Santa’s southwest helpers

Well, that old adage is true: you can take the kids out of Amazon, but you can’t take the Amazon out of the kids.  For our third holiday season on the road, we decided against the Camperforce program and working for, but I just realized that we are still playing elves for a few weeks this year.

JJ is working as a driver’s assistant for UPS.  He rides shotgun in the jump seat, and like some paratrooper ready to deploy, waits for his “go!”.  When the truck stops, he jumps off with the package, and runs it to the house.  In the meantime, the driver is available to find and scan the next package, so they’re ready to go as soon as JJ is back in the van.  With this assistance, drivers are often able to double their capabilities, and a heck of a lot more stuff can get delivered in the same shift.

I am working as office help for the Tucson Tamale Company.  First, I guess I should explain, in case my Ohio peeps don’t know what I mean.  Tamales are a tradition Mexican food, made with yummy things surrounded in cornmeal dough, then wrapped in corn husks and steamed til cooked. They can be savory, with pork or beef, or sweet, with cherries or chocolate.  The cornmeal is generally mixed with lard, but using canola means they can be vegetarian or even vegan.  Most importantly, tamales are a hugely popular holiday dish, especially in a place like Tucson, where food culture goes way, way back, and everyone gets in on delicious traditions from a variety of cultural backgrounds.

The Tucson Tamale Company started as a restaurant business in Tucson in 2008, and right away, started getting requests for mail orders.  Now, in addition to the actual restaurants in Tucson, you can also buy them wholesale to sell in groceries and other restaurants, and they have a huge direct shipping program for tamale lovers across the U.S.  During most of the year, they ship about 100 boxes per week, but between Thanksgiving and Christmas, it jumps to about 2000 boxes per week, and that’s where I come in.  I am working in the corporate office, creating FedEx shipping labels, and also in the shipping department, boxing up the frozen tamales with dry ice to be mailed.

In addition to working, we’re enjoying the outside options that are close to our house.  A bike trail runs behind us, and extends 20 miles in either direction.  My favorite walk is to the wetlands area just north of us to listen to the birds and watch the turtles swim around.  I also use the trail as a highway to work, on the bike that our friends Ann and Nathan loaned us.

Tucson is surrounded in mountains, all with good hiking options.  For the days you’re feeling adventurous, there’s canyon hikes and mountain hikes with lots of elevation gain.  And for more laid back exploring, the foothills leading up to the ranges offer more gentle terrain.  Lots of the land around us is protected as national parks, national forests, and the best county park system I’ve ever seen. We’ve enjoyed every trail we’ve tried so far, especially for being so close to the city and easy to access.

Sweetwater Preserve has nice rolling hills, with views over the city.

Wounded saguaro:

Christmas twisty bread saguaro:

Saguaro National Park has endless hiking. This is Yetman Trail.

Bowen House, remnants of a homesteader from the 1930s:

Til next time!

The Great Parent Swap

Scheduling your year can be a very interesting experience with a mobile life.  Thanks to the good people at Rock Creek Lakes Resort, we know that as long as we’d like it, we can expect to be there for summer work, between about May and October every year.  And for the past 2 years, with working Amazon, we could also plan based on the assumption that we would work in November and December.  This year, we decided against holiday work with Amazon in favor of spending time in a city that we really like, and where we could be close to friends: Tucson. Because we had no idea what kind of winter work we would find, we planned to see our folks just after arriving in town, but before we’d start any jobs.

(An aside on the inherent nature of short term seasonal work: the timetable for the hiring process is so very different from what we’ve experienced for long term seasonal work.  That is, many outfits that need help for the whole summer are already hiring, and will probably be finished with the process before the new year.  When we started applying for holiday jobs a couple weeks ago, we ran into problems when we were still in California, and someone from Arizona would call the same day we submitted an application, asking if we could come to an interview right away! We learned that for this type of work, we really need to wait until we’re in place and ready to start interviewing.)

All this is just a big lead-in to say that when we were deciding when to fit in visits with our families, the only sure time frame was right after we arrived in Tucson, and before any winter work would start. I headed home to Ohio shortly after we settled in our new town, and JJ’s folks flew out to visit with him here.  It was a great plan to accommodate both sets of parents; mine, who preferred not to travel, and JJ’s, who were thrilled with the chance to enjoy the sunshine of the southwest.

