Why We Will Never Live in a Tent — Part 1

When I was in college, I had a friend named Jean who had plans to go skiing for the first time in her life.  The week before the event, Jean was so excited that, like many first-time skiers, she went shopping.  She returned with a spectacular pair of skis, boots, bindings, poles, goggles; and a beautiful snow bunny outfit all in white, including a parka with fake fur around the hood.  She added a dash of color in the form of a sky blue six-foot-long wool scarf that she imagined trailing in the wind as she schussed the black diamond trails.  Jean was going to be amazing.  She unpacked all her goods and, to the delight of her roommates, modeled every last thing, including the skis.

Small living rooms are not designed for skis.  Jean got her skis crossed, tripped over the coffee table, and broke her leg.  She spent the next two months in a cast and gave her ski gear and snow bunny outfit to her sister Mary.

We have been more successful
at camping than Jean was at skiing.
We have not broken any bones.

One spring day in Guilford, Connecticut, we were visiting a friend at her cottage on Lake Quonnipaug when she asked us if we needed a tent.  Until that moment, we had absolutely no need for a tent.  But, now that she mentioned it, we did already have a canoe and a matching Isuzu Trooper.

I had been a boy scout and my father had been the scout master.  (It’s a good thing I was too young to understand I was gay or the Boy Scouts of America would have kicked me out and I might never have learned how to make hunter’s stew or use a compass.)  I had been camping on the Sacandaga River when I was in college.  Jerry had gone camping when he was in grad school and after.  We had both enjoyed it.

Anyway, our friend had a 3-man dome tent she was looking to sell.  It was like new and the price was right, so we bought it.  We then began planning our first camping trip.  We already had a great camping cook stove from Jerry’s father (I don’t know why), so we went out and bought sleeping bags, pots and pans, glazed enamel dinnerware, a huge water jug, lanterns, canteens, a couple of coolers, a folding shovel, and everything else of interest at our local camping supply store.  We practiced setting up the tent in our backyard.  We were ready to camp.  Being from the prairies, Jerry prefers open spaces and is not at home in deep, dark woods.  Being who I am, I do not like latrines or cold showers.  So, we carefully researched campgrounds and found the perfect place in the Green Mountains of Vermont.  Large campsites, flush toilets, hot showers.  Lakes and rivers nearby for the canoe.  And 10 minutes from Bennington.

Judy, the intrepid adventurer, flew in from Seattle and we made preparations for our first camping trip.  We watched the weather forecasts with concern.  Heavy rains were predicted for New England.  Judy said we shouldn’t worry.  The morning our adventure was to start, it was raining in Guilford.  Jerry and I were hesitant but Judy said, you never know what the weather will actually be doing in Vermont,  What was a little rain?

So, we loaded up the Trooper, strapped the canoe to the roof, and headed out in the rain.  The rain continued at a steady pace until we reached Amherst, about half-way there.  It cleared a bit for the rest of the drive.  We arrived under threatening skies at a spectacular and entirely deserted campground.  So, we quickly set up camp and drove into Bennington to buy a 10 x 15-foot screen house with drop-down plastic panels to enclose it from the elements.  In a steadily increasing drizzle, we erected the screen house; no small task — nothing seemed to fit the way it was supposed to.  We finished just ahead of the downpour.  Inside our dry and safe enclosure, we cooked a delicious spaghetti dinner, we then took hot showers, and settled in for the night.

I don’t know who does the ratings, but three-man tents are not designed for three men — unless those three men are little people.  Nor are they designed for two men and a woman, no matter how petite that woman may be.  Or maybe three-man tents are just not the best idea when two of the men are Jerry and me.  Judy immediately fell contentedly asleep.  Being from Seattle, the damp was her familiar friend.  Jerry and I tossed and turned trying to find places for our legs in the cramped quarters as we listened to the rain pound the nylon tent and we felt the damp settle into our bones.  Finally, at 11:30, Jerry had a meltdown.  He muttered furiously that this was impossible and he couldn’t take it anymore.  He unzipped his mummy bag, unzipped the tent flap, and took off in the car.  I had no idea where he was going or when/if he was coming back.  Nor, clearly, did he.  The headlights of the car flooded the tent with daylight as he backed away from the campsite.  Judy slept.

I spent the rest of the night worrying.  The rain had become a constant torrent.  Where had Jerry gone?  Why did my sleeping bag feel wet?  Why had the ground beneath the tent gone soft?  Was Jerry coming back?  Had he gone off the road?  Had the car been washed into a river?  How could Judy possibly sleep through all this?

And was it my imagination or was that a river of mud to the left of my sleeping bag?


“FOR SALE: Antique desk suitable for lady with thick legs and large drawers.”

