Spartan Existence

So, it’s been over a year since that comment in my last post about the renewed commitment to writing. I actually have been writing quite a lot, but only in my head where no one can read it. I don’t know whether I needed a new topic or whether it was the fear that no one ever reads my posts… I mean literally, not even my family.

What ever it was, I do have a new topic and so let’s see where it goes.

It has been a longtime dream of mine to own an Airstream, but new ones are expensive and old ones are scary. How would I know if I was getting a bargain or a nightmare? But still, I’ve looked at Craigslist ads every now and then for decades. So sometime, I think just over a year ago, I saw a Spartan Travel Trailer made in the 50s in Tulsa, Oklahoma I only found it because it was mis-advertised as an Airstream and it peaked my interest. So, I showed it to Russ and we were both bit. We looked and thought and learned. We looked some more. No, we’re not finished with the renovations on the house, not even close. We looked. We joined Facebook groups. We found great websites and lots of Facebook friendlies. For better or worse, we managed to neutralize the fear. We found an Avion. We went to Hilton Head to look at it. It was scary even for our new found bravery and we like Avions, but they aren’t Spartans and we didn’t think it was a price / condition match. We actually found several things we like. Boles Aero, Vagabond, M Class, and on and on. Trolley tops are really cool and there is some stuff out there that is just so awesome that I never knew existed. Each ad we saw represented a trade off between location, condition, price, brand and whether or not Russ could stand up in it. I had Craigslist alerts set up across the entire south east. Some how I couldn’t stop the Avion query from also giving me the frequent furniture ads by the same name.

I was up one night recently doing the late late night mucking about on the interwebs and I decided it had been some time since I had looked at actual Airstreams. I put in a search and there it was, an ad 15 minutes old for two local Airstreams, only 1 of them was a Spartan. The asking price was within reach and the wording said it was negotiable. This is the begining of something new and wonderful!

Magnificent Monarchs on St Mark’s

by Karen

Monarch Migration St Marks NWR

Monarch Migration at St Marks NWR

As I go about the business of putting a life back together, there’s nothing I’d like more than an escape to the sandy beaches of my youth. I look forward to the point when I will have enough settled to feel like I can responsibly be away for a little while. The shore is where I feel most at home, but these days “You can’t go home again” has extra meaning. Not in the sense that the physical house that was my home is gone, but more in the sense that the place that is my other home, the place where a part of me belongs, has changed. It’s not just that the barefoot casual place that was wild and accessible when I was young has been overrun with highrises and upscale brand names. It’s also that now, when I walk down the beach, there will be some point when a little hint of discomfort makes me wonder about the effects of BP dispersants, EPA waivers on paper company scrubbers and Monsanto. What persistent heavy duty chemicals am I grinding into my heels to be absorbed through my skin?

I came across this un-posted entry while going through the inner workings of my blog and getting ready to write and post on a rigorous schedule. In some ways it may seem like I’m not on target for the “new” face of my old blog, but this little piece of heaven that I first wrote about three years ago is exactly the point, so here is my updated post.

We were heading away from the Okefenokee NWR toward St. Josephs Peninsula in a leisurely “see things along the way” path when we pulled into St Mark’s NWR. We arrived as the Visitor’s Center was closing. As the ranger was walking down the ramp Russ asked “What’s the one thing we need to know?” She attempted to narrow our interests and then told us about the current state of a few different animals. She said “I don’t know if the Monarchs are still down there. I haven’t been down today.”

I missed seeing the Monarchs en masse at the end of their migration in Mexico on a visit to Leon a few years back. A case of Montezuma’s revenge kept me from heading for the hinterlands, so this was a pleasant surprise. We headed toward the lighthouse, slowing for deer and stopping to see a few birding sights along the way. I let out a little gasp when we drove by a bush covered in Monarchs. Russ didn’t see it. When he heard me he thought there was a traffic hazard.

We made it (accident free) to the light house and there they were by the hundreds. They were spread about, near and far, but no other bushes covered with the density of the first one I had seen on Lighthouse Rd. They were flying in groups, almost swarming. They were in pairs sometimes swirling around one another. At times it looked like a mating dance. We wandered around for a few minutes taking photos and the sun sank in the sky, none quite captured the experience. It wasn’t my dream of seeing them densely packed by the hectare in Mexico, but it was a little piece of the dream and because it was unexpected. There was nothing real or imagined for it to live up to, just an unexpected afternoon joy.

