It’s Been A Year and I Am Ready To Go!

Not only has it been a year, but it has been one like no other! Why do I say this? 

Well, a year ago I began to physically distance myself from people, cover my nose and mouth with a bandana or neck gaiter, until I learned a facial mask would better, to protect me from the airborne contagious Covid-19 virus. How could I not be concerned given the fact any virus at other times in my life made me feel lousy for a couple of weeks and this virus is reported to be worse!

Wearing a mask when near people, especially when within 6 feet of a person did take some getting used to, just as doubling my masks now as recently recommended by the scientists. To me, an airborne contagion means no indoor space for periods of time, but outdoor activities are many. I have taken a break from my tennis and pickleball playing, despite them being outdoor activities, because I did not want the stress of interacting with people who may or may not think mask-wearing or physical distancing important. It has been easier and more enjoyable for me to do solo activities or be with individuals within my “bubble”.

During this past year, I read more books, listened to audiobooks, started to sketch birds, bought bird feeders for the backyard to begin learning about birds, which eventually fueled my interest in bird photography. Stimulus check money went to organizations, such as Feeding America, Shelter Box, and some to camera equipment. I found myself driving to birding locations, listening to an audiobook along the way, and hiking an area to observe and photograph birds as my way to be outdoors, active, and safe from the virus. The majority of bird watchers seemed to respect the importance of face masks and physical distancing too when a group may congregate at a birding hot spot.

Reading the news and watching it on television this past year has been distressing most times. Reports of police brutality, especially with the death of George Floyd, boiled into numerous protests. The increased number of coronavirus cases and deaths, along with disrespect for what scientists stated as what each of us could do to “flatten the curve” seemed to fall on deaf ears. This was distressing while many Americans also followed misinformation. Coronavirus cases increased and our businesses, schools and country’s economics faltered while nurses and doctors at hospitals were overwhelmed. UPS, USPS, FedEx and Amazon delivery trucks seemed to be everywhere everyday while essential workers, such as the drivers of those vehicles and other delivery services, and those who worked in grocery stores, nursing homes, and medical centers services available. The news each day became more depressing as milestones of deaths were reported and videos of people at large group celebrations with no masks worn seemed to indicate no concern for their fellow man. And when the country’s president at that time also disregarded what world and national health organizations reported and encouraged none of their guidelines to be followed, then my concern and worry only continued to grow. 

What I cannot understand even a year later is why people still do not understand the science. There is information available to learn about the virus and how it spreads, but instead they would rather do what they wish and complain about their business or job not being available to them or their children at home not getting the best education, despite attempts to do so with their teachers through virtual learning. If we looked to other countries to see how they have been more successful handling the situation and incorporated any of those best practices we could also have been in a better position. Yet I notice many people in the USA not caring.

So here we are a year later with many people hesitant to be vaccinated. Scientists have accomplished an amazing task in having 3 different vaccines available for use within a short period of time. The scientific method was followed at each institution and accelerated which does not mean corners had been cut, so I wish people understood their work. While I am within the process of receiving my vaccine doses, I continue to spend time outdoors discovering the parks and places to roam where few people do. But I have discovered many other people realize the outdoors for hiking, bicycling and camping provide great opportunities for them too. Let’s get ourselves healthy so we can get back on an airplane and travel the world beyond our “bubble”. I’m doing my part to reach that goal, can you? I am ready to move on and see the rest of the world! How about you? 

Conversion of Honda Element to Camper

I love my Honda Element! I also love putting my bicycle inside the car. I enjoy tent camping, but there are times I need to roll out of my sleeping bag and hit the road right away to see birds as they wake up and take-off in flight. So, I decided I needed a bed in the back of my Honda Element. This would allow me to sleep in my vehicle and in the early morning simply move myself to behind the steering wheel and drive to a birding spot. No packing up of a tent, etc.

With forty hours of my labor, about $150.00 of materials and help from my ACE Hardware neighborhood store employees, I accomplished building a bed and other touches while also leaving space for my bicycle! I saw many conversion kits more luxurious than what I needed or could afford, and I thought I have time to build this since we are still in our Covid-19 pandemic days/months/year? (I know many of you could build all this faster, but I learned so much while doing this!)