On Sunday, we donated the contents of our Las Vegas storage unit to Goodwill.  We kept the antique desk for ourselves (not the one in the picture suitable for a thick-legged, large-drawered lady) along with several other antiques and family heirlooms.  It was a very satisfying start to getting rid of “stuff.”  Goodwill of Henderson made it easy.  And they were gracious, efficient, and professional from start to finish. 

There’s a reason people are paid to move furniture.  Case in point: the 9-foot-long wall unit that Jerry and I struggled with last year trying to fit it through the entrance in the storage unit.  After some unsuccessful maneuvering, we took a moment to compose ourselves and consolidate our formidable brain power.  We figured out the correct angle of incline, precise vertical and horizontal pitch, width/height of furniture to width/height of door and narrow hallway outside door, subtracted by the avoidance of damage to hallway fire extinguisher and ceiling fluorescents, multiplied by the number of fingers and toes we preferred to keep, and we finally squeezed all 10 pounds of mud (the wall unit) into the 5-pound sack (the storage unit).  In using the mud/sack analogy, I’m paraphrasing Dollie Parton here who made the comment a long, long time ago at an award ceremony when her “dress busted open.”

As we began to explain to the driver the perils of fitting that 9-foot-long monstrosity through the doorway and what worked best from our careful mathematical calculations, he smiled, gave it a sharp tap with one hand, and popped it into the hallway in a single smooth move.

If I still had a day job, I wouldn’t quit it.

A trash hauler came and carted away the like-new mattresses that Goodwill could not accept.

The best part was that all this great furniture went to charity.  And, when the trash hauler saw the quality and condition of the mattresses, he said he would give them to a friend who had hit really hard times.  So, we feel great about what we accomplished.  And we’re well on our way to lightening our load.

The one wrench in the works:  Budget Car & Truck Rentals of Henderson.  Our plan was to load up the items we kept and drive them back to Irvine to be stowed in our garage.  We, unfortunately, waited until a few days before our trip to make arrangements to rent a small van in Irvine that we would drive round-trip.  So, Jerry was unable to get the vehicle we wanted.  But, he was very pleased to make arrangements with Budget Rentals in Henderson, NV, for a small 10-foot moving truck with low gas mileage.  He arranged a one-way rental and we would caravan the four hours back to Irvine.  So, Monday morning, we headed over to Budget to pick up the truck.  I won’t detail here the disturbing limitations of the less-than-customer-service-skilled person behind the counter.  But, charm and professionalism were clearly not words familiar to her.  After processing paperwork, we headed out to the lot to check out the truck.  OK, this truck had definitely been around the block a few times.

While someone was loading up the furniture pads Jerry had rented, I stole a peak at the instrument panel and saw that there were 93,000 miles under this low-mileage hood.  Jerry then looked perplexed and asked, “Is this a 10-foot truck?”  The guy said, “No, it’s 16.  We didn’t have any 10s.”

Nice of them to tell Jerry he wasn’t getting what he had requested.  A 16-foot truck is not simply 6 feet longer than a 10-foot truck.  A 10-foot truck holds 400 cubic ft (2,770 lbs) of stuff.  A 16-foot truck holds approximately 850 cubic ft (5,780 lbs).  And a high estimate of the weight of the furniture we had to haul:  200 lbs.

Now, there are two important things to remember.  1)  I am a New Yorker.  2)  Jerry is a Midwesterner.  I have learned over the years that if Jerry is handling something, I need to keep my mouth shut.  If I’m handling something, he stays out of the way.  We have both learned to respect the boundaries and to use the personality types appropriately.

I looked at Jerry and said, “Is this OK?”  He shrugged and said, “Yeah, it’s OK.”  So, pads loaded, we drove away.  Jerry behind the wheel of the truck.  I behind the wheel of the Honda.  The plan was to drive the 10 minutes back to our storage unit, park the truck, go have a nice breakfast, and then load the truck with our very little bit of furniture for an easy drive home.

When we got back to the storage unit, Jerry got out of the truck and said.  “There is no way I’m driving that over the mountains.  I had to floor it just to make it up the little incline to get here.  Both armrests are broken.  And it will probably brake down on the way home. He said, “Did you see how many miles it has on it?”

So, Jerry phoned Budget and after three attempts got through to the Henderson facility and Miss Congeniality.  We had a quick breakfast at McDonalds and then returned the truck.  Jerry again explained the problem to Miss Congeniality and told her she needed to process a complete refund.  She did not apologize.  She didn’t know what code to enter to cancel the rental, so she phoned in for assistance.  I stood in the background and listened.  She listed out the options to the person on the phone saying she didn’t know which to select.  Among the options:  rented from a competitor, vehicle not available, dissatisfied with service…  WAIT!!!, screamed the voice inside my head.  DISSATISFIED WITH SERVICE!  DISSATISFIED WITH SERVICE!  IS THAT NOT OBVIOUS TO YOU?

