Restoration

Where: on vacation until our summer job begins. Current stop: Arizona!

Back during WWII, my maternal grandfather (Pop Pop) got very sick, with some sort of respiratory problem that just would not improve. He had not been drafted because he worked for the railroads and was considered too essential to send overseas. His doctor recommended that he recuperate in a warm, dry climate, so he rode the train from Columbus, Ohio to Tucson, AZ and spent 6 weeks getting well. When my folks visited us in Tucson a couple years ago, we tracked down the house where he rented a room. I guess that I have a bit of Pop Pop in me, because after 3 months of wet, cold, and gray Midwest, I also felt a desperate need for sunshine!

But first, here’s the story on how we came to be here, since I last left you with the story of us sick in Branson, MO. We really wanted to get our towing situation fixed, so that we could resume driving together, rather than paying for gas for both vehicles to drive separately. Our last hope appointment for 2018 fell through, so we decided to just keep moving rather than spend another week there for the next possible appointment.

Boy, is there a lot of real estate between Missouri and Arizona! I listened to local radio stations, some for just a few 10 or so miles, and a couple out of the big cities for more like 100 miles at a time. Every area seemed to have a station custom made to an epic journey, with country balladeers singing about the wide open range, or classic rock glorifying the Great American Road Trip.

Not into it:

We drove much too long for two days, and then made a stopover near Carlsbad, New Mexico at Brantley Lake State Park. It wasn’t much warmer than the Midwest, but we got our first taste of a sky full of vistas.

We got into Tucson on New Year’s Day, in anticipation of a maintenance appointment the next day. It felt great to be back in the desert, until we woke up the next morning. Yep, only the fourth time it’s snowed in Tucson this century, and we were here to witness it!

Both our vehicles are lovingly cared for by Sooter’s, a family owned auto repair shop in Tucson. This time, they went above and beyond by helping us troubleshoot the towing problem between the RV and the car, finally pinning down a short in the ground of one of our tail lights. I know nothing about electrical systems, but I still can’t believe how something like one little wire touching part of a light socket can mess up a whole system. We finally had all our ducks in a row and were ready to commence vacation!

JJ and I both felt the need to get our Pop Pop on, and detox from Amazon, being sick, and a hell of a lot of traveling, so we started with a week at one of our faves, Gilbert Ray Campground, just west of Tucson. There’s about a million things to do in this part of the world, but we committed to daily self care and not a whole lot more. We’ve been going to bed early, sleeping in late, cooking yummy, nutritious food, and following my “4 things” rule of daily walks, exercise, yoga, and sunbathing. We both feel like completely different people, in complete contrast to the sad sacks who pulled into town last week.

Here’s your photo essay portion of the blog, powered by the new-to-me Pixle 2 I just got. This camera is a dream!

Gilbert Ray campsites are lush and private:

Oodles of hiking trails start right from the campground:

Chain-fruit cholla:

Dead soldier:

Little sunshines:

Rainy day:

We have friends in both Tucson and Phoenix, and it was a priority to see them, despite our resting plans.  Sorry to say that I forgot to photograph our ice cream with Ann and Nathan, but here’s a day of foodie porn with Trey:

Phoenix to Tucson:

A few from Brown Mountain hike, just steps from the campground:

Just like my Pop Pop, Tucson healed us, too. We’re ready to head out for more active adventures!

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Amazon week 8: one and done (Also, an unconventional Christmas)

Where: south of the Mason-Dixon in Branson, MO

Our last “week” of Amazon was really just one final day, a Saturday after we had been off for our 2 day weekend.  It’s amazing how much faster time can fly at a dull and repetitive job when you have only hours remaining, rather than weeks!  The next day we were up bright (well gray really) and early, ready to start heading southwest.  We got everything hitched up, and checked the car lights once it was attached to the RV, only to see….nothing.   JJ checked the electrical connections and repaired a few shoddy looking wires and we tried again……nothing again.

