Monday, March 23, 2015

The Turning Of The Year

Light.

It is always in this season that my mind turns to the anticipation of light. The lengthening of days, the illumination of fallen snow, and the spark of hope that comes with a turning year. I am not a resolution maker per se, but rather a reflector, goal setter, and most importantly, a doer. The New Year has always, for me, been about reflecting on the goals I set in the previous year, evaluating my progress towards them, and setting a new set of goals. It's a kind of mental spring cleaning I suppose, but also some kind of important ritual for the acceptance of myself. Who am I now? What new things have I experienced? What lessons have I learned? How to I go forward?  Answering these kinds of questions isn't always easy, so one of the things I do is craft time for myself after the rush of the holidays for renewal and evaluation. Some important parts of my turning-year rituals:

Travel
Exercise
Be outside
Read
Sleep
Spend time idly
Cook
Play games
Take baths
Make lists
Clean/organize

How do you greet the New Year?

Friday, January 9, 2015

Girl Gone Wild Is Moving!




Yep.

So the little blog that could is moving on, at least beginning to, anyway. The "people who say so" have decided it is time to migrate to a site all my own, where I can let folks know about the book, upcoming readings, and new publications, all in the same place. So keep reading, but start heading over to:

http://www.rubymcconnell.com/

Catch you on the flip side...

Friday, December 19, 2014

Tiny Fascinations



Shiny.

The dark days of winter are made a little easier, for me, by other peoples Christmas lights. The people in my neighborhood appear to be particularly insane in this respect, which I love. We are bounded on one side by the super-Christian college campus with its enormous illuminated cross that can be seen from halfway across town and the uber-rich estates that have a seemingly decades-long rivalry to see who can put up the most extravagant display. In the middle though, where the common people live, is a hidden street of mainstream American Christmas gone totally wrong. Think National Lampoons, but with moving, mechanical, inflatables. House after house on this particular street has its yard filled with billowing snowmen and light-up nutcrackers. Gone too, are the simple strings of lights outlining the roof, these people re-side their homes and encase their shrubbery dense nets of mismatched lights. It is American consumerism, keeping up with the Joneses and missing the point all rolled into one.

And I love it.

Head for the side streets and back roads before the season ends, it does wonders for the holiday spirit. 

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Something To Watch


Entertainment.

I will admit to being far outside the mainstream in terms of media. I rarely see movies in the theaters, play no video games, take no interest in online videos, viral or not, and have not owned a television in years. But it's not like I live in a cave. There is still Netflix and Redbox, what should be plenty of choices for anyone. But one night this week while searching for a movie to watch, The Guy, who loves a good thriller and anything involving a sociopath announced that he was giving up.

"There's plenty to watch, but it's all getting to be a bit much, isn't it?'

And he's right. It is a bit much. Too much violence, too many serial killers, battle scenes, rampant viruses, and ways to end life as we know it. It isn't so much that we object to it based on moral values or because we think its warping young people (though those are probably great reasons too) its just, boring. We've seen so much violence and sex and conflict as entertainment that its far less than shocking, its normal. Which it shouldn't be. 

Violence should be shocking. 

So this season, we are taking a step back, filling our minds and idle time with music and books and movies that rely on story, rather than shock value, for entertainment. We are going to back classics and old favorites and going to bed early without staring into a screen first. We are letting our season fill with joy.  Its a good thing.

Watch:

Friday, December 5, 2014

Tell It Slant



Read.

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to read some of my work at an event called Tell It Slant in Portland. What made this event special was that I got read alongside my mother, who in her 7th decade has gracefully, and successfully, become a poetess.

The theme for the evening was 'Bloodlines', and both of us brought work concerning ourselves, and our mothers. We had a wonderful time, and were truly surprised by the positive response we received, not just about our writing, but about us, the way we were with one another, and the way we write about each other. It was validating, and a good reminder of the value of family.

Do not stop being astonished by your parents, they may surprise you yet.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Gear Guide III- Home On The Range



Sleep.

The last installment of my gear guide, just in time for the holidays. Happy hunting!