The most useful resource was at ethanmaurice.com He built a larger bed and cabinet in his Honda Element, more than what I needed, but he had some super suggestions.

Here is the back of my car totally empty.

Tools/materials I used for this project: 

hand saw, drill, leveler, tape measure, screwdriver, paint brush, box cutter, scissors, pencil, permanent marker, ratchet, measuring tape, safety glasses and yardstick. 

I used a step stool and/or my car’s tailgate when I needed to saw some wood. The ACE Hardware employee’s cut my lumber per my instructions so I did not need a radial saw or jigsaw. Huge help from those guys!

Materials I bought for this project:

4 x 8 foot x 1/2 inch plywood, 4 x 4 x 8 foot lumber, various screws, various hinges, nails, sandpaper, polyurethane coating, paint thinner, shims, wood filler, pipe insulation, mosquito netting.

I started with drawing my bed design details on a cardboard bicycle box I collected from a local bicycle shop. With box cutter, I cut out the shape and put the pieces in the car to see if all will fit as I wish. I then calculated the height of the bed and what number of legs I wanted.

I brought my cardboard cut-outs and leg lengths to ACE Hardware where I bought my lumber. Abraham, Danny and I drew the template onto the wood and Abraham sawed away! Two bed pieces and 6 legs. Eventually I did place the legs in slightly different positions from my initial plan, but all went well.

Here are photos of the bed looking in from the rear:

Securing the bicycle was an issue because it was sliding around when I drove. My usual bike mount was to large for this project so I created my own. Since taking the photo, I have built a more secure base.

My other idea was that the top third of the bed frame would flip, with hinges, over the back portion. When I use the car at other times I wanted to be able to put items right behind the driver’s seat. Photos here of the top third and then flipped over so I could store items right behind my seat other times when not needing the bed.

I need to say, I have a few wood-working skills, but have learned much in the past from my dad and my volunteer time building homes with Habitat for Humanity in New York, Arizona and Poland. The most important: always re-measure and check measurements before anyone cuts anything! I had to-do lists for everything. I had daily plans in my notebook. I learned the importance of pre-drilling holes for screws. I know now polyurethane needs at least 24 hours to gas-off because I was under its effects when driving the car the next day. Definitely should not have been in an enclosed car! Chunkier screws were good, but a bit to long … so I learned how to file down their tip. And for nails that were to long, ACE Hardware employee cut the nails to the length I needed! Safety glasses were always important even when sanding wood! Finally I discovered, some of my best thinking was at 10pm.

Final touches: a kitchen shelf off the bed platform and mosquito netting on back when nights are hot. With the shelf, I used removable hinges so I can take the folding kitchen shelf off. Hinges, wow! what a learning curve to get all to move or slide properly, but it is done! I slide my milk crate out to create a level tabletop. In that crate will be my stove and all utensils and pots, etc for cooking or organizing a meal.

I do not have a sun roof with this model Honda Element, so I needed to think of a way to get air into the car for hot nights and me sleeping on the bed. While there was no rush to get it done now, since it is currently the winter season, I decided to repurpose mosquito netting used on a child’s stroller. Using the netting and 4 toggles, here is what I created for the upper half of the tailgate area:

This has been quite a project! Now I am ready to figure out what containers and supplies to pack. My ensolite pad, thermarest and pillow will go on top of the bed platform. This will allow me to either use them when sleeping in the car or easily drag them into my tent when sleeping there. Everything else will be stored underneath. 

Cannot wait to get out on the road!

Note: my next Honda Element will have an electric engine, a back area floor surface that is not so slippery and a sun roof. I keep hoping the reason Honda has not continued making this vehicle is they are working on an electric version of this vehicle! Time will tell!