But, the Midwesterner was at the counter.  So, I stepped outside taking the voice with me.  When I returned I heard Jerry calmly say, “We did not rent from UHaul.”  Miss Congeniality said, “I know.  I was just kidding.”  She then asked, “Do you want to rent something else?”  to which the Midwesterner politely replied, “No, thank you.”  But there was that voice inside my head again, “RENT SOMETHING ELSE?  WHY, DO YOU SUDDENLY HAVE THE TRUCK WE RESERVED IN THE FIRST PLACE?”  And, having wasted two hours, we left Budget of Henderson.

When we got back in the car, I asked Jerry what the UHaul reference was about.  He said that, when I stepped outside, Miss Congeniality told the person on the phone, “They probably rented from UHaul.”

Just so you know, although the voice inside my head sounds very loud and out of control, the only thing that I usually let out is the “hint” of sarcasm.  I am not cruel.  Also, the Midwesterner has very happily used the New Yorker often over the years, whenever some dirty work needed to be done.

So, the good news:  On the way out of town, we stopped at “M” Resort for a free buffet breakfast (we had received coupons in the mail).  We drove home together, which is a lot more pleasant anyway.  We will be back in Vegas with Linda and Tom at the end of the month, so we now have time to rent from here the vehicle we really want for the trip — a simple van.  The New Yorker gets to write a letter to Budget.  And, by early January, the Vegas chapter of our lives will officially be over.

You do not need a parachute to skydive. You only need a parachute to skydive twice.

People keep asking me, What if?

What if Seville isn’t the right city? What if you don’t like the weather?  What if you give away your things and then miss them? What if you just played tourist for a while and then came home?  What if you move to Spain and decide you don’t like it? What if it’s too different? What if the dollar should weaken even more?

What if something should happen to you?

Regarding the last “what if,” there is a much more serious question to be asked.  What if NOTHING should happen to us?


To be honest, the question that weighs on me the most is:  What if my mother or my brother should need us? But, we won’t be much further away than we are now (California to New York… Spain to New York). My brother has a wonderful group-home/independent-living situation. The apartment is managed by AHRC, an exceptional organization staffed by exceptional human beings.  He has a good life in NY.  He usually flies out to visit us on his own once a year.  But, he and my mother are now planning their first visit — together — to Spain.  She’ll give him the help he needs getting through customs and he’ll give her the help she needs with her bags.  And they’ll have one another’s company.  Their first visit is something exciting to look forward to. My brother would prefer to visit us in Vegas (even though we haven’t lived there for a year and a half)… or else someplace with a professional baseball team. We’ll have to get him hooked on soccer.

As for the rest of the what ifs:
We plan to love Seville. We plan to be very happy living in Spain. We plan to do a lot of train travel. We plan to enjoy our new adventures. We plan to be healthy. If any of these things turn out to not be the case, we will plan what we want or need to do next.


 So many people are worried about our money. I worry about our money, too. I have always worried about our money. I have worried about it when we have had a lot and I have worried about it when we have had a little. But, so the other worriers in our lives will relax a bit, I can tell you we have very carefully planned this move. We have planned and diligently developed a budget (not something we’re known for — budgeting, that is; we’re great at developing plans) and we know exactly how much we’ll have and very nearly exactly how much we’ll need. We have built in a major fudge factor — sorry for the highly technical financial terminology — for the ups and downs of the exchange rate. In short, we are financially prepared and will be able to live very comfortable lives.

Despite the title of this post, we do have parachutes. So, stop worrying about us. If all else fails, my mother says she can tolerate having us in her apartment for a few weeks. Then, we’ll just move into Linda and Tom’s basement in South Dakota. They already have a space heater.

Resetting the GPS

Monday night, Jerry and I re-opened another discussion.  And that discussion has brought us back from Jerez de la Frontera to Seville.

We have made great connections in Seville and are learning more and more about the city and its neighborhoods.  And we’re loving what we’re learning.  We haven’t had the same success in our research of Jerez, which I’m sure is still a great place. To make our trip in January and our move in May less complicated, we have decided to return our focus to Seville. 

And that is our final decision… for now.  There is no guarantee we won’t change our minds again.  Our minds, after all, were clearly made for changing.  But, as of today… this morning… well, this moment, we are determined to find an apartment in Seville.

We may not make the right choice the first time out, but at least we’ll have chosen.

After our first lease is up, and we have a year of local knowledge under our belts, we can move someplace else if we like.  We don’t expect we’ll need to, but change is always a possibility.

So now we just need to connect with the perfect rental agent and home will be a lot closer.