Monarchs migrate to and from all over North and Central America. A local event that celebrates the Monarch butterfly happens annually in July at the Chattahoochee Nature Center. The festival delights children as well as adults. It is filled with creativity, learning and celebration. There are butterfly releases, face painting and a journey through the woods that illustrates the journey of the Monarchs, last time I went there was a native plant sale in conjunction with the festival, and it was truly one of the best events for engaging children that I have attended.

Here is a link from the World Wildlife Federation here here is a tracking site and here is an article from The Economist. I’d be cautious about how that advice in The Economist is characterized though. If you share my dream to see these magnificent insects at their densest, “stampede” isn’t the way to go about things. Tourist money may well stop illegal logging, but large numbers of tourists without care can “love them to death” with as much damage as loggers do.

The only thing more wonderful than seeing this natural spectacle, would be the pleasure of taking my children and grandchildren, something that seems more at risk in the last year. This year was again a year when migration numbers have been disturbingly lower than any previously recorded lows. It has also become a political ploy, showing up in divisive “shame on you” advertising, messages and memes that tend to overwhelm, un-inform and shut down everyone and everything positive or progressive, bringing the miracle into the realm where vocabulary is loaded, real thought is suspended and nothing is sacred.

The truth though is that it is sacred, no matter how some would politify and deface it. That which is natural and beautiful is sacred, above and beyond whether or not it is recognized as such. Another truth is that we get to live in the world we create and so do our great grandchildren. So give the power to your faith and your habits rather than your pundits. Our decisions count. From the decision to re-use items rather than letting them go to the landfill all the way to the decision to step on the podium and offer up an alternative. It is all connected and it all matters.

Borrower’s Bookcase

By Karen

The first time my lodging came with a lending library I was in Turrialba, Costa Rica at a bed and breakfast. The bookcase was centrally located near the dining area. Don’t imagine a Victorian cottage when I say this, rather something elegantly rustic with open space, cool breezes, hammocks, tropical plants and a lot of fresh fruit on the menu. The large bookcase had a sign the said “Take one, Leave One”, permission for which I was grateful because I found a book that I couldn’t put down and didn’t have time to finish. Later I stayed at the lodge in Volcanoes National Park on the “big island” of Hawaii and there was a bookcase headboard. These books were hard bound and didn’t seem to offer themselves up the way the books in Costa Rica did, but I appreciated the more temporal loan none the less. I decided that staying in the kind of place that offered books was the ultimate luxury. Then I didn’t see it much anymore for a long time.

I remembered how much I enjoyed the loan of books while away from home when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. I was collecting donations from around my home. I was cash poor and beyond that, I don’t like to throw cash indiscriminately at a problem when I don’t know how it will be spent. I had been through hurricanes before. I knew what kind of things you need when your front porch is two blocks away and there’s a tire on your bed. I sent the obvious things. Linens, first aid supplies, air mattresses, extra travel toiletry kits that the airlines gave away on international flights, spare suitcases. I also went through all my bookcases and pulled out every book I was willing to part with, and a couple that I knew I would replace. They were books that I would enjoy reading if I were stuck in the Astrodome or some other shelter for an indefinite period of time.

I was reminded of these things on a recent trip to south Florida. We were camping in the Everglades without electricity, thus no radio. The sky was clear, but just as we were leaving a storm came quickly and we were caught in the rain, a cold wind driven rain leaving us soaked and shivering. (Now we have a wind-up solar radio with NOAA channels). Places to warm up and dry off are few and far between on the Tamiami Trail. When you do make it to civilization, you find yourself in the high rent district just as suddenly as that storm rose, and we drove north along the interstate for some time looking for a place to stay for a price we’d pay. Beyond tired and not quite dry, we finally stopped at a mid-level chain hotel. They had the standard free breakfast room adjacent to the lobby, and in the corner beside a built in bench seat was a book case. Seeing that unexpected bookcase was the emotional equivalent of a warm fire.

