Category Archives: Human Interest

Overcoming Fear: Put The Rattlesnake In Its Place

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Teri on the fear factor trail.

Hi, my name is Teri and I am afraid. For as far back as I can remember I’ve been afraid and the world around me has been very accommodating in justifying all of my fears – encouraging them and fanning the flame right on schedule: no time off for holidays. Whether it’s the certainty of catching Ebola from a stranger or being snarked on by the Facebook grammar police (my daughters) who at this very moment are muttering, “snarked is not a word”, the universe is intent on keeping its fellow humans in a constant state of anxiety. Presently I’m beginning a new chapter titled Blow It Out Your Pie-hole, You Can’t Scare Me, but the past has been a very different and fear-filled story.

My previous life had me stressing over things as varied as being an inadequate dolt in the presence my ex’s highly educated friends while they compared notes on the agony of GRE prep to the surety that my four kids would wind up in juvenile detention if I stopped breastfeeding them before they entered grade school. The one thing the previous life taught me about fear is, like weeds, it grows when left unchecked.

As I moved through adult life, my weedy, pesticide-resistant fears pretty much centered around who I was in the world and this led to the powerful conclusion that extreme insecurity and false bravado were simply two sides of the same coin. I had dabbled in both a sassy ego and a shredded self worth and finally come to realize that the reason I feared not being smart enough, sophisticated enough, witty enough – was because I wasn’t. And I still am not.

For years I’d wandered into connections with people that were constant reminders that I was unworthy and not up to snuff but the vacating of a job and a round of multiple crises in a short period of time offered up an unexpected victory. The win was the realization that I was just an average Teri and that turned out to be joyfully freeing. Exhausted from the self-worth battle, I’d finally surrendered and in that surrender my fear gained perspective, I need not make any further attempt at special. Average was acceptable.

This embrace of average is something most goal oriented people do not understand: those who cut their teeth on grade point averages, yearly income, and an inability to laugh at themselves as energetically as they do at everyone else are allergic to average but for me it was empowering. It was freeing. There was no longer a quest for extraordinary and most profoundly, any strategy designed to convey my own specialness was finished. Who’da thunk it, that this search for the above average was truly the root, the nucleus of all of my fears.

Once self worth and ego were given a time out, fear became a force that could be deciphered on its own and dealt with head on and lucky for me, a robust, middle-aged rattlesnake was waiting to help me out. In the split second it takes to make a dumb decision and head down an overgrown and very narrow trail, I was transformed by Slytherin, a rattlesnake the size of an Anaconda yet somehow hidden in the grass. This deadly serpent fired up a rattle that sounded like a chainsaw and caused a very rational response from me: I first froze and then ran like hell while grabbing my cell phone because everyone knows a snake can be warded off with a call to a boyfriend who lives thirteen hundred miles away. My desire for an off grid hike always mysteriously vanishes at the first hint of a snake.

Yes, I lived through this but the result was a terror every time I went near the trail that I had so coveted pre-Slytherin encounter. Over the next few months, I trekked past the trailhead and stared enviously down the dusty path at other hikers sauntering merrily along, not a care in the world. A half a year passed and then one day on a hike with my daughter’s significant other, I relayed the story and my fear. Of course Jules’ Dutch to English response was “We go, yes? We must take this trail now”.

And so we did, with me inexplicably going first. Jules had previously shared that snakes are gratefully unheard of in Holland and though he was in agreement that I needed to face my fear, he saw no urgency in facing his. Like the true leader and snake expert I am, I conquered the terrain by clapping my hands loudly and shuffling my feet in a grumpier old men fashion. Evidently the snakes recognized my superiority as we saw none on our two and a half mile stretch. What we did see was a spectacular trail that was reminiscent of Lord Of The Rings and as I walked through the forest, I found that the snake focus abated and my attention shifted to the trek.

