Saturday, November 25, 2017


We moved forward only a few inches--just far enough to get off the leveling blocks! But that was enough. There was a sickening crunch as the opened compartment door hit a post. The repairs cost thousands of dollars.

We are experienced RVers, and there is no excuse for making a mistake like that one. We began kicking ourselves for not adhering to our checklist, which of course includes making sure that all the outside doors are closed before even turning on the ignition.

The NPR program The Hidden Brain gave a great example of failing to use every item on a checklist: in 1935 a Boeing plane nicknamed the “flying fortress” crashed and burned, killing two pilots, because the crew had neglected to check every item on their checklist.[i] Incredibly, the control lock had been left in place.

True, checklists can be boring. In my years of editorial work, I got very tired of making a huge chart for each project and listing all the trivial steps that had to be followed between a manuscript and a book, but those charts saved me from making many mistakes, and I should have remembered their value.

Strangely, the things people forget are obvious steps. In proofreading books, I never overlooked a misspelling or misuse of an unusual word, but several times I failed to notice some problem with a simple word. Our brains tend to see what we expect to see.

One item people often forget to check is the TV antenna. Many times a tidied-up RV will pull out of a campground with the antenna extended. We try to chase the driver down but are not always successful. The results are probably not pretty.

Many RV websites contain valuable checklists. Every owner needs to choose the relevant items from those lists to create a computerized document that can be easily revised as needed.

Most important, the checklist must be printed and followed just before each trip (or before moving off the leveling blocks, as we discovered). No checklist is useful if it is sitting on a computer.




 Text copyright 2017 by Carol Leth Stone.

Thursday, November 2, 2017


For many of us, the RV life is a series of pleasure trips. We travel for a few weeks or months, economizing as much as we need to, then go back home for a while. We catch up on paying bills, doing laundry, returning library books, and other tasks. We upload photos of our travels onto Facebook, and print them for albums. My partner and I include the details of our travels in a possibly annoying annual holiday letter, also. It’s all a rather enviable life.

One subset of Rvers, full-timers, stay on the road nearly continually. Those I’ve met have fairly large rigs that make traveling easier. They may be equipped with washers and dryers, elaborate equipment for barbecuing, and other comforts. Full-timers usually establish an address in states such as Texas and Florida, where taxes are low. Their mail is delivered to those addresses and forwarded on to wherever the full-timers are staying for a few days. When questioned closely, they usually admit that they have some furniture and other possissions stored at a relative’s home or in a self-storage unit. In some sense, they have roots.

For some others, though, life on the road is not a choice. For a variety of reasons, they have no permanent homes. They live like nomads, following the sun or opportunities for work. Jessica Bruder has chronicled their lives in Nomadland, a rather frightening description of what it’s like to be “houseless,” if not actually homeless. Most of this group live in vans rather than real RVs, which means they have no bathrooms or real kitchens. They are on the move continually, as they are not allowed to overstay limits in campgrounds (when they are even lucky enough to be in a campground rather than in a Wal-Mart parking lot or other temporary spot). Bruder prepared for her book by living as a nomad herself for a time, befriending many of the loosely knit community.

Though the nomadic life has a certain romantic appeal, especially to the young and to environmentalists, Bruder demonstrates how difficult it is. These are not retirees who don’t need to work, and employers take advantage of them. They may take temporary jobs as “workampers” at RV resorts or in warehouses. The jobs are physically demanding and pay little; they also tend to disappear at an employer’s convenience.

Those of us who have a more comfortable RV life may find ourselves looking down at those living in worse circumstances, but it is all too easy for someone in the middle class to slip down the ladder. A few years ago, a study showed that more than 40 per cent of Americans would find it impossible to come up with $400 in an emergency. They live paycheck to paycheck, and have no savings to draw on. I have personally experienced the effects of catastrophic medical costs on those who thought they had done everything right. As Bruder shows, Nomadland may be the geography of the twenty-first century for many.

