Monday, July 15, 2019

Tent camping experiment

A couple of years ago I started going camping again, but so far I've always rented a cabin.  A cabin makes for quick and easy get away since these have a kitchen, a bathroom, a real bed and air-conditioning.  You don't have to pack much, just some food and clothes and maybe a camp chair for sitting outside.  But it's not exactly the camping experience of my younger days and I found myself longing for a good old-fashioned tent camping excursion.

I wasn't sure if I could successfully pull off tent camping at my age so I booked a site at a local state park for the weekend.  Home was only 20 minutes away so it was a quick trip back to the house if things didn't work out or I had forgotten something essential.  There was also the possibility that it would be far too hot during the day in July and I might want to retreat to air-conditioning for the afternoon.

I bought a cheap tent for this initial foray since I didn't want to spend a lot of money on a tent that I might only use once.  That cheap tent turned out to be the biggest pain point of the weekend.  I've always had very large tents in the past and wanted to go with something smaller this time so I got a tent that was 7x9.  I was afraid that I would find it too small, but the footprint was not the problem.  Instead, the problem was that I could not stand up straight to get in and out of the tent or stand up to do anything once inside, such as changing clothes.  I have back problems so that made everything about this tent extremely difficult.  I knew I would struggle with the set up and take down, but I did not expect it to be a literal pain beyond that and I would definitely swear off tent camping forever if that were my only tent option.  But there are other tents, so this was not a deal-breaker for tent camping in the future.

My next age related concern was the sleeping on the ground with a sleeping bag/cot/airbed.  I opted for an airbed, which I have never used before while camping, but it seemed like the best choice for my old bones.  The first night I found the airbed to be very comfortable, possibly more comfortable than my bed at home.  I can't say for certain because I had not only set up camp that day, but also had gone on a nature hike and my back was so sore that laying down on just about anything would have felt comfortable at that point.  The second night I felt like I was sleeping on a bowl of jello because the bed was now under-inflated.  It hadn't leaked, but it since it was brand new it had done the usual "stretching" that always happens with airbeds.  This was nothing more than poor planning on my part because if I had remembered that it was going to "stretch" then I could have put more air in it at a reasonable hour instead of discovering this at 2 AM when I went to bed. And I wasn't going to wake up the entire campground with a noisy air pump so I just had to swim around in it for the night.  That said, even an under-inflated airbed was satisfactory and so as long as I remember to bring a rug or some sort of padding for when I roll off the bed in the morning to stand up, I'll be fine. Yes, I have to roll off the bed and then stand up since it's far too low to the ground for me to get out in a normal way.  That's what happens when you are old and have back problems and sleep less than 24 inches off the ground. But it was not a deal-breaker for tent camping in the future.

Another age related concern was having a bathroom located some distance from the campsite.  I wasn't sure how easily I could accomplish those middle of the night bathroom trips.  The whole getting out of bed, putting on shoes, unzipping the tent, re-zipping the tent, then walking the 200 to 2000 feet to a restroom in the dark seemed like it might be a bit much at my age.  Turned out that it wasn't a problem except for the first night when they had to shut the water off because someone drove over the water faucet for their campsite.  The nearest working restroom was a half-hour walk away and that wouldn't have worked out for me in my youth either.  But on the second night, when we did have working restrooms nearby, it was a non-issue.  Still, it never occurred to me that the restrooms might be out of order and I think I may get one of those canister toilets and the little popup tent to house it in for "emergencies."  Therefore, the restrooms were not a deal-breaker for tent camping in the future.

Next, I had concerns about the heat since it's always very hot in Texas in July.  This weekend was a  tad cooler than normal, but it was still in the mid to upper 90s and the heat index was over 100 degrees.  The heat didn't bother me near as much as I expected, but I'm also certain that I can no longer endure a full week or two of tent camping in July.  That wasn't a problem when I was in my thirties or younger, but it's not going to be possible now.  That probably holds true for the cold as well and there will likely be no week-long tent camping happening in January or February either.  So overall, the weather was not a complete deal-breaker for tent camping in the future, it just limits the length of time that I can camp.

To wrap things up, I had a really good time and learned that I am not too old to go tent camping.  I just need to get a better tent!