As it happened, the week of the snake face-off coincided with my attendance at two documentary showings, both dealing specifically with fear and self worth. MERU is a story of tenacity, friendship, courage, and honor while JEFF LOWE’S METANOIA explores both determination and surrender and how those two can coexist. These mountain climbing tales made me hyper-aware that the guys involved seemingly managed any fear by literally looking upward. In every camera shot, they fixed their gaze and attention on the top of where they were headed. As storms raged, food diminished, and their bodies and psyches became battered and bruised, they simply narrowed their vision to exactly what it would take to progress to the next level. Sometimes they made it, sometimes they didn’t, and sometimes life stepped in and avalanched their worlds more than anything had on any mountain. Did they have fear? Yes. You can see it in their eyes. Did the fear at times influence the outcome? Of course it did as they used the fear like a tool, carving reason into a pragmatic equation, but did they allow the fear to dominate and define who they were? No.

Fear will always be part of being human. How we navigate it and what role it plays in our lives can be dictated by the world or it can be dictated by us. Perspective is up to the individual. Just how dangerous is it to hike, canoe, rock climb, ski, snowboard, run, skateboard, bike or for that matter, make a grammatical error, say something less than brilliant, wear mediocre clothing and on and on and on? For the beautifully teeny-tiny, average person – compared to sitting it out – statistically, diving in is either scary-dangerous or slap happy-safe. Only you can decide.

See MERU

and JEFF LOWE’S METANOIA

On A Dime Spirit: The Real Deal ~by Adam Bergstrasser

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The Bergstrasser Family

On A Dime Adventure is so very thrilled to have our first guest blog post and it deserves a teeny-tiny back story. We noticed fellow traveler, Adam Bergstrasser generously sharing some of his tips via our Facebook page and as a result, I asked if he’d be open to guest posting. Adam enthusiastically agreed but with the disclaimer that he’d not blogged before so his work might benefit from a possible creative edit. Well, here it is completely untouched because we found it to be perfect. Enjoy the blend of practical advice, coupled with the story of a family that figured out the spirit of On A Dime living long before I ever started my journey. My only addition is the title as I figured Adam would be  too humble to have come up with the one I thought he deserved.

So now without further adieu, meet the Bergstrassers.  ~Teri

On A Dime Spirit: The Real Deal

by Adam Bergstrasser

I’ve always loved the outdoors. When I was a child, my parents often took me camping at a lake outside of Stillwater, Oklahoma. As a teenager I began backpacking and camping in the mountains of New Mexico. I could never afford fancy gear, so most of my stuff came from friends and garage sales. I didn’t care. It was never about having the “right” gear, it was the act of getting away from town and into the wild that I loved.

When I met my wife twenty years ago, I was excited about introducing her to my outdoor world; minimalist camping, long treks, and amazing vistas. I quickly realized that if I wanted to continue this lifestyle, I needed to invest in a few creature comforts. On one payday, I bought a lantern. On another, a folding table. Soon we were packing a minivan to the rafters with all kinds of crazy stuff for each trip, but hey… we were camping! When gas was a buck a gallon, it was something we could afford to do as often as we liked. We took half a dozen mini-vacations each year to the mountains around Albuquerque. It was what we did. It defined our family.

Then I let life intrude. Making money became more important to me than quality time, and I chased construction projects around three different states. I worked seventy hours a week. We took an occasional scenic drive, but the camping gear gathered dust. I became homesick and dissatisfied. One evening in Austin, I came home and told my wife, “Baby… I want to go home.” We talked about the quality of life we wanted for ourselves and our three daughters, and decided that time together outweighed whatever we could buy them with more money. That was a hard decision. I took a 50% pay cut to move back to Albuquerque. It was a very difficult adjustment, but I pictured a time filled with camping trips. Singing around a fire. S’mores. Lots of pictures. Lots of memories for my daughters to carry with them for a lifetime.

When our savings account was almost empty, my wife handed me our last $800 and said, “Go buy us a camper.” She’s so smart. I’d wanted one for years. That 1977 Coleman pop-up saved us. We began camping again and really enjoying it. After a couple years we traded up for a new(er) 1988 pop-up, and proceeded to drag it all over the West. Life was good.

Over the last eight years, we’ve been to some amazing places. We’ve seen sights that I’m sure people pay a lot of money for, and we’ve done it on a very tight budget. How? I’ve used two keys: research and the government. Before every one of our “big” trips, I spend hours, days, sometimes weeks online. I look for the most scenic routes, the most interesting roadside attractions, and the biggest waterfalls. And I key in on all of the properties that I own. That’s right. Public property. National Forests. National Parks. BLM land. It’s my vacation secret. Everywhere we’ve been, I’ve been able to find a place to stay for between zero and thirty dollars a night. It doesn’t matter if you own a nice new camper or a $10 yard sale tent, you can stay at an incredibly beautiful campsite on public lands for free or close to it.