My love of a book borrowed probably started in childhood. My father had a particular book that he liked to share with anyone who seemed interested. We joked about how many copies he must have bought over time, and still I have no idea what that number might be, only were it was that we looked to see if a copy was currently residing in the bookcase. There has been a borrower’s bookcase at the YMCA where I work out for many years. I am seeing them in more and more places and they are filled with promise. The promise of a good story or idea shared, the promise of recycling, the promise of a little enlightenment or levity. The last book that I put into a borrowers bookcase was given to me by a roommate from Canada while I was traveling in Japan. Her other book went home with a Czech. It is not just a shared book, but a well traveled book. I wonder if the books in these cases were tracked like dollar bills on “Where’s George?” or a Geocoin if the story of how the book came to be in the bookcase might be as interesting as the book itself.

Here’s my suggestion. If you are in charge of a space where people linger, if there is space, even for a small book case, put one there. If you are on a low budget, get the bookcase at Goodwill and do a good deed while you’re doing a good deed. If you do not have books to share, you can get your seed books there too, or get them when the public library has its annual purge.

Goodwill and the Economy Co-Evolve

by Karen

Thomasville, GA Television Display

Thomasville, GA Television Display

As a long-time supporter of Goodwill, both as a donor and as a customer, I was glad to see some of the savvy marketing and new technology that they are using. I was shopping Goodwill and other thrift stores long before Shabby Chic was chic. Back when the economy was growing and conspicuous consumption was the nation’s modus operandi, I was still shopping for a good cause while also recycling unwanted household items for that same good cause. The deals were better for a shopper when I was not in the majority and the demand was lower, but they are still good now, and given the same deal at Goodwill and an overstock store, I will give the business to Goodwill or another non-profit when I can.

Russ and I have been on a big Goodwill kick lately. We have opened an account with Etsy for some of our current crafts and plan to expand with time. We have seen a few crafts that are “green” using recycled items from thrift stores to become something else. We are looking for that unique breakthrough idea that sings, and when it sings, it needs to sing “art” and nothing less.

Media shelves, Thomasville, GA

Media shelves, Thomasville, GA

It has been a blast so far. We sought out the Goodwill in Oak Ridge, Tennessee on our recent trip through the area. Would this Goodwill be different? What might we find there in the Secret City? It was a nice store and there was a much larger Science Fiction book section than I have ever seen at any other Goodwill Otherwise there was not too terribly much to distinguish it from other locations.

We did find interesting differences in other Tennessee towns. We found some with new stock as well as the regular recycled donations. I asked if new stock was becoming typical and the storekeeper told me that all Goodwill stores in her district carried new stock, that employees went on buying trips and that some merchandise had come from “the shopping network.” This was news to me, though I did not find anything at this location that moved me to the point of purchase. There are a lot of shifts taking place in charity and overstock outlets as the current economic conditions have a larger segment of the population looking for discounts, bargains and other forms of frugal spending options. These shifts have some charity organizations scrambling to replace good that were once donated as seconds, but now have a market in discount stores. At the same time, the price gap in second hand and second quality stores closes in to reflect the greater demand. New marketing techniques in Goodwill are well timed to fit in this shifting marketplace.

Custom Shelves with End Cap Racks

Custom Shelves with End Cap Racks

The best store set up that I have seen since this renewed purpose to my old passion has taken hold was in Thomasville, Georgia, a part of the Big Bend (Florida) district. Shelves were custom made here to fit above the clothing racks so that while shopping for clothing, household items and nick knacks were right there calling for attention. In electronics, the televisions sets were running just as they would be in a retail outlet allowing comparison. The aisles all had end-caps with merchandise, just like a regular retail outlet. The video, music and other media had shelves custom fit to their size so that the display was easier to process visually and took less space than it would otherwise. I bought a white ceramic owl container because it reminded me a little bit of Woodsy Owl. When I went to the checkout and complimented the college student clerk on the set up as the best lay out I had ever seen at a Goodwill (or any other thrift store) he was really psyched. He spoke enthusiastically about the manager responsible for the set up. Apparently he puts these features in all of his Big Bend locations. The part I couldn’t tell just by looking is that this manager keeps track of what is selling and makes sure that there is a proportionate amount of display space dedicated to those items. I was already impressed before the clerk talking!

After returning home, I found some other interesting Goodwill news. I saw an internet link to some items that had been donated by the newest owner of a cabin that had once belonged to June and Johnny Cash. The claim to fame caught my attention, but it was also clear that there was no claim that the items had been owned by the Cash family. I followed the link until I saw a site with a set up that looked very much like ebay. There were categorized items with photographs. I did not know that I could shop at Goodwill on the internet! Fantastic!

Effective display and effecient use of space.

Effective display and effecient use of space.