Sometimes in life when you experience a setback, you’re in the frame of mind to settle down and deal with things, and other times, you just choose your swear word of choice, and decided to ignore the matter.  We were so very done with being at the campground in Indianapolis, the crappiest place we’ve stayed in 5 years.  (It was too depressing to write about it all while we were living there, but highlights included police visits after one neighbor shot at another neighbor’s loose Pit Bull, co-workers whose electrical cords melted from unsafe power pedestals, and the fact that the water was still brown even after going through 2 water filters in our house.)

So, while we could have pulled back into our spot and waited until after Christmas to get repair work done, we decided to just start driving, even though it meant driving the RV and car separately.  Day one went well, and we stopped over in a little city park in Waynesville, MO.  The next morning I was feeling really rough, the feeling of getting sick *right now*, and I just wanted to go back to bed.  We drove for part of the morning, but at the first rest stop, I realized that I needed a place to hole up and convalesce.  We were just north of an Escapees park (part of our membership club) in Branson, MO.

As always, the folks at the park office had a recommendation for a mobile repair service.  Because his family was celebrating a late Christmas, the technician was able to come out on Christmas day.  He traced the problem to a specific area, but the stores that would have the part were closed.  JJ purchased supplies and replaced the part himself yesterday, and we anxiously tried the lights again…for a big, fat nothing a third time.

Now, we’re waiting for another mobile service to come by (because fellow number 1 is now out of state) and maybe they will fix things and maybe they won’t.  We might be able to drive away tomorrow hooked up together, or we might decide to drive separately all the way to the southwest.  Regardless, I had a couple days to sleep 9+ hours every night, and I think I’m on the upswing of a yicky cold/cough combo.

I know that I often paint a very glamorous picture of our traveling times, with gorgeous photos of epic Western scenery, and tales of adventure and excitement.  Instead, today you get a glimpse into the mundane realities of being the mayor of you own little rolling city and all the “utilities” that go along with it.  Sometimes you’re enjoying something out of #vanlife, and sometimes you spend Christmas being sick in Branson, MO.

Soon:

Amazon week 7: we can taste the end, and it tastes a lot like ice cream

Where: working our holiday jobs at Amazon.com in Indianapolis

Like foot-weary saddlehorses who can smell the hay back in the barn, we had a bit more energy for our final week working for Amazon, knowing the end was in sight.  Work seemed a little easier, and the annoying parts weren’t so aggravating.  Tomorrow, 12/22 is our last day of work, and then we make a mad dash for the Southwest Sunday morning.

To celebrate 8 months of living and working together, we went back to Wyliepalooza Ice Cream with Carol and Jerry, or, as we’ve taken to calling them, “Jerrol”.  JJ and I each started with 3 scoop bowls, and then decided that we still needed a bit more. This ice cream is just fantastic, and highly habit forming!

Round one:

Round 2:

“You want nutrition, eat carrots.” Ha!

Even Jerrol went big with 2 scoop bowls. I’m really going to miss these faces after we’ve lived next to them for so long!:

Should have gotten the t-shirt for Soupy:

This is very short and sweet, because we still have so much to do to get ready to leave.  Last night we went to bed well before 8pm, and I have the feeling that it would behoove me to do the same tonight.  By next week at this time, we should be broadcasting from about 1400 miles to the west!

Amazon week 6

Where: working our holiday job at Amazon.com in Indianapolis

Working Peak season at Amazon is like childbirth: once you’re a bit removed from the process, you remember more of the good and less of the bad, but while you’re in the midst of it, it’s very painful.  With our third week of working five 10-hour days in the books, we’re well into the ouchy part, and questioning why we decided to do this again. (Answer: money!)  We’re in awe of the full-time Amazonians, who are working mandatory 60 hour weeks, and are still functioning, despite looking like zombies. We are thrilled to report that we have only six work days to go, and Saturday, 12/22 will be our final day.

In anticipation our upcoming exodus to warmer climes, my sister and brother-in-law, Joan and Richard, popped in for a short visit, where we crammed as much eating as possible into a 4 hour window.