To be honest, I’m not much of a people person. When I camp, I want to be as far away from other folks as possible, so most of our trips are to primitive sites in the National Forests in New Mexico or Colorado. No facilities, no neighbors, and total peace. I even take a trip or two by myself every year. I’ve realized, though, that not everyone is as antisocial as I am. I’ve also realized that some of the best places in nature just happen to have a lot of other people appreciating them, too. If it was up to me, I would just go backpacking, but there are other people making this trip with me. My daughters love little mountain towns with lots of tourist shops. My wife likes waterfalls and showers (which, I learned quickly, are NOT the same thing). So I tailor our trips accordingly. Some wilderness hikes for dad, some tourist towns for the girls, lots of waterfalls for my love, and always with hot showers nearby.

Sure, you can pay a lot of money to stay in a nice hotel or cabin, but did you know that the Forest Service rents out the most amazing mountain cabins all over the West? Yup. They’re so cool. Look it up:
http://www.fs.fed.us/r2/recreation/rentals/

Did you know that for $80 a year you can buy a pass that gets you and everyone in your car into all kinds of federal and state lands for free?
http://www.nps.gov/findapark/passes.htm

AND all of these places are on a map:
http://www.recreation.gov/unifSearchResults.do

You might have to haul your own water. You might have to sleep on a bunk and use an outhouse. You might have an encounter with wildlife… But here’s the key, the secret, the amazing truth: THESE ARE THE THINGS THAT MAKE MEMORIES! Your kids may not remember another plane flight, another vacation lodge, another trip… but they will DEFINITELY remember that time you burned your eyebrows off trying to start a fire (not that I recommend this)! They will remember that night the tent collapsed around you in a rainstorm. They will remember standing under a massive sandstone arch after a long hike in Utah. They will remember every wild deer, waterfall, and quirky roadside store. Last time I checked, all these things are free.

Sometimes I know I could do a better job as a husband and father. Sometimes I wonder if my choices are the best. But several times a year, I sit by a fire with my family, after a day filled with amazing sights and adventures that I was able to bring my family on because I researched and studied hard. I was very careful with my money. I took advantage of all the free things I could find along the way. I feel full. I feel peaceful. I feel complete. I never, ever, miss or regret giving up chasing a buck. I am super dad.
Happy camping!
-Adam Bergstrasser

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3 Happiness Boosts, Let There Be Thorns

This week I was transported to a secret garden that is both very public and very accessible. So what is this secret? It carries the answer to happiness in three easy answers so this magical reveal of a magical man will begin with some no-nonsense secrets about joy.

ANSWER #1 – Look outward. While self-reflection is valuable, often the bigger picture seems overlooked. Somewhere, out there – within walking distance most often – is a need. Reach out and connect. There is little – to no – monetary cost and the reward is great.

ANSWER #2 – Do it now. Today. Don’t wait for some perfect scenario to appear. Take your beautiful, imperfect self and make a connection today. If a true commitment seems overwhelming, start by picking up trash in your neighborhood or take a basket of your old postcards to a senior citizens center or donate clothes to a battered women’s shelter and then – go ahead – sign on to volunteer.

ANSWER #3 – Passion. Take something you love and see if there is a way to make it a giving experience. Call the library and ask if you can offer to host workshops, connect with a friend who gardens or a gardening club and pick a blighted spot to beautify, crochet hats for homeless children. Grow your passion into something that is shared.

LET THERE BE THORNS

The cacti photos featured today are an example of one man’s talent for giving and for doing it on a dime.

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A decade ago, my community was graced with a  wealthy individual’s decision to landscape a big swath of city property for no apparent reason other than the fact that the public property was adjacent to his. The stunning and very professionally landscaped garden turned out magnificent and the entire population benefited but it was another – more humble undertaking – that caught and held my attention.