I flew home into unseasonably warm and sunny weather, which was great, because I ended up doing an awful lot of outside activities. To be honest, I just plain did a lot of all kinds of activities, as I tried to fit in spending time with as many people as I could.  Here’s the photo evidence!

My folks are surrounded by the orchards of a local family farm, and the gravel lane through the property makes great walking:

We spent a day in Amish Country and visited Lehman’s, a department store that serves folks who don’t use electricity.  I loved the ornate woodstoves and hand crank washing machines!

It’s not a visit home if I don’t get Al Pastor tacos with Heidi:

Great walking weather, even if I ask my dad to participate in silly photos.

Hiking with my sister in the Hocking Hills:

And more ice cream with Lou and Mary Jane!:

It was a whirlwind visit, but it was great to be able to see my parents and spent a lot of quality time with them!

Spoiler alerts for next time: I return to Tucson, and JJ and I both get jobs!

Home for the holidays

As much as we liked the weather and the palm trees, our two weeks in Southern California had to come to an end.  So, we crossed the huge desert that is southwestern Arizona, and we moved on to our winter destination–Tucson.

We moved into a campground right in the heart of the city, in order to be close to all the action.  We are also only a few miles from our Chicago friends, Ann and Nathan, who just arrived in town a few months ago. My favorite part of our neighborhood is the nature area that is a mile away by bike trail, Sweetwater Wetlands. It really is an oasis in the middle of the city, filled with birds and green things that feed your soul.

Ann and Nathan are bike commuters and don’t own a car, and we are thrilled to have adventure companions, so we are the perfect match. We drove up to the tallest mountain in the area, Mount Lemmon, which, at 9157 feet, is quite a different climate from the desert valley below. There are scenic overlooks across a panoramic view, and tons of hiking.

We are planning to be in Tucson to make money with a winter job, but I’ll be damned if we’re having much luck with the process. I was a bit cocky, and I assumed that it would be easy-peasy to find a Holiday job. We’re finding a lot of mostly really part time work (like, 15-18 hours per week) and a lot of jobs that only want long-term workers. I feel it’s best to be honest that we only intend to work for a couple months, but we’ve lost out on a couple potential gigs due to that admission. We have plenty saved up to be off for a couple months, but we’d prefer to work now, and then have a few months to travel in the spring. I’m trying not to freak out, but I’m feeling a little low about our prospects. I know things will turn out fine, but I’m wigging a bit in the meantime.

However, we didn’t have all that much time to look for jobs, because both of us are currently spending time with our folks. We wanted to fit in visits before any winter work began. I’m in Ohio, while JJ’s folks are with him in Tucson. And all that is fodder for the next post!

Til next time!

How I spent my summer vacation, Part 2

Yes, I am a savvy blogger, and I understand the old adage that “Sex Sells”.  So, as I promised in the last post, here is the rest of the story of our second week in Southern California, including a visit to a date farm, and details about the sex lives of dates.

One of the best features of Jojoba Hills RV Park (besides being a part of our camping club, and that it has no-hookup spots for $5/night) is the location.  It’s between L.A. and San Diego, and there’s about a million options for day trips.  Over the mountains to the northeast lies the Coachella Valley, home of Palm Springs, Palm Desert, and Indio.  It’s a major agricultural area, and where 95% of the dates are produced in the US.  The main highway through the valley was lined with fruit farms as early as the 1920s, and the businesses needed a hook in order to get folks to stop.

Shield’s Date Farm presented a daily lecture about “The Sex Life of The Date”, with the owner pontificating under a huge beach umbrella for his audience, who apparently just sweltered in little bleachers in the hot sun.  The talk was a hit, and it next became a slide show, and now the farm has a dedicated theater, with the movie version running continuously. (Which allows you to have the chance to say “this is where I came in”, for perhaps the only time in our modern world!)

If you really, really want the scientific version, I’d recommend a trip to Wikipedia.  But if you’re here for the Rayn version, read on.  Dates are one of the older cultivated crop, and they largely seem to have forgotten how to reproduce on their own. Human involvement is required from start to finish, and they are extremely laborious to produce.  They need both super hot and dry climates, and also flooded with water at certain points in their reproductive process.  Humans have to collect the pollen from the male palms and then apply it to the female palms.  When the dates start to grow, they are covered with a waterproof jacket until they’re ripe, which doesn’t happen all at once.  The pickers have to check on the clusters once a week, and only pick the ripe fruits.