Their 100th anniversary was in 2002 and long before that date, Goodwill became to thrift stores what Kleenex is to facial tissues and Coke is to soft drinks. That is, people often use those brand names as generic, even when they mean to refer to other brands. At seven years into their second century, they seem to be looking forward very well, maximizing their market niche and continuing to do good works. In an ever changing marketplace this is no small task. As fads come and go some things are worth keeping. I hope that after Shabby Chic and “Green” have peaked there will be some follow on that will keep people using common sense to shop at economical places where they can recycle while at the same time support a worthy cause. It just makes good sense to support institutions that meet multiple goals and needs the way that Goodwill and other thrift stores do… and when we figure out that amazing new art form, you’ll be sure to find out about it right here!

Brad Pitt and Quentin Tarantino: Cooking for Basterds

By Karen

quentinandbradPromo
On a recent trip to Japan I was channel surfing in my hotel. I usually want to be out and about while traveling, but Japanese television is famous for its unique window into the culture and the pretty constant rain was keeping me in a little more than usual. I know no Japanese past domo arigato. When I watch the Japanese language programing, I am for all intents and purposes deaf to verbal language and taking in all of my information in body language, visual cues and sound effects.

I watched two programs this way, guessing what the details might be, when I happened upon Brad Pitt and Quentin Tarantino promoting “Inglorious Basterds” while acting as judges for a Japanese cooking show. I was rapt. Not only was this unique (serious understatement), I was able to understand much of what was being said.

American celebrities have long promoted products and shows in markets where their work is pretty much lost to American view. The movie “Lost in Translation” opens a window into that world. Once, they were able to promote products in a way that would appeal to a foreign market and never worry about the impression that might give to American viewer because they would never see it back home. Globalization is making that harder and everything is heard ’round the world these days. I can appreciate how making this kind of a promotional tour is a difficult balancing act.

Brad Pitt was amazing, a perfect guest. I was distracted a bit by the prominent goatee and the heavy processed look to his beard and hair. Later, I noticed on US tabloids, that this, in a slightly less processed form, was his current look. I was not so distracted that I failed to notice how well he negotiated the task at hand. He was polite and respectful with perfect poise and seemed both comfortable and uncomfortable at the same time. He was a complimentary and thorough judge of the food. Whether all of this was genuine, or whether he was acting, it was exactly what the occasion called for and it was fascinating.

Quentin Tarantino appeared to be completely at ease and a little hyper. He was enthusiastic about Japan and the food and completely without any appearance of self-consciousness. Tarantino is loved by peers, and all I could think as I watched was that if this man could be so successful, perhaps there was a place in the world for me too. Perhaps his presence was also a performance, a perfectly balanced contrast carefully contrived to appear anything but contrived.

The cooking show backstory with the flower filled backdrop was both substantive and superfluous. The food appeared to be 5-star from both contestants, but unlike most Japanese cooking shows, the camera was on the guest stars as the subject for almost all of the whirlwind program. There was a cutaway to a promo for the toy that shares one of the images with Tarantino above. I wondered if it was paid advertising. So far as I could tell, the sole prize for having won was promotional materials brought by Pitt and Tarantino.

One of the rewards of international travel is that you get to see ordinary everyday things through he prism of another culture. This program was the mother load in that respect. When two cultures interact this way, it reminds me of opposing mirrors with infinite reflections. Two months later I still remember a marketing promotion sought out to pass the time in a hotel room halfway ’round the world.

Pearls

By Karen

I visited Japan a few days ahead of the Honda Grand Prix Hot Air Balloon Race in Tochigi Prefecture. The extra days helped me to get over jet lag, see a bit of the country and to keep up with some other obligations via the internet. I planned a day in Tokyo. I wanted to finally make it to Tsukiji, the world’s largest fish market, but when I got there I stayed in the most public of places at the market and didn’t really get to see much. Tourists learned about it. They were not being attentive and getting in the way, so now the documentation asks that you stay away during those times when there is something happening to see, leaving nothing to draw me in when I am allowed to be there, and, unfortunately, that will remain an opportunity forever lost, since it has now moved. Shopping on the outskirts was nice and I did visit the nearby public garden, Hama-Rikyu, the only garden with tidal pools that remains in the city, and I took a boat ride up to Asakusa Temple. These few days, as it turned out became about finding the unexpected treasure.