One day, several blocks away,  I came upon a weed-filled easement and happened to catch a glimpse of a gentleman holding a shovel and squinting at the gravely lot. Clad in a plaid shirt, straw hat perched on his head; he went about placing a couple of thorny cacti cuttings in the ground. These cacti had not been sourced from a garden center; they actually looked like cuttings from perhaps one of the man’s plants. I remember thinking to myself, “hmm… isn’t that sweet, hope the thorns are worth the trouble”. I envisioned the plants dying as many of mine had when I haphazardly dropped them in the ground.

Over the next few months I would see the man continuing his seemingly random placing of little cacti cuttings here and there. He’d be out in the blazing heat with a watering can, which looked truly grueling, however, it seemed there was no other way to water the dry, rocky lot. And this went on and on, little by little. Months passed with a few cacti, appearing here and there, sitting askew. Numerous times I would admire the professionally landscaped plot with glorious plants rising and flowering effortlessly and then come upon the man with what looked like his orphaned cacti struggling to take hold.

A few years elapsed with the landscaped garden growing lush enough that the city allowed two additional patches of land to be planted to match the original. Through all of this, the little garden that could was also hanging in there, the cacti defying the elements and multiplying, gradually morphing from very iffy to something out of Where The Wild Things Are. I would’ve sworn this metamorphosis happened overnight but more likely I simply had not been paying attention.

Cacti shift

The garden was now large and no longer a question mark – this harum-scarum place was making its own statement. I could not remember how long it had been unfolding. How often had I passed and seen the man out there? Had it been five years or a decade? I did know that several times I’d been embarrassed by my earlier judgment and considered getting out of my car and approaching him. I thought I’d make amends by thanking him for his creation but I drove on, always in a hurry to get from point A to point B.

And then suddenly he was no longer there. It flitted across my brain that perhaps he’d moved but I shrugged it aside until time wore on and life rearranged my priorities. I thought about the man and his garden more often and came to feel I’d missed something important so one day I pulled the car over and got out. I climbed the thorny little hill and walked through the maze of assorted cacti. I was struck by the fact that it was entirely anonymous. No sign or plaque with the name of the man or maybe someone he’d been honoring while putting in the work. There was no agenda, no title, no community development action committee or house of worship. There had simply been this quiet little man working away for… a nondescript period of time until he seemed to disappear.

I felt a little silly choking up over such obvious poetry as thorns and blossoms but the simplicity of the garden was good for my ego. It had no interest in whether I was intellectually absorbing it in a “correct” manner, it just was. And that was perfect.

The only imperfection I wrestled with was that I’d never thanked the man. I hoped others had but then I wondered if that would have been important to him. And in that thought came an idea. I realized that possibly what would have mattered most would have been that the garden be cared for. So one night I found myself, kitchen tongs in hand, reaching into the tenacious thorns to retrieve wind-scattered trash caught in the plants. I filled a trash bag and started back to the car only to stop and stare at a sunny yellow house that was landscaped liberally with cacti.

On a whim, I decided to see if the current owners would know anything about the man who’d lived there previously so I knocked. The door swung open and to my surprise, there he was, the cactus man. I stammered out an explanation as to what I was doing, standing on his porch with a bag and kitchen tongs in hand, and he smiled, a little perplexed, and introduced himself. He confirmed he’d planted all of the cacti from his own cuttings including the many that now reached in excess of ten feet. He had planted them twice, once twenty-five years previous only to have the city tear them out and then he planted again about eight years ago and this time, they remained.

At eighty-nine years of age, Harold Vanger, a retired school teacher, relies on his own labor to maintain the garden and spends about a hundred dollars a year on weed control.

Harold

Harold w: cacti

When I asked why he’d done it, he simply smiled and said because the lot had been an eyesore and he just wanted to make it better. A number of items that I discovered about Harold’s life seem heroic, the fact that he is a veteran of World War Two, that he started an ongoing used book sale at a local hospital that raised two hundred thousand dollars, and that he – ever so serenely – takes small cuttings and teeny-tiny seeds and creates a mosaic of unbelievable beauty. For Harold, a life of contribution is a life well-lived. Where the rest of us might see blight, Harold sees possibility.

The previous eyesore is now a magical garden – Harold’s garden, to me – and it represents life’s thorny moments as well as life’s blossoming ones but perhaps most importantly it represents the knowledge that life is completely available if you just walk across the street. One man and one little garden that could, let there be thorns.