Besides the racy date sex life movie, we also enjoyed the retail shop, where you can try every kind of date the farm produces before you buy.  We agonized over just what to get…there were options like marzipan stuffed dates, chocolate covered dates, and beautiful gift sets.  In the end we chose a box of a variety called Black Beauty, and a box of date rolls, covered in coconut and chopped nuts.

If you need eleven pounds of dates, they can fix you up:

You can also stroll through a lovely manicured garden behind the store, through citrus trees, flowering trees, and also with life-of -Jesus statues.

We also went to Palm Springs to see a quirky little museum, Ruddy’s General Store Museum, which is the collection of a fellow who was obsessed with 1930s general stores. It was crammed full with oddities, and we loved looking at the crazy products and nostalgic packaging.

Apparently, most of these drug containers still have the original product inside:

The tobacco display:

Beautiful thread display rack:

Food that is probably really, really past its sell-by date:

To round out our week, swam and chilled in the hot tub, read books at the library, walked a lot, and had dinners with our friends Dave and Max. JJ was thrilled to go see some action movie with Dave, and Max and I were perfectly happy to miss it and stay home! We watched sunrises and sunsets, and Soupy went out with JJ for daily jaunts. It was very relaxing, and a great way to come down after a summer of very hard work.

Next up: we finally leave for our winter spot in Tucson!

How I spent my summer vacation, Part 1

Regardless of how many times I experience the concept of “the best laid plans of mice and men”, I still have a bit of a hissy fit when I have to rethink my gameplan in our travels. JJ and I planned to stay at the Escapees Resort in Southern California for about a week, and then move on to other areas we’ve been meaning to see (Anza-Borrego State Park, Organ Pipe National Monument). As we’ve so often experienced on the road, the weather did not cooperate. The desert southwest has been *HOT*, with all the interesting locales around us sweltering in the upper 90s. I keep looking around at where we could go and enjoy pleasant weather, and the coast was the only other option. While it is indeed lovely, the California coast is far from a budget choice, which nixed it. As I kept looking, I finally came to an understanding: as weather goes, where we were was the perfect place, and at $5/night, the price was perfect too. So, one week morphed into two, and here we still are!

Our first order of business was to get all the RV chores done. We sanitized the drinking water system, and washed and waxed both the RV and car. These are huge, multi-day jobs that generally involve a lot of fighting, because we just hate them. We made sure to have ice cream on hand, and we made it through, relationship intact.

Very clean girls:

Since we would be between Los Angeles and San Diego for a few weeks, I searched out some fun day trips. We hiked in the mountains to the northeast, in the Volcan Mountain Preserve. It was a great hike to a high point that overlooks all the hills of the area and even the desert floor of the Coachella Valley.

Artistic gates lead to the trail head:

We also went out jeeping with our friend, Dave, purely for scientific purposes. See, Dave’s jeep had been having trouble with overheating, and he recently had work done to correct the problem. He wanted to tackle a steep mountain and check on whether the “Lobster” would perform any better. Palomar Mountain is right across the street from the Resort, and it’s covered with winding dirt roads that lead to highpoints. We went to a specific highpoint, High Point Lookout Tower, a fire tower staffed by volunteers. Good news: the Lobster climbed the grade like a champ, not even getting a little hot, and we enjoyed the awesome 360 degree views.

That little snaking ribbon of brown is the road we came up:

Besides the official outings, we’ve been hard at work relaxing everyday. I’ve been enjoying getting my 4 things in everyday (walk, exercise, yoga, and sunbathing) and we generally get to the pool and hot tub daily, too.  The park is surrounded with mountains that catch the sunrise and sunset, and sand dunes with hiking trails.  We’ve read a lot of books from the little library in the park, and have slept in every day. Plus, we found Mariposa Ice Cream, where we had the biggest sundaes EVER!  It’s been a great couple of weeks.  Stand by for the next installment, How I Spent My Summer Vacation, Part 2!  Spoiler alert: you will learn about the sex lives of dates.🙂