Monday, May 27, 2019

Bouncing Back

Spring came and went and it's pretty much summer weather now. The band got together again in early May.  We all had a good time and even wrote a new song. I think we were all a bit nervous that we wouldn't find our groove again without Rob and for me, it was a relief when we were able to create something new without him physically present.  Though I'm fairly certain he was there in spirit.

I also decided to unleash my inner geek and build myself a new gaming computer. I haven't had a gaming oriented computer for over 20 years and I haven't build a system from scratch in even longer than that.  I went with a Ryzen 7 2700x processor, 32 GB of DDR4 3200 RAM and a RTX 2080 graphics card.  Motherboard is a ASUS ROG Crosshair VII Hero and I put it in a Meshify C case with an extra Corsair fan.  I went with some RGB lighting, mostly as a joke, but turns out it's rather pretty and I like it. 

I've left it at work for the last two weeks so I could get some important stuff done. At work, I'm way too busy to spend time on it and I don't want to bring it home until I can be guilt-free about doing nothing but mucking around on my new computer.  This week looks good for that so I'll probably bring it home tomorrow. 

I've also started walking the three mile paved trail at the nearby state park a couple of times a week.  Back 30 years ago, I used to walk this same trail every day after work.  It was closer to my house and workplace than any gym, far cheaper than a gym membership (I got in free) and way more enjoyable than being in a sweaty gym.  These days, it's more of a hobble than a walk and it takes me twice as long to go the same distance, but one thing hasn't changed - it's still closer, cheaper and more enjoyable than going to a gym.  Here's a picture of the trail.

The trail meanders around campsites and while walking it, I realized just how much I miss tent camping.  The cabins I've been going to are rustic enough that you can still call it camping, but it's a completely different experience than staying in a tent.  I have some concerns about being able to still pull off tent camping at my age and disability, but tents have evolved quite a bit over the last 10 years and there are quite a few now that are fairly easy for one person to set up.  So I decided to book a tent site at a state park for a weekend in July, but everything at all the nearby parks was already booked up.  And then I finally managed to find one camp site available.  There was only one in the entire park and when I saw where this one and only site was located, I decided that it was sign from the universe that I should go for it.  

After all, what are the odds that the one and only available campsite would be located right across the street from the restrooms, thereby eliminating my concerns about having to hobble a long way to the restroom in the middle of the night? I'll let you know in July how it went - it should be an interesting experience.

I seem to be bouncing back and I feel like I'm getting my sea legs now in this strange new world of no parents and no husband.  I still miss Rob and my parents and I guess I probably always will, but I don't feel lonely. And I'm not sad, but I'm not exactly happy either.  I think it's too soon for that.  

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Time flies...

I don't remember much of February other than it was dark and cold and I worked a lot.  The start of March was still cold, but I was so happy to see the sun rising sooner in the mornings.  Then daylight saving time rolled around and the clock change screwed that all up.  I was out of sorts and grumpy for weeks afterwards and it stayed cold.  It feels like April 1st was just a few days ago instead of ten, but I guess that is what happens when one spends their time working 10-15 hour workdays and working quite a bit on the weekends too. 

Although it sounds like it's been all work and no play, the band has started getting together on occasion to eat, drink, and be merry play music.  We usually kick things off in the late afternoon and then turn off the amplifiers and quiet the drums at 10 PM in the interest of sparing the new neighbor's small children a poor night's sleep.  At that point we switch to doing Karaoke and hilarity ensues since none of us are the slightest bit good at it. 

I also watched quite a bit of TV (Netflix & Amazon Prime) because I was too tired to do anything else after a long workday and thoroughly enjoyed shows I normally never would have watched.  Turns out "fluff" TV is pretty good for letting my brain unwind.   I read books too, on those days when my eyes weren't too tired from staring at a computer screen all day.  I probably read more books in the last three months than what I read in the five years prior.

And this weekend I'm finally taking off a few days and will be spending the time at a cabin in the woods with some friends.  I've got another friend who is going to house-sit for me and take care of my dogs so I'll have a few days where I'm on a REAL vacation! 

Well, break time is over for now so back to work until 9 PM, but after that - VACATION TIME!