Text copyright © 2017 by Carol Stone

Monday, October 23, 2017


It’s so easy at home—every two weeks, at an ungodly hour on Thursday morning, an El Dorado Disposal truck picks up my yellow-lidded recycling can. The fee seems high for my single household, but I am allowed to recycle glass, plastic, newspaper, magazines, junk mail, and aluminum. On alternate weeks, I can put out a yard-waste can filled with grass clippings, small branches, and other yard waste. The only real trash goes into a nearly empty small cart for weekly pickup.

On the road, it’s a different story. We do keep a shopping bag in the shower for aluminum cans, but there isn’t space for plastic and glass, to say nothing of newspaper. (I do try to read newspapers at libraries or online when possible.) Sadly, I must throw away (but there really is no “away”) far too many items that might be recycled.

The NPS does have containers for recyclables in their campgrounds, and kudos to them. Occasional state or county parks provide for recycling, also. Private campgrounds, though, usually do not. Far too many bottles, cans, and other containers end up in landfills.

Availability is only part of the problem. I’ve seen bins clearly labeled as “bottles and cans” used for garbage. Why do people do this? Are they hostile to anything hinting at environmentalism? I don’t think they are illiterate, as simple pictures are on most containers.

Perhaps those of us who care about the environment should complain more. If KOA and other offending campgrounds realized that they are losing some campers by polluting the environment, it might have an effect.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017


There seem to be as many ways of directing an RV to turn or to back up as there are drivers. We observed two women spotters recently who demonstrated the extremes. One, a dignified European, held her arms rigidly, almost like a toy soldier.

The other, an American, danced gaily from side to side.  Both techniques were entertaining, and effective with those drivers, but I couldn’t help wondering what would have happened if spotter A had tried to direct driver B, or vice versa. Would driver A have gone over a cliff? Would driver B have screeched to a stop unnecessarily?

All is well when the driver and spotter are in sync. It’s a pleasure to watch couples who work together with carefully preplanned gestures. When the spotter points to the left and holds their hands six inches apart, the driver moves the rig six inches to the left. When the spotter holds their hands up, palms forward, the driver immediately stops. And so on. The rig is moved or parked quickly and efficiently, with no shouting or swearing.


 For some reason, we find that harmony difficult. When spotting,  if I am behind the rig and point to my left, my driver is likely to yell, “Do you mean the driver’s side??” (Well, of course I do! ) When I hold my hands up to tell him to stop, he may decide I mean something else, and blithely continue moving. Then there are the times he insists he can back up perfectly well without my getting out of the rig. Those are the times that it turns out there is a rock behind the tail pipe, or there is some other unforeseen problem. (Why are men so stubborn about this issue? Women may be irritated by getting too much direction, but we don’t usually ignore it.)


It’s even worse when I drive and he directs me. When he runs a finger across his throat, what on earth does he mean? Stop? Reverse? Give up? When he points to the left, am I supposed to turn the steering wheel to the right, or steer the rig toward the left? Too often, no matter who is driving, we end up screaming at each other rather than parking intelligently.


Fortunately, we usually cooperate in other ways. Though the galley can get crowded, we have gradually learned to slide past each other or take turns with the space. Before starting out he checks the exterior while I do the interior checking. He does the tasks that are physically too demanding for me, and I work at the computer that baffles him. Perhaps in a few more years we will even learn to spot in accord, too.

Text copyright © 2017 by Carol Stone

Photos copyright © 2017 by Thane Puissegur


Sunday, September 3, 2017


Smoky sunlight filtering through redwoods

Driving through the Avenue of the Giants along the northern California coast is an awe-inspiring experience. Ancient coast redwoods reach hundreds of feet into the sky. Even today, when the  temperature has reached 100 degrees and the air is filled with smoke from nearby wildfires, this place seems like a cool, quiet cathedral.