We introduced our visitors to pho, a perfect dish for a cold, windy day. Stop in Pho 21 if you’re ever in these parts, and be sure to start with the spring rolls!

For those of you who note the general lack of pictures of me on the blog, you’ll get your fill today, thanks to Joan the paparazzi.  In this next one, she instructed me to “look little” next to these miniature trees.

We headed downtown to City Market, a grand food hall of every cuisine imaginable. Joan and Richard got giant pretzels, and JJ scouted out gluten free baked goods.

If you’ve read this blog more than once, you know what’s next. Wyliepalooza is a very whimsical ice cream shop, with flavors like bourbon/espresso and gluten-free birthday cake. My father felt that this next photo was a sign of excessive indulgence, but this stuff was so good that those 3 scoops weren’t enough!

I told my sister that next time, she really needs to plan to meet up with us in the sunny Southwest!

Amazon week 5: the Grinches get the Christmas spirit

Where: working our holiday job for Amazon.com in Indianapolis

Between the heavy workload, cold weather, long commute and general tiredness, the mood in our carpool has been less than stellar, and perhaps even a bit….Grinch-y.  So, hoping for a little Christmas miracle, Carol and Jerry proposed an outing designed to get us all out of our funk and more towards the spirit of the season.

Spoiler alert: hearts were cheered and we all felt more human!

First stop of the evening was dinner, to a swanky sushi joint in a swanky area of town.  Blue Sake Sushi has a happy hour weekday afternoons, where most of the menu is half price, so we could eat our fill without spending a fortune.  Our appetizer was sauteed shishito peppers, a treat we haven’t seen outside of the southwest.  Most are quite mild, but about 1 in 10 is a real kick in the pants.  In our bowl, I had all mild ones, but JJ’s last bite brought tears to his eyes.

It’s been so long since we’ve had sushi that I can’t even remember the last time.  Our rolls were gorgeous as well as delicious.

My all time favorite is eel, and we liked this nigiri version so much that we had to get a second round.

Anyone who knows us can guess what happened next….yes, ice cream!  Because our hometown favorite has several storefronts in Indianapolis, we were able to finally introduce Carol and Jerry to a proper Graeter’s sundae.

(This is the face that Jerry decided on when I informed him that any face he made would be going on the blog.)

Happy campers:

Then came the part that really made us smile: Carol had researched a couple neighborhoods that had extensive light displays, and we took a driving tour of some very impressive installations. One mansion had a sign in the front yard with a radio station listed. When you tuned in, the lights were all in sync with the songs!

The biggest and best was the amazing drive-through extravaganza on the grounds of Reynolds Farm Equipment dealership.  There was about 5 acres of lights, and we liked it so much we went around twice just to see it all.  With all of our working, I had almost forgot it was Christmas time, and it was a real treat to enjoy something so fabulous and festive.

And by the time we went around a second time, we all felt less like the Grinch!

Two more weeks to go!

 

Week 4 of Amazon: It’s beginning to look (and feel) a lot like Christmas

Where: working our holiday jobs at Amazon.com in Indianapolis

“Peak” season, aka the busy season of Amazon is upon us, and we made it through the weekend of terror, Black Friday and Cyber Monday. If you were one of the folks who did some online shopping on Cyber Monday, officially the biggest single day ever for Amazon, thanks for giving us plenty of work! This week was our first 50 hour workweek, but also a fairly successful one.

Although I was bemoaning my slowness just a week ago, something happened recently, and I somehow got fast. Metrics are very important in Packing, and your rate is tracked and monitored. Rewards are given out for speedy efforts, and everyone works quickly in the hopes of winning prizes. One day this week, I guess that all the fast people were off, because I won twice in the same day: once for being the second fastest packer of the morning (prize=raffle tickets for huge gift cards) and once for being in the top 4 during a motivational “Power Hour” (a $25 gas card.) We had the option to work six 10 hour days this week, but decided that 50 hours was enough. I don’t know how full-time Amazonians can work the whole month of December with only one day off per week!

