Fabulous Feastivities

Growing up, Thanksgiving was always my family’s favorite holiday, and I think still is, despite my father and mother no longer part of the feastivities. Some of you might claim Christmas as your favorite family holiday, but for mine the highlight of the year was always the Thanksgiving feast and gathering. The days following found us enjoying leftovers and playing a variety of games or perhaps, lazily working a puzzle on the gaming table.

Raised always to be grateful and thankful throughout the year, not just one day a year, Thanksgiving was a culinary celebration. While the traditional mashed potatoes (real boiled potatoes mashed with heavy cream), gravy, cranberry sauce, yams, baked rolls, dressing, and pies of pumpkin and pecan persuasion were at the table every year, the main dish varied. Traditional butterball turkey made an appearance more than others, but sometimes we ventured into having a goose, individual cornish hens, honey baked ham (sometimes that was a second main dish), beef Wellington, or other non-traditional exotics.

But I will always remember my best eating came during the days after when I would craft my all-time favorite sandwich: turkey + mashed potatoes + dressing + cranberry sauce = bliss. To this day, I’ll grab one of those whenever I find one in the readymade section of a grocery store or on a restaurant’s menu (although never with mashed potatoes!). Of course, the store or restaurant versions pale by comparison in taste to the homemade kind, but still a treat that triggers past Thanksgiving memories.

As our family grew older and drifted apart, this November day rarely saw the whole family together but instead celebrating in our separate homes. I know a fond memory of my two adult sons during their years attending the University of Toledo were the Thanksgivings when I cooked a mega-fest and they took the short drive down to Findlay, Ohio, to enjoy the family’s traditional dinner. While they certainly enjoyed the meal time with Dad, I understood clearly their real mission that day was to take back most of the leftovers that would see them through the weekend. To that purpose, I always cooked way more than needed, and per their preference, always had a ham along with a main bird of some type (even duck one time). Ample leftover sides along with many slices of pumpkin and pecan pie also made the journey back to Toledo.

My highlight memory of this feast with them was always dessert, when they would take the can of whipping cream and bury their pie slice until it looked like a mini-igloo on the plate. We always laughed about that, from my traditional Dad joke of ”Want some pie with your whipped cream?” to the traditional first fork challenge to take away just enough whipping cream to reveal only the tip of the pie in that mountain of white.

This year, as I sit in my camper van in the warm sunshine of open land near Blythe, California, near the border of Arizona, I think of those feasting days and look forward to having more with my boys some day in the future. For now, I am thankful for the adventurous life I am leading, and for these fond memories of past family Thanksgiving days. I do have a somewhat festive mini feast of mine own planned today, courtesy of Trader Joe’s for the most part. Given that I eat healthy these days, this one decadent meal wisely does not include any traditional leftovers.

Hoping you are with yours on this day of marvelous feasting but if not, enjoy your own mini-feast while fondly remembering past times with family and friends.

Small Town Farmer’s Market

Arcata Farmer’s Market

Today’s walk through the Arcata, CA farmer’s market was under crystal clear blue skies and 60 degree/light wind weather. Always fun to wander aimlessly through a small town’s farmer’s market, and especially when it is in a completely different part of the country than home.

Held around the town’s downtown square (a perfect location), the locals were out in force including the young and old, homeless and well-heeled, dogs and kiddies. Delighted to see most of the booths were local produce farmers or honey merchants or bakeries, coffee shops, restaurants, etc. There were a few arts & crafts booths, but all seemed locally made goods.

Arcata Farmer’s Market

The gorgeous garden-fresh produce made me regret stocking up three days ago! I can only carry so much in the van, so I had to restrain, only picking up some unusual baby purple broccoli and one nice, plump kohlrabi. Since it was near my 10 a.m. breakfast time, I treated myself to local fresh coffee and a Nicaraguan vegetarian breakfast burrito, followed by a gluten-free pumpkin spice scone. Sadly the scone was bland despite the promise of its name, but the other two were delightful.

Despite the scone’s disappointment, hard not to be blissful sitting in the sun enjoying my breakfast. Great people watching of the interesting locals in this slightly rural, slightly retro small, northern California town, one twinged with a touch of hippie and earthy artisanal sensibilities.

If the temperatures were not enough to remind me I was not in Michigan, that gorgeous green grass was!

Click on any image below to start a slide show.

Waiting for the Knock on the Door

Stealth camping
Stealth camping, San Luis Obispo, CA

One of the few times (to me) in van life that’s on the margin is stealth parking on an urban street in hopes of getting a quiet sleep for the night. In California it is far more difficult than any state I visited to do this. Most of the usual choices for a night stopover when driving through somewhere (WalMart, restaurants, quiet residential streets, e.g.) are prohibited here by laws and fines with lots of posted signs, a ridiculous about of signs even on highways well beyond city limits.