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Fighting the wintertime blues

January has always been a dreary month for me.  There are too many days that are dark and cold, often combined with rain, mist or fog and I usually get a bit down in the dumps during this time of year no matter what else is going on in my life.  This year I was already feeling depressed after Rob's death and even though I survived the holidays relatively well, the winter blahs have now arrived in full force.  This depression is frustrating, but I also know it is perfectly normal and it will pass over time.  I just have to figure out the best way to muddle through the next few months.  It's not easy for me to find any sort of motivation when I'm depressed, but I have managed to attempt a few things.

My office at work is a dark, windowless cave which is a plus during the hot summer months, but a total drag in the winter.  Right now it's dark when I go to work, dark when I come home and I never see any daylight until the weekend.  That's certainly not helping things so I've decided to work from home one day a week with my desk strategically positioned between two windows that will give me the maximum amount of daylight.  Today is the first day I've tried it and it's a nice change of pace. 

I've spent the last couple of weeks packing up Rob-stuff to go through later.  The packing up part has been difficult and hasn't done much to improve my mood, but looking at it all the time didn't help either.  If I have no immediate use for it, such as beading supplies, or it's something that will probably never bring me joy, like that really ugly skull shaped wooden thing hanging on the wall, then it goes in a box or a closet and I'll make the decision to keep it or get rid of it later when I'm in a better frame of mind.  The house is still 90% Rob, just pared down a little.  

I also got rid of the couches.  He died on one of them and there wasn't any way to keep them and not be constantly reminded of that day.   With that space freed-up, I moved the band equipment from the upstairs bonus room downstairs to the old living room and turned the dining room into my new living room.  We never used it as a dining room since it's by the front door rather than by the kitchen and the dining table just became a place to plop stuff down when you walked in the door.  It's too small of a space for a couch, but a love seat and a few chairs will fit and that's really all I need.  It will be a while before I have saved enough money for new furniture, but in the meantime, I have my camping lounge chairs and camping rocking chair.  They are actually quite comfortable despite looking a bit odd as indoor furniture. 

The junk car in the driveway is gone.  Rob insisted he was going to fix it some day, but he's certainly not ever going to get that done now so I donated it to my local public radio station. 

Cooking and baking are things that I used to really enjoy doing so this weekend I made five different quiches, chopped them up into individual portions, vacuum-sealed them and threw them in the freezer.  

Is any of this helping?  I can't say for sure, but at least it's more productive than just staying in bed under the covers, binge-watching Netflix which about all I really want to do. 

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

I survived the holidays!

This was a really tough holiday season.  Thanksgiving without mom and dad was hard enough, but without Rob?  The man who loved to cook and thought Thanksgiving was one of the best holidays ever?   Yeah, it was tough.  And then there was Christmas.  A big part of the fun of Christmas for me was finding as much cool stuff as possible for Rob on a limited budget. Skull shot glasses, Grateful Dead ashtrays, cheap novelty knives (one year I found one that looked like a grim reaper riding a motorcycle!), novelty salt and pepper shakers (he collected them) and silly gag gifts, it was so much fun!  I'd spend a whole month searching for these things.  But this year I only had to buy gifts for my remaining family; off-the-shelf toys for the younger grand-nieces/nephews and gift cards for the rest.  What a big yawn and it took me only one day to do all of it.  And when I was done wrapping the gifts, I realized that I had bought wrapping paper that was mostly black, with just a little bit of red and white. That wasn't a conscious decision, but it accurately reflected my mood. 

Overall, I never could get into the holiday spirit and quite frankly, I was pretty much depressed for the most of November and December.  But I did promise to go to my brother's house for the traditional family Christmas Eve dinner and gift exchange, now held there and no longer at my mom's house.  That thought stung a bit, but I forced myself to get out of the house and drive out of town to do it, fearing if I didn't go that I might start a new habit of never celebrating Christmas again. 

My sister-in-law did a great dinner spread and between my niece and nephew and their kids, there was plenty of family there.  Much to my surprise, I had a really good time and you can't beat having an adorable grand-niece fall asleep on your lap when she finally crashed around midnight.  I'm so glad I spent the night there with my remaining family instead of driving back home to an empty house where I'd be sorely missing Rob. 