*Please share to Facebook and/or Tweet if you wish.  <3

*Harold’s garden is located in the city of Woodland Hills, on Mulholland Drive, between Canoga and Topanga. Grab some gloves and pull some weeds, he’d be most appreciative. 🙂

$1 Books And A Little Red Shack

If you are ever in Livingston, New York and driving lazily along route #9, watch for a little red shack. When you spot it, park on the grass and get the heck out of the car because you are in for the finest adventure on a dime there ever was. Melanie Nelson, a passionate bibliophile, has converted a gorgeous property that originally included an old inn, into the permanent site of possibly the biggest-little country book sale ever.

Melanie’s little book sale includes multiple buildings and 20,000+ books. Even more amazing is the fact that all hardcover books are one dollar and paperbacks fifty cents. The books are meticulously arranged according to topic and in great condition. True to her assertion that her inventory is not stocked with unappealing cast-offs, we found a wealth of desirable reading material and everything from Harry Potter and kids books to classics, philosophy, plays, biography, history, fiction, military, current popular titles, and beautiful art, music, and poetry selections.

Front porch

Kids shed

Stopping off along the road had never proven so magical and in addition to the quaint buildings overflowing with books was a tag sale that offered antique china teacups for twenty-five cents. The deals don’t end with teacups. If you are a record collector, be prepared to suffer serious danger of nostalgia overload upon perusing the thousands upon thousands of records stocked in the music building. A step back in time might just be a step forward for your psyche.

There was a palpable sense of yesteryear as Melanie sat on her porch, nibbling on a sandwich and chatting about her cats. When I purchased a hand-woven bag for two dollars and two Christmas ornaments at a nickel total, this timeless entrepreneur shook out change from an old jar. And something tells me that if – in the future – you purchase a teacup, it just may include chamomile steeping away.

tea cups

Sometimes it seems that people like Melanie are perhaps mystical beings placed on the planet to spread joy just because “why not?” Her complete fascination with all literature was contagious but what was most engaging was her obvious generosity and desire to make the books available on a dime.  As if the invitation to shop the always-open red shack and just leave your payment in the slot wasn’t enough, she also encourages patrons to bring a lunch and make themselves at home on the grounds.

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If you cannot get to New York, visit her online and even if you don’t make a purchase, please give her a thank you. In a world filled with big box consumption, this woman is a reminder that life can be elusive in the self-check line of an overly air conditioned cavern, while it is easily accessible – courtesy of a genuine woman offering heartfelt, face-to-face moments – along a sunny country road.

www.melanienelsonbooks.com

About the Book Shack —-  the original LITTLE RED BOOK SHACK,  and  the WHITE COTTAGE ANNEX  a few steps away (in the photo), and the BIOGRAPHY SHED.  And opening 2013 The Kids Shed – AND starting September 2013 a 5th building for vinyl.   The important facts are — 20,000 used books for sale in the 3 room shack and  3 rooms annex, and the large Biography Shed, and now the Kids Shed.   And the vinyl collection.   ALL adult paperbacks 50 cents, ALL hardcovers $1.00.  Good clean used books of value, no junk. The books are clean and in very good condition, no exlibrary books,  shelved by topic– maps of buildings and topics are posted..  

           Also –A NEW ACQUIITION OF 6000 CLASSIAL VINYL LP RECORDS, from one collector, added to our current stock of vinyl- LPs priced at 1.00 each  ( boxed sets slightly cheaper), and Videos and DVDs, and CDs priced at 50 cents including foreign language videos— and cassetts and audio books 25 cents.    A building of thousands of clean children’s books priced at 25 cents each  ( 6  $1.00 ).   Also ephemera,  maps, postcards, and pictures.    Also available, a section of vintage magazines, including collection of National Geographic (pre-1945 only).. ALL  magazines are 25 cents each.    Also old newspapers 50 cents. The buildings are restocked weekly, all books shelved by subject.

ALSO NEW– SHOP ANYTIME, ANY DAY, ANY MONTH if you are passing by —- Self Service Shelves- Outside, on the roadside of the Book Shack- easily visible from the road invite you to stop and shop– Open the glass doors on the shelves and select your books–ALWAYS OPEN – 24 / 7 – year round.  Shop anytime and leave your payment in the mail slot in the door of the Little Red Book Shack 

Park right up on the grass near the Book Shack when you visit us.

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