We stop at a grove to enjoy the view and walk, and I notice a young man wiping out a saucepan and tossing the contents onto the ground. Was that a paper towel? Disgusted, I tell him to look for a trash container. He comes up and waves a package of baby wipes in front of my face, saying, “Look at the label! Biodegradable! Don’t be so judgmental!” I am too astounded to answer. Does he think “biodegradable means “vanishes instantly”?

We drive on until we see a sign advertising a drive-through redwood. I’ve seen only photos of those mutilated giants, and am curious enough to stop and see the real thing. It’s interesting in a horrible way. How could anyone ever have destroyed a magnificent redwood so that cars could drive through it? We go on.

Later, we chat with a grandfatherly man who recently took a whale-watching tour out of Baja, and proudly shows us his video of people petting whales that had come up to the boat. I ask hesitantly if touching the whales and allowing them to approach the boats is allowed. He chuckles at my naiveté and replies, “Oh, those Mexicans don’t care!”

Well, I care. I’m tired of people who have no respect for the plants and animals that share our planet, who think their litter is OK if it takes a relatively short time to degrade, who endanger the earth their grandchildren will have to live in. Yes, I’ve become an old grouch, and I’m proud to be one.

Text copyright © 2017 by Carol Stone

Photos copyright © 2017 by Thane Puissegur

Thursday, August 24, 2017


Thane's photo of the corona

August 17: So, here we are at the Grant Co. fairgrounds in John Day, Oregon. Months ago, we reserved a camp site here so that we could be near some excellent viewing areas for the total solar eclipse of August 21, which also happens to be my partner’s birthday. There have been predictions of a million people coming to Oregon for this event, but so far things are fairly quiet.  Our rig is nearly alone, in a large grassy space under a tree.

We need to find a good eclipse-viewing site now—something with an unobstructed view of the entire sky, so that we can see not only the eclipsed sun, but also the shadow racing across from west to east. Many locals are trying to strike it rich by charging hundreds of dollars a night for staying in a driveway or tiny space in a field. We have to find something affordable.

Luckily, we stop at the Chamber of Commerce office and buy a couple of souvenir tee shirts. The lady there is a fountain of information, and gives us a phone number for someone named Jerry, who might have an available place. We call him and make a tentative reservation.

The town of John Day is quaint, and people are friendly. We talk to a local who tells us that they are walking on eggshells about the eclipse. The firefighters and ambulance workers are volunteers, and this is the height of wildfire season. With so many people pouring in, it’s a dangerous situation.

August 18: We leave the fairgrounds and go to Jerry’s house. What luck! Jerry is actually president of the Chamber of Commerce. He owns a ranch that overlooks a valley at the base of Strawberry Mountain, the highest spot in the county . At 9000’, it has a snow patch near the top, even in this very hot August. Jerry’s place will be the best possible place for seeing the eclipse. Not only that, but he is letting us stay here three nights for $150, an unbelievable bargain compared with other sites. Instead of spending today searching for a Forest Service spot, we settle down to enjoy the view, drink Pepsi, and relax for three days.

In the evening, we see smoke in the western sky. Knowing there is a wildfire near the town of Sisters, which has had to be evacuated, we are nervous, Sisters is far to the west.

August 19: During the night, Thane wakes and realizes he left the RV’s sewer hose at the fairgrounds after draining and cleaning it. We call this morning to ask if it has been found, but have  to leave voice mail. As we had some earlier issues with the campground manager, I’m not optimistic about getting the hose back. We won’t need it for quite a while, but will probably have to buy a new one. Another expense for a fairly pricey trip! The eclipse had better be worth it.

While we wait in the hope of a call back, we’re reading, looking at the beautiful view (now smokeless), and getting pictures. Thane is filling the camera with photos, I’m sketching. There are about 200 cattle down in the valley, so I’m trying to sketch them. Who would have thought it would be so hard? Cattle don’t seem to have the nice smooth shapes of reptiles or even birds; they are built like tank cars with legs and snouts. For guidance, I need a book of Gary Larsen cartoons showing cows.