Up a Hazy River

They have a canoe. (near the Saco River in Maine)

In 1989, Jerry decided he wanted — no, needed — a canoe.  We were living in Southern Connecticut on the Long Island Sound at the time.  There were beautiful salt marshes, small and large rivers, idyllic lakes.  What this meant was that everywhere we went we saw cars with canoes strapped to their roofs.  And every time Jerry spotted one of those canoe-carrying cars, he would say, “They have a canoe.”

In 1990, we bought a brand-new Isuzu Trooper… because it would look really good with a canoe on top.  One extremely foggy early morning in summer, we went with our good friend Judy — an avid hiker and camper who was visiting from Seattle — rented a beat-up aluminum canoe for about $25 for the day, and paddled into the Connecticut River to see how it felt.  The fact that the fog was so thick that we couldn’t see more than two-feet in front of us was a bit off-putting.  But, we appeared to be the only ones on the river and it was quiet and serene.  We were able to paddle around some of the small islands and marshes.  We shared the water with birds we had only been able to see from a distance before.  Coming out of the fog, we were stunned to find ourselves face to face with a magnificent pair of mute swans.  When you’re down at water-level with a pair of mute swans you’re struck by how huge they actually are.  And how much damage they could actually do if they so chose.  Which is why we paddled as fast as we could when the male rose up off the water with his wings spread and his held high and back.  Huge.

We paddled for hours.  The fog had lifted and it was getting warm, so we decided to head back upriver to return the canoe and head home.  We paddled out of a peaceful cove to find that the serenity we had experienced earlier in the day was gone.  Powerboats and cabin cruisers flew by.  The trip was no longer bliss.  Each time a boat whizzed past us, we aimed for the shore to avoid being swamped.  I began to get a bit frantic.  At one point, we shot into a tiny beach, paddling so fast that the front of the canoe wedged into the muddy shore.  A snake sunning on the shore was taken completely by surprise by our sudden arrival.  It coiled and lifted it’s head, ready to strike.  To avoid the snake, I leaned my upper body so far back that the back of my head was nearly in Judy’s lap.  Jerry burst out laughing when he saw what I was cowering from.  It was nothing but a harmless rat snake, he told me.  Harmless?  Not to the rats.  It was a snake.  It was ready to strike.  And if it could eat a rat, I figured it could do me some damage.

But, except for the rat snake, the attack swan, and the powerboats, I had to admit I had a really good time.  The basic lesson learned was that the Connecticut River wasn’t a great place for me to be canoeing. 

So, I finally caved and we bought a canoe.  But, not just any canoe.  We bought a 16-foot Mad River canoe in beige with taupe and wood trim to match our white Isuzu Trooper with its taupe trim and taupe leather interior.  It really looked great on top of the car.   

We had a canoe.

I suddenly became very frugal or, perhaps, penny-wise/pound foolish (well, that really wasn’t anything new for me).   Our canoe, top-of-the-line paddles, life jackets, seat cushions, and additional canoeing paraphernalia, to my great consternation, cost us approximately $1,600.

The first time we took our own canoe into the water, we had a very relaxing paddle through some salt marshes.  I have to admit it was bliss.  When we were done, we strapped our canoe to the top of the matching Trooper and I told Jerry, “Well, that trip cost us $1,600.”

The following weekend, we took our canoe out on Lake Quonnipaug in our little town of Guilford.  The lake was picturesque and charming.  And boats with motors were not allowed.  It was, again, bliss.  As we paddled at the far end of the lake, away from the few summer cottages and year-round homes, a snapping turtle the size of a Volkswagen Beetle appeared to our left and swam directly under the canoe.  The tail was still well to our left while the enormous head had already passed to our right.  I was fascinated. Jerry’s comment: “Paddle fast!”  Odd.  He wasn’t even the least bit concerned when I was nearly eaten by a snake.

The rest of our paddle was uneventful.  When we strapped the canoe back on top of the matching Trooper that day, I told Jerry, “Well, that trip cost us $800.”

Over the next couple of years, there were some more blissful trips around Connecticut salt marshes and along the Saco River in Maine, as well as a rained-out camping trip in the Green Mountains of Vermont when the canoe spent the entire time strapped to the top of the matching Trooper.  In early 1993, Jerry was surprised to be offered a new position in San Diego.  A huge moving van arrived and our Mad River canoe, the matching Trooper, and everything else we owned, were loaded and taken on a week-long drive across the country.

When we arrived in San Diego, we were disappointed to discover that, even with all that ocean, we had very limited local options for the blissful canoeing we were used to.  To top it off, the canoe would not fit in the garage of our condo, so we had to pay for storage — making it even more difficult to get use of the canoe.  We soon sold the canoe and all the paraphernalia for next to nothing.  We kept the matching Isuzu Trooper.

I told Jerry, “Well that cost us about $160 a trip.”

About a year later, as we were driving by Mission Bay, Jerry had a revelation.  “They have a kayak,” he announced.