Virtual Wine Tasting # 4 of 4

Wine and cooking!?! Yes! Our most recent and truly different virtual wine tasting was led by individuals associated with Benovia Winery, located in Santa Rosa, California. David, an employee, and Austin, a chef, lead us through the making of wild mushroom risotto and the wine tasting. The package we bought included, 2 Benovia wines: a chardonnay and a pinot noir, plus all the fixings to cook risotto! Yes, they included the olive oil, truffle butter, dried wild mushrooms, grated pecorino romano cheese, a spice (seasoning) blend, and carnaroli rice. 

While David talked with us about the chardonnay we were tasting, Austin also had us heating our stock and sautéing the first ingredients for the risotto. At various points of the virtual activity we were looking into each others cooking pans to see how our risotto was coming along. Once the risotto was cooked, we also heard from David about the pinot noir we were enjoying with our meal. (Others were also cooking scallops or steak and having the risotto as a side dish, but for us it was our meal.)

Benovia Winery has held local catered events in Arizona, pre-pandemic. They were always an enjoyable time to taste wines and meet fellow wine club members. Hopefully those activities will return when we are back to a normal world. In the meantime, wine can be ordered on-line at benoviawinery.com

If you followed my four virtual wine tasting posts, it is very interesting how businesses have promoted their products and interactions with buyers through Zoom. Part of me hopes there will be continued activities such as these because it is not always possible to get to a winery. Time will tell.

Virtual Wine Tasting # 3 of 4

Here we go again with another virtual wine tasting, but with our friends and our own coordinated Zoom time! Claiborne & Churchill Winery, located in San Luis Obispo, California, had a different twist on the idea of virtual tastings and offered a “Blind Tasting Challenge”. We received 3 “mystery” bottles of white wines, or you could choose the red wine package, wrapped individually so we could not see the name of the wine. Five tasting note cards were provided. As we tasted each wine we could see if the notes helped us determine the type of wine.

The fun part was inviting friends from around the country to buy a white wine package and join us on a future zoom call we arranged when everyone was available. A bit of coordination was needed as we were across 3 different time zones. We sipped wine, talked about the aroma, flavor, and mouthfeel of each wine to the best of our ability, and solved answers to wine trivia questions so we were sure to talk about other things too. It was fun and at best 2 of 3 wines were determined correctly by a couple of people.

Maybe we will do the red wine mystery package next??

If you are visiting near San Luis Obispo or the oceanfront town of Pismo Beach, you are close to this Edna Valley winery or check out their website: claibornechurchill.com and enjoy their wines!

Virtual Wine Tasting # 2 of 4

Another fun virtual wine tasting was with Pedroncelli Winery which is located in Geyserville, California. I think this was the first winery where we became club members. We discovered this winery years ago while road bicycling in the area and have enjoyed dinner in their barrel-room in the past. Oh, when will we be back to pre-pandemic days!?

Pedroncelli’s virtual wine tasting package was an Italian feast! It included three different cheeses, see photo below, a box of crackers, Molinari salami, 5 bottles of wine and a bottle of vintage port. Sips of different wines while enjoying the cheese was fun. So was eating some salami, something I usually never eat. We were drinking and eating left-overs for a few weeks!

Even if we cannot visit Pedroncelli Winery, we know their wines are available at pedroncelli.com If you are in northern California, stop and check out their wines!

Virtual Wine Tasting # 1 of 4… All Fun!

Virtually everything is happening virtually! With many of us unable to travel to our favorite California wineries, those businesses are bringing wine tasting experiences to us via Zoom. In the next blog posts, I will share 3 more virtual wine tasting details as each of the 4 wineries have a different approach to their virtual tasting.

Today, let’s talk about Papapietro-Perry Winery, located in Healdsburg, California, as they have had the most variety with their virtual tastings. One was a wine and cheese package, another wine and chocolate, and the ultimate fun one was wine, cheese and chocolate! With each package we bought, the food item(s) and 3 bottles of wine were included for the price along with a link to connect via Zoom on the designated virtual tasting day and time.