Once I got home, late in the afternoon on Christmas Day, I proceeded to cook my own version of the perfect Xmas day dinner feast - tamales with chili con queso and my secret recipe for 60's side of the highway mom and pop restaurant where no one speaks English style Mexican rice.

I not only survived, but I came out much happier than when I started.  That is probably the best Christmas present ever. 

Tuesday, November 06, 2018

On the road again

I was able to drive to work yesterday.  It was very uncomfortable when I tested out my ability to do a "panic stop", but it didn't seem like I was going to be dangerous out there on the road so I went ahead and drove to the office.  It's about a 30 minute drive with several long traffic lights and always one or two panic stops on the way because the drivers here are horrible.  I pulled it off, but 30 minutes is about the most I can do and I'm not good for much walking afterwards.  That pretty much rules out making a grocery store run any time soon. 

Truth be told, even if I had someone else do the driving, there's no way I'd be able to walk the distance it takes to get through one of our huge grocery stores.   I won't starve though.  Only a mile from my house is a small convenience store that also has a meat market and carries fresh produce.  Well, "fresh" might be a misnomer, but it's better than nothing and it's the only option out here in the food desert where I live.  They call it a food desert because the closest grocery store is 10 miles away and about a 45 minute drive.  There's also no public transportation access and the cab fare is about $30 one-way.  Although the convenience store is a bit more expensive on some items, the extra cost is still a lot cheaper than paying $60 to go to and from the big grocery store in a cab.

The convenience store is what's called a "Mexican Market" which means things are not exactly the same as what I might see in my regular grocery store.  I'm not really sure what those cuts of meat are (other than the ground beef) and I'm also not sure what to do with them.  The produce is not your normal selections; nopales (cactus), chayote squash and other odd things.  The cheese selection is also interesting and I have already gotten used to putting Oaxaca cheese on my pizza because they don't carry Mozzarella. 

Now I can cook regular Tex-Mex any day of the week, but if I want any variety I'm going to have to go beyond my usual tacos, tostadas and enchiladas.  I'm hoping the internet can give me some clue on what to do with the unfamiliar cuts of meat.  I already know several recipes for chayote squash since I've been eating that for years. but I've never done anything with nopales.  Who knows, I just might be having cactus for dinner tonight.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

A hard lesson

I'm a pretty independent person, not usually willing to let others help me out if I can do it myself.  My friends stepped in after Rob died and I was grief stricken enough to let that happen.  But apparently I didn't learn that lesson well enough so the universe saw fit to orchestrate another demonstration. 

This weekend I was out at Bastrop State Park with my friend Tracy for his birthday.  We were setting up a canopy that needed to be moved over a picnic table and I hopped up on the table to help move it along.  When I stepped off the bench of the table, my right foot landed wrong and it made the most interesting noise; sounded a bit like a Xylophone or a bunch of knuckles cracking.  I wasn't sure if it was a break or a sprain, but either way I couldn't put much weight on it.  No bones were poking out anywhere so I didn't see any point in going to the doctor right then; just threw some ice on it and went on with the party.  Other people joined us, we cooked dinner, I drank a lot of beer which dulled the pain, and had a wonderful time.

The next morning, my foot was no better and now this was a problem.  Not only did it mean that Tracy had to load up both cars all by himself, but I suspected that I might not be able to drive my car.  I gave it a try and was able to get the car up to the park office, but only just barely.  There was no way I could drive in traffic on a busy highway to get home. 

Tracy took me from the park to a minor emergency center in Bastrop where I was hoping they could fix me up enough to drive.  They took some X-rays, determined nothing was broken and it was only torn ligaments, but that I would not be able to drive for at least a few days, and most likely not for a week or two.  They gave me a shot for the pain and big boot to stabilize my foot.  I might not be able to drive, but with the boot I could hobble around without crutches for short distances and for that I was extremely grateful. Tracy took me home and found someone to drive my car back from Bastrop, a friend of his who had never met me and no reason to do that, but was more than willing to help out.  Not only did I have to rely on my friends, but also the kindness of strangers! 

Today I'm working from home.  I've got a co-worker who will give me a ride to work tomorrow.  What happens after that remains to be seen, but I suspect I'm going to have to lean on people for at least a few more days.