Where is everybody? This wonderful site should be filled, but we are all alone. Knowing that nearby sites are crowded and expensive, we feel as if we have entered a twilight zone. Could it be because the site’s owner misspelled eclipse on his sign?

August 20: The eclipse is tomorrow, but when we get up, we are still alone here. This is downright spooky.

Around noon, another motorhome finally joins us. Things are looking up. I’m spending some time practicing using the camera for a quick shot of the eclipsed sun, but am pessimistic. From everything I’ve read, people become unglued as totality approaches, and I may not be capable of actually taking a photo. It’s worth a try, though.

More arrive by night. A family from Holland, some beefy women from Washington state, others. All are prepared with goggles and cameras.

We bake and decorate a special birthday cake for Thane that looks like an eclipse, complete with a corona of frosting.

August 21: It’s Thane’s birthday. Jerry’s wife Marcia has told others about the birthday, and the Dutch family festoons our awning with a Happy Birthday banner.

At about 9:30 the moon begins to move across the sun, and we put on our special viewing goggles. No other excitement yet.

People coming into the campground are carefully herded by jerry, so they aren't invading our expensive camp site or flying drones into our air space. It’s good to have political connections, even here. It would be complete chaos without his help.

At 10:10, the sky is changing. A dark shadow falls across the clouds, leaving the bright sky beneath them. Shadows on the ground are very crisp, but the air is dusk-like. Looking through our special eclipse goggles, we see the “bite” taken out of the golden sun by the moon, which gradually covers it entirely. When totality is reached we remove the glasses and look directly at the sun with only binoculars over our uncovered eyes. The bright white corona is visible, with a few reddish solar prominences. We have both followed the unfolding event with cameras, and have made some videos and still photos. It has been a highly successful day.

August 22: Unbelievably, we return to the fairgrounds and recover the sewer hose.




Friday, August 4, 2017


Like most frugal RVers, I spend a great deal of time in various Wal-Mart stores.   Standing in a long checkout line is an easy way of observing people, especially families.

Too often, a tired-looking parent is trying to shop while keeping at least three children in line. The children may be hitting each other, sobbing, or begging for candy. (Even worse, they may be unnaturally quiet, as if they have been abused.) The parent is badly dressed.

In contrast, some times I see a happy, healthy child or two with a mom and dad who don’t seem overwhelmed financially or otherwise by being parents. The entire family is decently dressed in inexpensive clothing. (There may be wealthy people who bring their kids to shop in Wal-Marts, but I haven’t seen them.) Why can’t more families be like them?

As in many aspects of life, timing is almost everything. If a woman conceives when she is very young, she may be unmarried, still in school, or just beginning a career. She is unlikely to afford to raise a child. Bringing a baby into her life at that point may be a disaster, but in a few years it can be a joyous event. Simply postponing pregnancy can give both her and her children a much better chance of a good life

Nobody is in favor of abortions, except as a last resort. We pro-choice advocates don’t want death; we want life. The best way to prevent abortion is to provide accessible and affordable contraception to any woman who wants it.

Today the so-called pro-life movement fights contraception as well as abortion. Planned Parenthood clinics are under attack everywhere, and federal funding is endangered. As a result, desperate women will simply resort to using coat hangers or dangerous drugs to induce abortions themselves. They will endanger their lives rather than continue a pregnancy they find unbearable. Many of those who are forced or persuaded to carry their babies to term will give birth to children they can’t afford. Much as they may love those babies and try to make a good life for them, they are greatly handicapped in doing so. How much better it would be if they could wait a few years!

In some cases, babies whose mothers are unable to care for them end up in abusive situations, perhaps in bad foster homes. There are simply not enough good homes available to take care of these children; certainly the self-righteous pro-life advocates are doing little  to provide help. Further, in the current punitive political climate it is likely that Planned Parenthood and Medicaid funds will be cut, increasing the burden on parents and on society.