Before each virtual wine tasting, information was provided on how to prepare the cheeses we received, and what temperatures and when the wines should be opened. Papapietro-Perry Winery is known for its pinot noir wines and they never disappoint! One cheese package from Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company, located in Point Reyes Station, California had a fantastic variety of three cheeses. With another Papapietro-Perry wine tasting, a different 3 cheeses came from Marin French Cheese Company, located in Petaluma, California. Whether eating fresh brie, cranberry goat cheese, camembert, toma truffle, or bay blue cheese, all were absolutely delicious to this cheese-lover! Check out the cheese companies and also Papapietro-Perry Winery!

At each tasting time, the Papapietro-Perry wine club manager spoke, along with a cheese spokesperson for their company explaining the different cheeses, and a husband and wife team who made the Volo chocolate products. As you can see in the photo, the three chocolates were varied flavors. This team makes their chocolate in Windsor, California.

Each of our tastings with this company have been fun, informative, and allowed us a relaxing time to drink wine and enjoy the products. Recent surprise was seeing one of the California cheeses we had at a tasting available at our Arizona store! Yeah!

Websites of the companies mentioned in this blog: pointreyescheese.com, marinfrenchcheese.com, volochololate.com, and Papapietro-Perry.com Check them out; you will enjoy all!

Open Pit Mining in Arizona

You may not know it, but there are many abandoned mines (100,000, but only 19,000 officially identified) in Arizona. You may already know this state produces more copper than any other state, which also has gold and silver mines. I began thinking about mines when I read a highway sign on my way to Summerhaven. It stated there had once been 1300 mines in the valley I was overlooking to the east. Another day I was bicycling past a couple of open pits with their warning signs on the west side of Tucson. Then I got thinking about the jaguar, Gila topminnows, Chiricahua leopard frogs and yellow-billed cuckoos in the Las Cienagas National Conservation Area and Nature Conservancy property near the Sonoita Creek Watershed because I heard mining was proposed for the area. How would that wildlife survive mining activity?

There is plenty to absorb when learning about mining practices whether it be a shaft mine or an open pit mine, but here are my concerns: using our already scarce desert water and degradation of and leaving behind a toxic environment. The population in this state increases each year and clean water is always needed. A mining operation uses millions of gallons of water per day. When mining is done a scar at least a mile wide and 3,000 feet deep remains, and since backfilling an open pit can cause more environmental damage and safety concerns it is not done. Here’s the additional water concern, besides the millions of gallons of water used each day, the pit would puncture our aquifer and drain water into it creating a pit lake. That is not the direction water should be going! The water from the mine is not to be part of our groundwater and drinking water. An aquifer is to be separate and going to creeks and springs providing clean water for wildlife, along with being our future drinking water. The pit lake water evaporates faster than if in an aquifer, plus metals in the water are concentrated and years later create a toxic ground environment.

Is politics involved in any of this business activity? Apparently so. July 2016 there was the Clean Water Act to be adhered to and some mines had to refocus their process since they could not meet the guidelines. But after a political appointment was made (Deputy Secretary of the Interior, David Bernhardt) in March 2019, Clean Water permits began to be approved! Due to various opposition to some mining proposals, some projects are on hold. The best way to get involved with stopping industrialized mining is to join advocacy groups such as checking out the Patagonia Area Resource Alliance website. There you will find information and current concerns.

On the other side you’ll hear advantages of a mine: about 2500 people hired for typically a 3 year construction period, wages two times the median in the area, 500 people employed for the 19 years typical for the life of a mine, and metals extracted and shipped for products to be made, such as electronics. Then ask: do we have millions of water to give away each day? Is our aquifer protected so we have drinking water now and the future? Do you know what that scar on the earth looks like? Why are we making our environment unhealthy for wildlife and ugly? Are you aware that Native American tribes consider some of these lands sacred? Why is a foreign country ruining our land and water for their economic business? How many more endangered species do we need to lose before we care?

This is not just about Arizona. Many U.S. states and places around the world are facing similar issues. Be aware of what we are doing to our planet Earth. Future generations wish to enjoy water, air and land within healthy lifestyles so let’s be sure we leave them the best we can!

Americans, What Road Will You Travel?