Tokyo is such a mix. Miles and miles of similar buildings, one after another. Some have a simple understated Zen beauty with a mix of natural colors that highlights the elegance in simplicity to absolute perfection. Then, there is the contrast of the bright lights and showmanship in places like the Ginza where Mikimoto and other luxury retailers have flagship stores. One jewelry shop had an opulent fresh orchid display outside the store to greet customers. The whole strip sparkles, with Swarovski crystals, prices, and electricity. It is well enough lit to see and distinguish from space at night, a photographers dream from any angle or distance. Between the islands sophisticated beauty in Zen inspired design and the glitz and glamor of the Ginza lie mile after mile of undistinguished functional buildings. Concrete and high-rises cover the landscape in a banal blanket. As I left Tokyo on Shinkansen, the sky was dark and the train rushed by leaving sheets of rain and rows of buildings. The cloudy cold added to the drab. Tokyo has its appeal, but later, while I was far from this mega-city, was when all of the good memories from my trip of two years ago came flooding back. My day, like Tokyo, was filled with the occasional pearl.

When I got to the train station in Morioka, the rain was heavy. I would usually walk, but rented a taxi to take me a block so I could keep my suitcase out of the rain. I sat in the hotel and caught up on internet communications while I waited for the rain to quit. My room wasn’t ready and my emergency rain poncho was hiding in plain sight. I thought it wasn’t accessible. After watching through the window, I decided that the store that sold an umbrella couldn’t be too far away and I took off. While walking, a friendly gentleman put his umbrella over us both and came along with me as I made my way to an umbrella of my own. We couldn’t actually talk to each other, but it wasn’t hard for him to tell what my goal was, and kindness is the best of universal languages. The kindness of strangers is the reason travel heartens the soul. That was the first gem of my day.

Shortly after I got my umbrella, the rain stopped. It happened just as I reached the ruins of the local castle, and there was the next gem. The fall color was past peak, but those leaves that remained were in glorious color, the occasional bright yellow Ginko accenting the garden landscape as the Ginza accents the cityscape. The rain had knocked a bright carpet of fresh leaves on the ground. I took out the camera and finally started acting like a tourist. I could even see the mountains, or at least part of them in the distance, a classic cinder cone shape peeking out from behind clouds.

Maples and Ginko

Maples and Ginko

 

Fall Vegetables and Edible Mums

Fall Vegetables and Edible Mums

 

 

There were open air markets in covered areas where I bought crisp mountain apples and tangerines. The market had a variety of items that would be unusual in most US markets, edible flowers and ferns, a purple cauliflower. All in all it was a pretty good day. Sometimes it is the unexpected gem, the one sparkling in the darkness that shines brightest.

National Storytelling Festival, Day Two

by Karen

The first day of the story telling festival was the short program presented in sets of two stories per hour with half hour breaks between sets. It acquaints listeners with a variety of tellers. The second day is the long program where there is one story teller per hour, with half an hour break after every teller. On day two listeners can settle in with tellers they would like to know better. Some tellers tell a single long story, many tell two half hour stories. This is the big day. People who are attending only for a single day come for Saturday.

It is hard to decide where to go. All tellers are good, but we did discover some favorites on day one. An Irish teller, Niall de Búrca, was very animated on stage. One teller, Willie Claflin, used a puppet sometimes, but this weekend used music as the primary backdrop for his stories and his son Brian was with him for a special performance. They sang with the most beautiful harmony. Donald Davis told stories that made me think about my southern country roots. Many of the tellers have been featured on National Public Radio, but somehow I had missed those performances and most of these people were previously unknown to me.

As a first time attendee, I was definitely in the minority. Some people have come every year since their first year of attendance and for a lucky few that meant they had been coming since 1973. Many more people have come as often as they could. The festival is a gracious celebration of story telling and all of the tellers encourage those in the audience to tell their own stories. Though story telling is a natural part of all our lives, this was my first serious look at it as an art form and I was fortunate to experience that at the Mecca for story telling. Many in the audience come to learn from the best how to perfect their craft. Some tellers weave the telling of lessons into their stories, all include the life lessons they have learned in some form, often with humor and it is almost always moving.

I learned that our own Kennesaw State University has a story telling group, The Kennesaw Tellers, naturally. They were in attendance, participating at workshops and volunteering, all while wearing t-shirts advertising the February Festival.