Society and individuals have much to gain from helping women plan their pregnancies, instead of implicitly blaming them for having sex. Sex is a normal part of life for most women, not something evil to be punished. If they become pregnant, giving birth at an appropriate time benefits everyone.

In the words of the Planned Parenthood founders, we need to make every child a wanted child. We need to choose life.



Monday, July 24, 2017


Whenever I look in my little Honda’s rearview mirror and see a white pickup in the distance, I tense up. Within a few seconds, it will be riding my back bumper. The driver will be glaring at me or passing me, whether it’s legal or not. If there is a turnout available, I turn into it rather than risking road rage.

I can’t deny that I drive rather slowly; that is, I drive at or slightly above the posted speed limit. It’s an octogenarian thing. Any woman of my age is concerned about preserving her life as well as her car. (As comedian Flip Wilson once said, “I like old ladies. They’re cool. That’s how they get to be old ladies.”) As a result, of course my driving enrages many drivers.

The color white makes sense here, where summers can be terribly hot and white vehicles better reflect the sun’s rays. While I’ve never felt the need to drive a pickup, many people seem to feel their lives are incomplete without one. To each his own. There’s nothing inherently wrong with a white pickup. Why does driving one bring out the worst in its driver, though?

I’ve come to believe that every teenage male in El Dorado County is given a white pickup as a high school graduation present. Maybe it’s a traditional gift, like the Lane cedar chests many girls received back in the fifties as a rite of passage. How else to explain the preponderance of wild young men at the wheels?

It’s not so bad out on the highway, where I can drive in the truck lane and let others pass me. Often, though, I need to drive on side streets or county roads with low speed limits. Speeds are limited for a good reason here; many of the roads curve or go over hills. Also, the deer here seem especially stupid.  A doe trailed by fawns is likely to wander out in front of you at any time. You would think that the teenagers who grow up here would be well aware that they need to drive cautiously to avoid a deer accident.

I have a fantasy. Some day I will be driving my white Winnebago and will see a white pickup ahead of me. I’m bigger than he is! I’ll speed up, blow my horn, and ride his tail until he pulls off the road in terror. Then I’ll pull past, yelling  gleefully, “ Old ladies rule!”


Monday, June 26, 2017


Eight has always seemed like my lucky number. Born on the eighth day of the eighth month, I’ve never had any trouble remembering my birth date. As a child I was quite excited when I reached the age of eight, expecting the coming year to be special.

Now I am eagerly looking forward to completing my eighth decade this summer. If I believed in astrology, I’d even think that there was significance in my being a Leo, the sign ruled by the sun. On August 21 (coincidentally, my partner’s and my father’s birthday) there will be a total solar eclipse across the United States. Those within a few miles north or south of the cross-country transit line will have a good view if the weather allows it. We plan to watch it from a carefully selected spot in eastern Oregon. For the first time in my life, I will see a total eclipse.
Waiting for the eclipse

Around 10 A.M., the syzygy (alignment of three bodies) will be exactly right. From this distance the sun and moon appear to have the same diameter. As Earth turns on its axis, our view of the sun will be blocked by the moon, which will appear to rush across the sun. For a few awe-inspiring minutes only the sun’s corona (outermost atmosphere) will be visible,  looking like a ring of sparkling diamonds. The sky around it will be black, illuminated only by stars. Animals may behave strangely, affected by the sudden change in light and temperature.

Understandably, many myths and superstitions started with the idea that during an eclipse something was eating the sun. During a partial eclipse, or the beginning of a total one, it does look as if a huge bite has been taken out of the sun. Ancient Norse people thought wolves were the predators; Vietnamese, a giant frog. Dogs, dragons, and bears were blamed in  other cultures. Even now, some people fear that an eclipse is a danger to pregnant women, or that food cooked during an eclipse will become poisoned. The temporary disappearance of the sun is often viewed as an omen of disaster.