Part 3: Odds and Ends

Water Purifying- 21st Century-Style
Oh my goodness I have spent a lot of time crouched at the edge of a stream pumping water through a filter. Hours. Maybe even days. Really, a lot of time. I have also drank more than my fair share of iodized water, often only sort of improved by the addition of vitamin C or powdered sports drink and patiently boiled water each evening for use the following day. I have too, foolishly, and not since my youth, drank directly from all kinds of streams. Clean drinking water can be a pain in the butt, regardless of how important it may be. That's just how it is, a chore's a chore.

Unless, like me, you have been out of the loop for a while. I have grown so used to filtering when touring that it never occurred to me to look for an alternative. Apparently, I haven't checked for about 15 years. And twelve years ago, a product called Steripen hit the market. It uses ultra violet light to sterilize water. It's small, lightweight, and incredibly fast and easy. Press the button, stick in water, wait briefly. Amazing. I really wish that this had been around for field work in Mexico.

The irony of a product like this is that there's no real way to prove how well it works other than by the evidence of your own body. So far, so good. But Steripen has a good reputation among long-distance tourers and thru hikers and has been around long enough to prove that it works, its really pretty great. I have heard from some that they can be fragile and need to be packed carefully in a side or top pocket to avoid being broken, but beyond that, its a great alternative to other forms of water purification.

Don't throw out your filter though. Steripens may make the water safe to drink in terms of critters, but it doesn't remove particles like clay and silt. Use your hand filter in deserts and other areas with cloudy water in addition to any chemical treatment.

www.steripen.com

The Kit
It has been a long time since I have owned a formal first aid kit. I have pretty much always made-do with plastic bags filled with supplies that I would periodically replace or refill. Whenever I have owned a first aid kit they have been purchased from the local drug store and largely geared towards household bumps, scrapes, and burns, rather than emergency wilderness care. The older I get, the more important that difference becomes. So this year I checked out the options and discovered that weren't actually very many. A lot of what is out there is a little bit of overkill for anyone doing less than a week in the back country. What I was interested in was something that was comprehensive enough for a week of car camping or a short backpacking trip and still small enough to throw into a day pack.

I ended up trying out the ultralight travel kit from Adventure Medical Ultralight and Watertight .5


It's, you know, a first aid kit. And a really good one. That it comes in a bright yellow pouch is a plus, especially if someone besides you is looking for it in your pack. The real cool thing about it is how customizable their kits are in general, there are tons of different versions and it's nice to know that a health professional has gone over the list. You still have to clean it out and refill it every so often, but if you are one of those people walking around with little more than a grubby band aid floating around in your pack, pony up and buy a kit, for peace of mind if nothing else.

The Tent Hammock
By far the coolest thing I have seen by way of new, or at least new to me, gear is the Hennessy Tent Hammock. Hennessy isn't the only company out there making tent hammocks, or camping hammocks in general, but they are doing it better than just about anybody. I had vaguely heard about such things in the past, but it wasn't until a friend and Appalachian Trail thru hiker mentioned to me that she had given up her traditional tent entirely for a tent hammock halfway through the trip that I began to take them seriously.

They are really wicked cool. And hammocks come with a bunch of advantages. You will never again sleep on uneven ground or with tree roots digging into your back, they are warmer in winter, and cooler in summer, lighter than regular tents, and don't come with awkward and heavy poles and stakes and they can be used as comfortable seating. Mostly, they are insanely comfortable, which is pretty much the most important thing.

But. There are a couple of things. First, I had to watch not one but four videos to figure out how to really use the thing, rain fly and all, and I'm pretty sure there are things I'm still not doing properly. And, there is the tree problem. You know, the part where you have to be camping someplace with trees of an appropriate size and distance to one another to make it feasible to pitch your hammock. Not such a big deal really, unless you are in the desert, or maybe grasslands. I haven't had mine for very long, but I am still trying to find the balance between separation distance, tree diameter, and how much cord I have to hang it, it feels like a bit much, but so can setting up any new tent. I am hoping it sets up faster as I get used to it.