Through talking to different people during breaks I understood that story telling like many of my other interests does, to some extent, defy categorization. In some universities it is studied in the English department, in others it is listed as historic in nature, in other it is a performance art. Some story telling is therapeutic and some is not even labelled as story telling. For someone trying to find the correct department in a college, the search can be trying as was confirmed when I was looking for the best link to provide information about the KSU tellers. Even as an attendee who was interested in the subject, my definitions were narrower when I arrived than when I left. I recognized that my favorite pastors over the years were the ones who were gifted story tellers, whether telling the stories straight from the book or stories of their own creation. There were other connections. For example, I enjoyed the story telling through music, but I did not anticipate it. I had been thinking of ballads as songs and forgetting that they were also stories.

Our day had the perfect October ending, scary stories in the park and then “home” to warm our hands and our marshmallows by the camp fire.

Writing, Networking and Technology on the Road

by Karen

In the realm of potential future work, I’m in love with the idea of going off grid, taking off on the road and seeing what is out there. Research, writing, the “journey”. That is what my bliss would look like if I were to take that age old advice “Follow your bliss and the money will follow.” I wouldn’t have a problem finding a question to pursue. I have so many questions to answer that narrowing things to one question, then narrowing that one question to a manageable scope would be the challenge.

Is that the practical advice to follow, though? I have many things that could be my bliss and most of them bring no money. While some consider it a superior attitude to value intangibles above money, there is the practical side. Money is necessary to sustenance. I can clearly see both sides and how life could digress into a slow painful death if the right balance is not struck. So for the time being, I remain on a tight rope seeking solutions.

I write to you now from a mini-test and I am learning a lot. I am on a three week adventure. The motivating event is The International Story Telling Festival in Jonesborough, TN. This is a place that is both worthy of blogging, as well as a place to better learn the craft of story telling and writing, and the price is low compared with other learning opportunities of similar quality. Before arriving at the festival, I had confirmation that it was a good decision. It seemed a bit of a push as I was trying to decide whether of not to come. Part of my tight rope experience is that I am devoting equal time to both of the directions that I might go. I am spending time blogging, writing, and seeking education on writing skills. At the same time I am devoting a lot of time toward seeking more traditional employment. I was afraid that in coming here, I would not be able to do justice to the search for employment.

In a technologically connected world those connections seem more like a lifeline than anything else. Reading books like “What Would Google Do?” has given me a few ideas, but a lot of my search has been on the internet. The job front has been a challenge and anything that appears to be fun rather than work might be seen as frivolous to friends, relatives or potential employers, but mostly to my worst critic, myself.

What I have found so far is that the trip has been better for my job search than I could have thought possible, and even though I brought laptop and phone, it has been harder to keep up with the writing than I expected. On the employment front, I am meeting people because I am out and about. Meeting people is always networking on some level, whether you are making connections on a human level or whether you have specific things in common, those connections make us richer. I’ve been really surprised how easy it has been to network on the road.

Many of my favorite people live somewhere else and I only see them rarely, so I had always had distance connections, but now my connections can have employment relevance. I am willing to move, so anything I learn has potential. I just underestimated exactly how much that was true. In REI in Franklin, Tennessee, I was looking at the clearance shoe rack and mentioning to Russ how much I’d like to find work that allowed me to wear what I wanted to work. Three of us who were trying on shoes at the same time had strange fitting problems and we struck up a conversation that ended in a stranger telling me that she had close friends in my home town, asking for my professional information and offering to pass it onto her friends.

The following day as we headed west toward the story telling festival, we saw Oakridge, TN and decided to visit the historic landmark. We pulled up at the facility and asked about the visitor center, looking for the science Museum. The woman we asked mistook us for people seeking employment and ended up telling us that there was potential for stimulus jobs and where to find the listings. This was interesting on two levels. First, the obvious interest in new sources for job listings, but second, it is interesting to see that stimulus money is actually going somewhere. For someone who has lost employment directly due to the downturn, it seems like there would be a better likelihood of finding something else through stimulus spending. After all, part of the stated intention of that funding is to preserve or replace lost or at risk jobs. In Atlanta, the stimulus jobs that I have found are for police officers. I don’t really qualify for an enforcement job, so that cuts me out. We were laughing optimistically and saying that if we keep this up, surely we would both be employed before the vacation was done.