Magical thinking is unneeded, though. The exciting, beautiful reality is more than enough. Unless bad weather interferes with the view, we can for a few minutes take off our eclipse-viewing glasses and look directly at the sun (it’s the only time doing so does not risk blindness).

Even those with no interest in astronomy can find comfort in looking at the sky. Contemplating the vastness of the universe and of time enables us to see our lives and world events in perspective. For the past several months many of us have sunk into despair and anger because of what the right-wing political and religious leaders are doing to our beloved country. Perhaps they will be like the moon, though—obscuring the sun for only a short time, and even then allowing us to see a sparking corona of possibilities.

Sunday, March 12, 2017


After living in large cities all my adult life, in 2007 I moved to El Dorado County in California.  Though the scenery is beautiful here on the western slopes of the Sierra, the area is impoverished. Once a thriving logging area, it has been hit hard by the recession and other factors. It is of course crowded with Trump people.

One of the things I like about this area is the friendliness of the people.  My neighbors are always helpful. Though I am not particularly extroverted or sociable, people often chat with me in stores or on my walks. It’s a nice contrast to the behavior of city dwellers.

Since the Trump campaign, though, much of the usual friendliness has vanished. Like many other places, this area rapidly became segregated into “red” and blue” areas. Being violet was just impossible. Furthermore, the reds far outnumbered the blues. Young men drove around in pickups waving the Confederate flag. Pro-Trump lawn signs appeared. I overhead snide comments about Obama and about LGBTs. Though the election is over, the division has remained.

It made me wonder, how do people become conservative or liberal? My own history can provide some clues. Berrien County in Michigan, where I was born in 1937, was and is still extremely conservative, much like El Dorado County. It hardly seems credible now, but I don’t remember hearing about the Holocaust during high school. It might have something to do with the county’s large German population, or with anti-Semitism in general. Certainly Jews were considered inferior in my home town. We saw Jews only in the summer, when Chicagoans came to summer homes at the nearby lake. Like other “resorters,” they were tolerated but not really welcomed. So, I grew up with an anti-Jewish attitude that now embarrasses me.

Similarly, Joseph McCarthy was considered a hero. The newspaper we all read was Col. McCormick’s Chicago Tribune,  which praised McCarthy and right-wingers in general. When I voted for the first time in a presidential election, it was for Barry Goldwater.

Religion, too, was conservative in Berrien County. There were Catholics and traditional Protestants. (Today the county is even more conservative in that regard. Evangelicals seem to have taken over.)

Still, today I am an unabashed Bay Area liberal, a Unitarian and the widow of a Jew.  My views on politics and social issues are far to the left of center.

How did my transformation take place? If I had stayed at home, as some of my high school classmates did, I might not have changed, at least not to this extent. Instead, I went to college and then to grad school, where I learned much about science, and especially about how to be skeptical and analytical. I met liberal Jewish professors  and was exposed to their values and ideas. Though I went to a Baptist college, the religion classes were nontraditional, and the Methodist church I attended in the early sixties had a charismatic, liberal minister. Later, I became a Unitarian.

 In the workplace I met a variety of people with different viewpoints. Though my formal education was valuable, informal education was even more so. Living in a variety of communities taught me about people at various socioeconomic levels and ethnicities.  

So, my own history leads me to think that education and broad experience are the answers to Trump thinking. Even in rural areas like this one, children can be exposed to the ideas and values that will lead them to become intelligent, ethical citizens.

It is also encouraging to see that since the election, closet county liberals have come out in the open. A few weeks ago the nascent El Dorado Progressives (EDP) group advertised an organizational meeting at a local church, expecting 90 or so people to show up. I attended, and barely got in the door. About a thousand angry citizens came to find out how they could resist the coming autocracy. Since then, many of them have stormed into town hall meetings held by our local Congressional representative, Tom McClintock, one of the most conservative House members. There is hope for the future, even here in Trump country.

Protestors at a McClintock Town Hall meeting. (Photo published in the Mountain Democrat.)