While we didn’t do anything for Thanksgiving except prep for our upcoming week, we did have a great time when my sister and brother-in-law, Joan and Richard, came to visit on Friday. The blustery weather really helped to get us in the Holiday mindset as we visited the Christkindlmarket in Carmel, IN. This sort of winter fair is popular during Advent in Germany, where you can enjoy foods and drinks with very long names (Zwetschgenmännle!?!) and peruse artisans selling Nutrackers, German pottery and everything Christmas.

(All photos of me and JJ credited to Joan)

It’s not an outing without a stop for ice cream, and we were thrilled to find our Ohio favorite–Graeter’s!

I’m so glad that JJ did winterizing on our RV, because it has been downright cold, with the last two days below freezing. Today is marginally better because it’s supposed to get to 38.  The weekend is predicted to be in the upper 50s and raining, but then things will turn chilly again.  I’m very thankful for space heaters and heating blankets, and Soupy, who is like a little hot water bottle in bed with you.

Three more weeks to go!

Amazon week 3: two more work days and we’re halfway there!

Where: working our holiday job at Amazon in Indianapolis

I’m more of a Renaissance woman than a master of specific abilities, but there’s a couple fields in which I feel I really excel: ice cream eating and not sleeping.  When it comes to the ice cream prowess, I can cite my two Ladies’ Championship wins at Three Rivers Resort this summer, where I bested the other females in a 15 minute eating event.  And while I’ve never competed in a not-sleeping event, (how horrid would that be?!) I’m pretty impressed with my ability to sleep less and less each week of this Amazon gig.  I feel like a walking zombie, but I still only manage to get a couple hours of sleep before I’m wide awake each night.  I’m at the point where I might introduce JJ to his own family member (that’s a story of sleep deprivation for another time) and my loving husband knows that I shouldn’t be allowed to drive.

Thankfully, I also engaged in my other skill this week, which brings me a lot more enjoyment, with a trip to Sundae’s Homemade Ice Cream.  It’s a fantastic shop in the suburbs of Indianapolis, and won major points for luscious, fatty ice cream and for sundaes where they put the “toppings” on the bottom, top and in-between each scoop of ice cream.  Yum!

We’re trying to convert Carol and Jerry to the doctrine of big ice creams, but they still insist on doing things like sharing one cup between them.

This week at Amazon went a little better for me and JJ, with both of us finally getting into the groove where we were able to hit our expected rates in Packing. Neither of us made any specific changes, but I think we got more economical in our movements, and can tolerate just moving faster for most of the day.  It was crazy to spend a day working next to a guy who’s been there !!!TEN!!! years, and watch his Zen master speed and fluidity.

I can now explain why you might sometimes receive a package that’s just wack-a-doo, with a very small item and a very big box, for example.  In Singles Pack (only one item going out in a box), you pull a tote off the incoming conveyor and scan the first item you grab out of it.  The computer tells you what size box to put it in, based on its measurements. For the most part, this system is great: the computer has an accurate idea of what the real size and shape of the object is, and the box recommendation is spot on.  But, about every 40 or 50 items, the computer has it all wrong.  Sometimes it will ask you to use the smallest little box for something the size of a breadbox, and sometimes it wants you to mail out a little piece of jewelry in a refrigerator carton.   In the first part of the day, when my brain is working well, it’s easy to recognize an inappropriate suggestion and make a change.  But, towards the end of our 10 hour shifts, it becomes almost impossible to handle even that simple concept.  JJ and I have both noticed that our ability to reassess the box sized becomes almost negligible in that last hour of work, and at that point, we just take the computer suggestion, unless it’s for a box that’s too small to get your item in.  And that is why you might get about one hundred feet of packing bubbles in a very large box for a very small item: have mercy on the packer who was probably at the end of their shift, and just too damn tired to think!

4 weeks to go!