Conversely, the writing has been unexpectedly inconvenient. The challenges to writing are primarily technological. My laptop is equipped with wireless, but I am not equipped with any frills in my phone package. We are focusing on parks and more remote locations. Most people who take off for the great outdoors will know that remoteness is not usually an issue in phone signal, but as someone who has spent her time on the road with people who were more connected, I have never needed to overcome connectivity issues for myself. I have a basic service plan with testing blocked and that means I need to learn the ropes about finding connection spots (as well as recharging issues, we are car camping). I love my Camry, but car camping is not the most convenient way to do it.

I now sit at Books A Million writing this, but do not have connectivity because I apparently need to be a member to enjoy the privilege of connecting here. There are no stores near my home, so the membership fee is not useful past today. If I had personal connectivity, I could avoid these complications. I also could have taken care of travel needs in a more organized manner and it would have allowed me time to visit a prehistoric archeological site with a new museum, a great blog subject and I would have two blogs to write here before I seek a place where I can connect to upload those blogs. Spending more time finding that spot may limit opportunities further. Some of the things you do don’t turn out to be blog worthy, so missing an opportunity matters and as those missed chances add up it clearly becomes worth it to purchase a personal connection to the internet.

So, in taking this trip to pursue some of my writing goals, I am, in fact, closer to my employment goals, and for budgetary reasons, challenged in my writing goals. My own personal feasibility study is proving very fruitful.

A Day Away, Space Shuttle Launch…manatees!

I went on my first tour with A Day Away Kayak Tours almost three years ago. It was the bioluminescent tour review here and it was wonderful. This time Russ was coming and the plan was to take the Space Shuttle Tour around dawn. The route is the same as the bioluminescant tour, only the focus is on getting there to watch the space shuttle take off so we linger at the best vantage point. Neither of us had done something crazy like drive all night for anything in a very long time. Launches are notorious for being postponed or canceled. That made it even more questionable, but we already had plans to go to Disney World and there was a lift-off on the schedule, so we gave it a try.

I went to the library and checked out Rocket Boys an audiobook of the memoir that the movie October Sky was based on, so as soon as Russ finished work we started feeding the CD player and settled in for the entertainment while trading off driving. We calculated the time in Google Maps and had a time buffer of about two hours, but it was a long trip and we were nervous about whether Google Maps got the time right or whether something might go wrong. Leaving Atlanta didn’t help. There were some fairly intense thunder storms that hit as we left town. Traffic was very slow. We compensated a little in the rest of the trip and managed to arrive pretty much when Google said we would, around 3:45 AM.

Driving up to the landing in the dark was a little special. I was having trouble remembering the landing exactly. I said I thought it was somewhere near the sign in the distance. That was correct, but the sign was not a road sign, it was a “No Wake” sign and it was maybe 20 yards out in the water. Flat sand, flat water, glad we were driving slow enough for plenty of reaction time.

We had just reclined the car seats for as much of a nap as we could manage when the phone rang. The mission had been scrubbed and so had the tour, but we could go at 9:00 AM for a manatee encounter or in the evening for a bioluminescent tour. Russ wanted the manatees! This trip is the same route as the other tours, but you linger in a place where the manatees like to hang out. Manatees are protected by law, once on the Endangered Species list, they are now upgraded to the Threatened Species list, these rules apply. Because it is spring the manatees were particularly frolicsome. Manatees came up beside most kayaks at one time or another, awesome! It tended to be a little bit private when it happened in spite of the crowd because none of the paddlers would call out to neighbors for fear of startling the manatees.

At one point we paddled up to a flat shoreline and took a break from the Kayaks. One person picked up hermit crabs to look and show them around, then set them down beside each other. There was a fight between the two crabs. I’ve never seen this before. We guessed that the one crab wanted to trade up to the shell of the other and someone joked about “illegal hermit crab fighting”. We all laughed, but then someone took pity and decided to separate them.

If it hadn’t been for the scheduled launch we never would have timed the trip in a way that forced us to drive all night, but the manatees were worth a trip in their own right. We were tired, and still wanted to see the launch, but not disappointed. It was enough fun to turn around and go right back so we kept watching the schedule to see if things would work out for another attempt. The launch was rescheduled for a couple of days later. It would have been a pre-dawn launch this time and we were looking forward to what would amount to a night paddle and a spectacular launch in the dark, but this launch was also canceled. There are a few more launches scheduled before the Space Shuttle program is cancelled, who knows, maybe we’ll get another chance to visit Florida.