With oaths taken by Mr Biden and Ms Harris, to begin their term as President and Vice-President of the United States today, the time has come for all Americans to educate ourselves about numerous issues and to communicate to our elected officials the importance of solutions and needed productive action! It’s not just about the pandemic and needed vaccines distributed, but also undoing some of the past executive orders that put many people and our environment on the wrong track. It’s about providing accurate, honest information no matter the topic, unity and progressive action in our country’s democratic ideals, and caring and supporting each other equally in all dimensions of life.

We as Americans have a long road ahead in reaching the wanted and needed goals. Our standing in the world has been tarnished and sure to be a subject of discussion among fellow travelers when tourism returns to places around the world. Our global environment requires our participation in climate issues and assurance that all countries around the world receive vaccines for the current pandemic. Hunger, loss of businesses, jobs and homes for so many people will need a robust economic recovery to address these needs. None of these issues will be solved overnight, but productive action must begin. We need to be aware of the details so we can participate in and help put solutions in place. It’s a long road, no doubt, but it is one headed in the correct direction. What will you do to help? What elected officials will you encourage to work toward positive action and solutions? Where will you look to be educated about issues with accurate, honest information? America is our country and we should want it at its best for all. So, what will you do to help?

Thoughts of My Dad

Ever have a small something or other trigger a thought or memory of someone? Today would have been my Dad’s birthday if he had not passed more than 5 years ago. I think of him often and love wearing some t-shirts and flannel shirts of his. There are times I imagine how he would have coped during this pandemic. He probably would be reading his Chicken Soup books or history books, sitting and watching birds in his backyard, watching TV sports, and/or puttering around outdoors or in the basement with some project. He’d want to be sure he had his coffee, milk, sugar, crumb cake and cigarettes, and would have cooked a turkey and his famous stuffing when safely possible for those attending dinner with him and my Mom (who currently continues to live a healthy life).

The photo attached with this post is not my Dad. This man though reminded me of my Dad: blue jeans, baseball cap, sneakers, sitting by a water’s edge and relaxing … but my Dad would most likely be drinking his 3rd cup of coffee, not soda or beer. My Dad was a quiet individual, but he and I could talk about issues. He would be as distressed, as I am, about people being so cavalier about the health and safety of others during this pandemic. He and I could have talked now about the Black Lives Matter movement. I recall asking him why certain friends could not visit us in the late 1960’s in Pennsylvania. He told me it would not be safe for them to visit and explained the need for racial equality. He and I could have continued our talk about the environment and climate change, reminiscing on our 1970’s discussions about alternative sources of energy. My Dad and I would now be comparing eastern birds with western birds as we each observe birds throughout the year from our homes and asking the question, do we see less birds than 50 years ago. No doubt, I would have called to ask how to fix a particular thing as he was always handy in providing me detailed directions and possible solutions.

There have been times this past year I wished I still had my Adirondack shack, all 600 square feet of it to escape to during this pandemic! My Dad helped me install a bay window where 2 smaller windows were, build an outhouse because there wasn’t one, and set up rain gutters to collect water in a 55 gallon drum since I had no source of water. It truly was a rustic place few people enjoyed, but I loved it. It did not bother me to sleep in a winter sleeping bag. It was a luxury when Dad and I added a small wood stove to the place, which already had an oil heater. My shack of 26 years was on the best 2.5 acres of land. Just down the road with a 4 mile hike to a local lake is where I saw my first loon!

It’s interesting how a particular scene can trigger memories. My Dad lived a long life and is surely missed. I am glad also to have so many more memories of him! Fortunately our mind and heart allow us to have such strong memories and feelings! For that I am forever grateful and, of course, for the times my Dad and I shared which now seem a lifetime ago and yet it has only been 5 years. Wow!

Merry Christmas to YOU!

It has been a challenging year and for many people a very, very challenging year! I hope this day, Christmas Day, can be a relaxing one for you. I wish everyone a chance to connect with family and friends whether by notecard, phone call, zoom or FaceTime. We have had less or no opportunity to do all the hugging we normally do so this is our immediate solution with a goal to stay healthy and see each other in 2021. Let’s do it! Merry Christmas!