In some places where I see numerous run-down RVs parked and obviously camped out for much more than one night despite the signs, I drive on. I always prefer places populated by active van lifers and RVers than those living in a parked RV. Thankfully, due to some apps I use, I can often locate places like the photo above from last night, places where someone’s posted a review of a successful knock-less night. But sometimes those places don’t pass my inner comfort critic, so I move on to something similar nearby.

Last night was an alternate spot, and a restless evening somewhat from outside noises but certainly from 1 a.m. brightly colored flashing lights. I can fully black out VanGeist where even if I have inside lights on, you cannot see in from the outside. Plus, my van more resembles a working trade van than an actual RV (partly from Winnebago’s design but mostly from my outside modifications for this generic look).

As I peeked out the back window through the smallest unzippered slit in the window cover I could make, I saw a commotion won the short block a bit. Two officers where shining flashlights over and in two darkened parked cars. After a few minutes, they got in their car and drove exactly one car length further on my side of the street, got out, and knocked on a car’s window. The occupant responded and was greeted by ”Get out of the car,” yet I could hear him say ”I thought it was okay to park here overnight.” More mumbling, more flashlights, but soon the car’s occupant went back inside and the police drove past me to the corner and turned at the next street.

I do not think they were cleansing the street of vehicles with people sleeping in them. Seemed more like they were looking for someone or something specific. I spent the rest of the night restless, tensing a bit when any vehicle passed by, wondering if they would stop and I would get the knock on the door. But night passed, and in the early dawn hot coffee with a breakfast burrito from just around the corner rewarded my perseverance to hang in there for the night.

This was the closest I came to a knock on the door in the middle of the night in well over two years of van traveling and street camping. I am doing more of that this Van Life 2.0 in VanGeist than I did in my Travato in 2019. So far, I have learned a lot about picking locations, watching for signs whether a spot is viable and above all, cultivating an inner sense to stay or go. Cool thing about being in a van is if the vibe is off or you feel uncomfortable even if not knowing why, you simply drive on to somewhere else.

Sometimes in life we seem stuck in a tensed state, metaphorically waiting for that knock on the door. Whether it is our internal mental fear generator that takes a few coincidences and weaves together an angst-riddled false conclusion or a series of body pains that tips our mind over into dark places, it is often difficult to break free from, or logically dispel, these phantom threats.

Being someone who worked through anxieties decades ago, part of what helped me was a cartoon I kept on my refrigerator. One person is seated, and other standing at a large wall graph with a pointer. The graph is a huge, jagged bell curve which she points to near the top of the curve and states ”This is what we worry about.” Then she points to the end of the bell curve where the line barely is above the base axis and says “And this is what we worry about that actually happens.” Something to thing about next time the worry gremlins tap you on the shoulder and want to get in.

Killing Time, California Style

Yesterday I had some time to kill waiting on an Amazon email telling me my two Amazon Locker packages were ready for pick up. So I did what apparently most Californians do when killing time or getting out in the sun on a Sunday: head to the beach.

I first drove to Newport Beach, thinking via the Google Maps view I could find a place to park and gaze out over the ocean. Nope. Massive amount of people and crammed together houses and zero parking near the beach. Going to Google Maps again, with a new, discerning eye, I headed out Pacific Coast Highway #1 and stopped at Huntington State Beach. Had to pay $15 entrance fee (am learning you have to pay for almost everything you do in California to somebody), but it did give me a chance to dump trash, recycling, and empty my onboard #1 guy bottles (if you don’t get that code, don’t ask!).

Nice beach, with lots of locals out bicycling and wandering about. NOT crowded (that’s almost worth the admission price) and able to park VanGeist sideways so I could sit and look out the slider door. Cool stuff.

Enjoy the photo gallery below of the various scenes, especially notable being the fleet of sitting cargo ships up and down the shore. No doubt part of the massive fleet of stalled deliveries off the west coast. Hard to photograph, but they extended almost as far down the beach as I could see. I’m sure those unavailable black rims I’ve wanted for the van tires are probably in one of those containers on one of those ships and been there for months!

Coffee & Motorcycles

I love it when I stumble on a shop or store pulling off a hybrid approach to things.

This morning in Albuquerque, New Mexico, I stopped at Rust is Gold, a coffee shop (excellent coffee, btw) blended with the owner’s and worker’s two passions: racing and working on vintage motorcycles, and good coffee. They mostly work on their own bikes, but locals know them as a place to stop and borrow a tool or chat about a repair, or even collaborate on an upgrade.

I’m not a biker, although I wished I’d learn to ride in my youth. If I had, I’m sure I would have owned a string of motorcycles over the years. Much, much later in life I took a quick, intro course a local motorcycle shop gave to screen would-be riders who wanted to learn to ride later in life. Nope. Wasn’t anywhere near coordinated enough to learn all that. Plus, as I’ve heard from motorcycle friends, back in the day it was easier and safer to learn to ride. Now they tend to discourage people from learning since it’s significantly more dangerous to ride these days.

Anyway, if you are a motorbike fan, then enjoy the gallery below of their set up. If not, and in the area sometime, stop in for a great cup of coffee.