through the market fairly late in the day, and many booths were shutting down.  But at the far end there was a booth with what looked like a painting of a bird on a stand out front.

Butterfly artist Martin Highton shows us his work

Butterfly artist Martin Highton shows us his work

We drew in a little closer and saw that this beautiful “painting” of an owl was actually made of something very feathery.

I looked up and saw another “painting.”  It was labeled “The Miracle of Morpho” and was an abstract series of circles of the most brilliant, iridescent blue.

An old man approached us and said, “Those are all butterfly wings.  They come from Morpho butterflies in Brazil.”

We did a double-take and stared at the painting closer. Each wing was easily discernible, but the patterns had been so meticulously matched that they seemed to melt together.

“The butterflies are raised in a sanctuary and the wings are discarded when they die.” He continued. “So I collect them.  I’ve been doing it for 40 years.  I thought that by creating artwork from the wings I might help the local people and perhaps help stop the deforestation there.”

We stared at this small man in astonishment.  Butterflies? Brazil? Deforestation? Art?  It was an impossible mix.  He pointed to a photo of an enlarged newspaper clipping on his wall.  “Johnny Cash was a big collector of my art.”  Sure enough, there were Johnny Cash and June Carter standing with a much younger version of this man, holding an artwork similar to the pieces in this booth.  “Brenda Lee was another collector.”  We moved closer to read the various newspaper clippings that hung on the wall.

The only blue butterflies I’ve ever heard of are from Australia, and I mentioned something about that.  “Oh yes, I’m from Australia, but these are Brazilian Morphos”  He said.  We hadn’t detected that he had an accent, but as he continued we found out he was raised in England and served as an engineering officer in the British Navy, sailing up and down the east coast of the Americas many times.

He had had a fascination with butterflies from an early age, and when he saw an opportunity to make use of the wings that were otherwise discarded, and possibly help the local people at the same time, he leaped on it.

We studied his other pieces.  Each was so delicately rendered, with the wings placed perfectly to form a mosaic of intricate colors and patterns that melded into abstract images, and owls and macaws.  It was beautiful.

“I’m retiring now.”  He said simply.  “Everything you see here is the last of my work.  Once it’s sold, I’m done.”  I asked what would happen to the wings now and if anyone was following in his footsteps.  “I don’t know.  I was the only butterfly artist that I know of.”

We studied each of his beautiful pieces, caught up in many many thoughts.  As we moved to leave, he had become busy with another customer, and I realized I had forgotten to ask his name.  But I did notice a sign on his wall saying, “M. Highton.”

We left with our hearts elevated and soaring. When we got home I hopped on the internet and found only a tiny bit of information on this very unusual artist.  How amazing it was to see that in April 2000 the PBS TV show Antiques Road Show valued one of his pieces at $10,000.  He was selling identical looking work at this farmer’s market for $998, the same price the person on the TV show had paid for his piece.

How fun to find such jewels on the back streets of San Diego.  In a scant two weeks, this little farmer’s market has given us two very uplifting and unique experiences that went far beyond mere vegetables. We will definitely be back!  I wonder what kinds of special people we will meet selling their wares next time?