They do seem to be every bit as sturdy and water tight as any other kid of tent, even more so when you eliminate ground seep and flooding problems and Hennessy has lots of options for bells and whistles from ultra lite models to full fledged tents with thick insulation pads. Again, pretty much too cool. Check back in another six months to hear how it makes through the winter camping season.



And that's it! Now go update your gear.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Gear Guide II- A Decent Cup Of Joe



Cook.

A continuation of my adventures in new gear. For the background to this series read this:

Part 2: The Kitchen Gadgets

The only thing I really need in order to be happy outside, at least in terms of food and drink, is a hot, strong cup of coffee in the morning. For years (like 15) I have used a camp french press in the style of old plastic travel mugs made by Big Sky Brewing. I have wandered in my affection during that time, sure, trying single-cup drips and small Italian-style espresso pots, but I pretty much always come back to the french press. This year, I went in search of an update for both my brewing system, and my travel mug, which was of the cheap, whatever you find at whatever store you happen to be in variety. Meaning that it leaks, falls apart, and keeps my coffee warm for about two seconds. I like to set a low bar.

The Brew
I tried all manner of outside coffee makers, including making single serve 'coffee bags' by tying up coffee filters filled with grounds with kitchen string, every portable drip system I could find, and even a plastic french press or two. But I kept going back to my Big Sky Bistro original. Eventually though, the nice people from Planetary Design sent me an alternative.

Planetary Design makes coffee and tea presses and travel mugs in addition to kitchen storage containers. While they make larger presses, they sent me the travel mug double shot version. It was a little smaller than the Big Sky version, but it was made of stainless steel, and a much nicer design, especially in the deep green that I have. The press works well, though I would prefer a larger cup, especially if I need to use it to make coffee for two or three on the trail. But for just myself, it made a pretty good cup of coffee. Better than the press feature though, is the cup itself. It actually comes with a warning label about how hot the contents are kept, and they mean it. There's no heat being lost through that mug. I've never seen anything like it. There is no doubt that you can keep your cup of coffee hot for a long time even while snow camping with their gear. Though for your average summer weather, it does seem like a bit of dangerous overkill. The other odd feature of the press/mug is that the bottom has a hidden compartment that screws off, presumably to hold an extra dose of grounds or packets of creamer and sugar, but given how much of the total volume of the mug it takes up, and hot hot the contents are kept, it seems like an unnecessary feature. Also, it doesn't apply very well to the outdoors,what's the point of having extra grounds at hand if you still have to unpack and set up your stove to boil water? Most of the people I show it to mention that it looks like a great place to keep your stash.

I also received the Commuter French Press/Mug from GSI Outdoors. I actually had to watch this Youtube video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w1u7s3cfEJY to understand how to work this product, but once I did, it was pretty easy to use. Instead of the traditional plunger, this mug is nested, with the removable inner cup acting as the press. It's a clever design and a nicely balanced, large travel mug that 's a good cup of coffee. It doesn't lend itself to sharing as it doesn't pour well, but that's not its real intention. What's great about it is that it keeps your coffee ground free, but I found that the pieces can be difficult to separate, especially if you like your coffee strong and use a lot of grounds. The biggest selling point is that it is leak-free, I was able to pack it in a pack and ride my bike with it safely stowed and completely filled.

In the end, I decided that for brewing at camp and with more than one person, Big Sky is still the best bet. But Planetary Designs is making some great mugs, and their features seem to be of more benefit to tea drinkers and GSI is great for single-person use. All o f them make a stronger, hotter cup of camp coffee that other techniques.


In another coffee-related development, the folks over at GSI started offering a camp-kitchen coffee mill last spring, and it's really pretty great. It's small, sturdy, hand powered and a great addition to any car camping kitchen. It's heavy, so I wouldn't recommend in for touring, even it it is super compact and you are a devoted coffee aficionado. Hang onto the instructions when you first unpack it, it's not as self explanatory as it seems, it took me three or four tries before I really remembered how to use it, but it isn't complicated either. What I love best about this product is that it lets me store whole beans in my camp bin and grind them fresh in the morning instead of relying on stale grounds that are prone to absorbing moisture. It is far from a necessity, and really edging towards glamping, but it is the best stocking stuffer idea for outdoors people that I've seen in a long time.