Cinderella Week and Weather Whiplash

Last year, the Resort shutdown took about 2 weeks of what I considered to be fairly hard labor. This year, knowing that we would only be there about 6 days after the final day of business, we worked double time to be sure that we got as much finished as possible. Shutting down means, first off, cleaning *everything* in the kitchen, restaurant, and store, which means a ton of scrubbing. We clean the ceilings, the walls, the shelves, the cabinets, and round out the process with a through floor scrubbing, down on your hands and knees with a scrub brush.  Cabin shutdown is much the same, with 11 kitchens that get a solid round of SOS application, and a stove cleaning with Easy Off, in addition to the regular cabin cleaning.  We wash all the bedspreads and mattress pads, which is about a 2 week process as we put them one at a time through the single clotheswasher.  And there’s also little things like pulling the boats off the water to store them under the store, moving all the outside items like garbage cans and signs into inside storage, and cleaning out the walk in refrigerator and freezer.  It’s a small resort, but there are about a million items on the to-do list that have to happen before the crew leaves.

Amy and JJ attacking the industrial oven in the restaurant kitchen:

It wasn’t all manual labor, though!  The Kings took the whole crew out for a very lovely dinner at Nevados Restaurant in Mammoth Lakes as a thank you for our work.  They ordered yummy wines for the whole table, and we got a succession of delectable nibbles of appetizers before our main course.  I particularly enjoyed the chocolate trio for dessert, a plate of creme brulee, mousse, and a chocolate ice cream.  Num num!

The whole crew:

The last couple days at 10,000 feet were a bit rough, with a storm that came through bringing rain, snow, and very cold temperatures.  With our electrical system out, we couldn’t run the furnace, but we ran an extension cord through our window to power an electric heater.  It was so cold and windy that even on high, the inside temp would not go above 61.  The weather is so fickle in the mountains in the shoulder season; you can get gorgeous, warm days just as easily as cold, snowy ones.

On one of the last nice days, Mary and I took a walk to the secret ponds above the Resort.

We left Monday morning with the strangest conundrum: I had worried that we would get some significant snow overnight, and impede our progress off the mountain, and I was also worried that it would be too hot in the desert below, making our driving day bad for both the transmission and the cat!  That’s the sort of juxtaposition that I would never have in Ohio!  Luckily, there had only been a dusting of snow overnight, and desert temps were only in the upper 80s.  We spent the night in a Regional Park in L.A., close to our next morning appointment.

The RV electrical issue was pretty easy for the factory to diagnose.  We have a hardwired electrical management system, which assesses all the power coming in, and prevents it from reaching the rig if it’s bad.  The whole dang system had died, so no power could enter through its lifeless corpse.  The Lazy Daze factory rewired the coach back to the original state, bypassing the management box.  Since it’s an aftermarket addition, they would not help us fix it, but we can at least use power in the interim, until we get it repaired.

$67 later, we were on our way to Jojoba Hills RV park, a co-op in the Escapees RV Club, and the home base of our friends, Dave and Max. Our plan is to just chill for a few days, and come down from a couple really hard weeks of work. We will spend a couple days catching up on some RV chores, like washing and waxing, and also be sure to get some napping and tanning in, too. I also get to choose where we get to go next….we don’t have to be in Tucson until 11/2, and we can go wherever we want in the meantime. I will miss being at the Resort, and in my favorite mountains, but I’m really looking forward to travel again, too!






Surprise ending!

In an interesting twist of events, we just realized that this is our last week of work at the Resort. A few days ago, we made a harebrained mistake, and completely messed up the electrical system of our RV. It’s nothing too severe, but we can’t use our electricity in our rig until we get it fixed. We moved into the sun, so that we can charge up our batteries with our solar panel, and ran an extension cord through our kitchen window, so we can use a space heater. The situation wouldn’t be too bad, save for the weather issue: we are expecting a winter storm this Sunday/Monday, with really cold temps. Can’t make much solar in a bunch of clouds!

So, our new plan is to work through Sunday, and then head for our RV manufacturer in Los Angeles on Monday. We feel a bit whiplashed, to go from thinking that we had several more weeks of work to suddenly being almost done! At least the factory is right on our way to Tucson, and won’t involve much of a detour. The strangest part will be leaving winter temperatures and going straight into 80s and 90s!

As you might imagine, we have a few things on our plates in order to leave so far ahead of schedule, so this will be a short update. Please enjoy a few pictures of the outing we took last week with Mary, to see the petroglyphs north of Bishop.