When Home Isn’t Home Anymore

How I feel about living in a town that was my home for 15 years without actually living in the house that was my home.

My visit to Wickenburg again this winter brings up something I’ve been thinking about quite a bit lately: how Wickenburg was my home but isn’t my home anymore. This wasn’t really an issue in past visits, but is really on my mind this year.

What’s different? Well, I made friends with the folks who bought my old house.

New Friends in My Old House

It was Mary who started the dialog earlier this year. My wasband had left behind a metal sculpture she thought I might want. She tracked me down online; between this blog, my business website, my Twitter account, and my Facebook account, I’m really not that difficult to find. I didn’t want the sculpture and explained why. We started a dialog in email. I thought she and her husband might like my friends Jim and Cyndi (who I house/dog sit for in Wickenburg) so I made introductions via email. They really hit it off. We became friends on Facebook. And the other day, when I arrived at Jim and Cyndi’s, I got to meet Mary and Jeff in the flesh. I think it’s safe to say that we hit it off, too.

We’ve been hiking with the dogs at least once every day since I arrived.

The other day, I went to their house (formerly my house) to lead a hike on one of the horse trails I used to take. I thought it would be a nice introduction to the trails near where they lived. (That turned into a bit of a fiasco when the trail was longer than I remembered and obviously hadn’t been used in some time so it was hard to follow. And what’s with the fences?)

Palm Tree
This Mexican fan palm, which was about five feet tall when we planted it in 1999, is easily 30 feet tall now.

I’d flown over the house in October on my way to Chandler to drop off the helicopter for overhaul. That was the first time I’d seen it in 3-1/2 years. Oddly, I didn’t feel any emotional pangs looking down at it from about 500 feet up. It was just a nice looking house with a well-kept yard and a very tall palm tree.

Still, I thought I’d feel weird about actually going to the house. After all, it was what the court referred to as my “marital home.” But again, the weird feeling never really sunk in.

Mary and Jeff have made some changes to the house and yard that really improve it and make it look better than it ever did while I lived there. They’d increased the height of the wall around the yard and installed some really pretty yet simple metal gates where needed. Whatever vegetation had survived since my departure in May 2013 — a lot died when my wasband turned off the irrigation before deserting the place in the summer of 2012 — had really grown. The single palm tree, the mesquite (Spot’s tree) in the back yard, the two saguaros, the desert willows, and the palo verde that I’d nursed from seed were all at least twice the size I remembered them being. All the overgrown plants and weeds had been cleared out and everything was nicely trimmed.

All these things combined made the house seem different.

Is that why I didn’t really feel any weird emotions while I was there?

Or is it because my mind has completely closed that chapter of my life? Because my mind closed that chapter on the very last day I was there, when I drove away for what I thought would be the last time?

Marital Home?

In all honesty, it really wasn’t much of a “marital home.” How could it be? More than half the time I was there during my short, ill-fated marriage I was there by myself while my wasband played house in his Phoenix condo with a roommate or went back to New York to spend time with his mommy. It was my home, the home I’d painted and furnished and decorated the way I saw fit. Where I worked and played and relaxed, mostly alone.

There had been very little input from the man who occasionally lived there with me before abandoning it for a walled-in tract home in a decaying Scottsdale subdivision. The man who, for some reason, tried to keep me out when I returned that last autumn by changing the locks and fighting me in court when I got in anyway. (As if an $8 lock would keep me out of my own home.) The man who was so desperate to get me out after the divorce trial that he agreed to give me every bit of personal property in the house and his condo that I wanted. The man who wanted it so badly in the divorce that he eventually paid me half of its court-appraised value.

And then he never moved into it, neglected it, incurred huge expenses getting it ready for sale, and wound up selling it for less than his appraiser told the court it was worth.

(Yeah: I made more money on the sale of the house than my wasband did. I did mention elsewhere in this blog that he made a lot of really stupid decisions, right?)

Anyway, although I thought I’d feel weird about going to the house, I didn’t. It was just another house. Sure, I’d lived there for fifteen years, but I’d moved out and I’d moved on. Any fond memories I had about the place had been pretty much erased by the abuse and neglect I dealt with after I married the man who seldom lived there. My mind was on my current home, a home not haunted by a failed relationship and false marriage. My old house was no longer my home and I had absolutely no regrets about leaving this one behind. I was much happier where I lived now.

The “Then” Photo

One of the things I did before leaving home this November was to track down one of the framed photos that had hung on the wall in my old house. It’s an aerial image of the house, shot in 2000, not long after I’d started the landscaping in the yard. All the trees and other plants I listed above are still quite small. My horses are down in the wash — you can see almost all of Cherokee, but just Jake’s butt sticking out from under the shade that is no longer there. I’m standing near the front door, holding my aviation radio, wondering why a helicopter is hovering over my neighbor’s house.

I packed the photo that last winter mostly because I didn’t want to leave it behind, but when I got to my new home, I had no desire to hang it. So I packed it when I headed south.

The other day, I remembered to give it to Mary and Jeff. Part of me was worried that they’d think I was just getting rid of my old junk. I was prepared for a very unenthusiastic response. But to my surprise, they liked it.

I promised them a helicopter ride to get another shot just like it, so they can get a sort of Then and Now comparison. (I hope Mary or Jeff won’t mind riding with a door off to get reflection-free photos.)

I thought I had the original floor plans for the house, too. I distinctly remember them being rolled up and stowed away in one of the poster tubes I had in my office closet. But when I went through the poster tubes I packed and brought to Washington, I couldn’t find them. Maybe my wasband has them. Maybe when his old whore reads this — she follows my blog and tweets because her own life isn’t very interesting — she’ll ask him to look for them and send them to Mary and Jeff. He knows the address.

More likely, he threw them away, as he threw away the rest of his life.

How Do I Feel?

So how do I feel about being back in Wickenburg? Great!

My hosts here have given me a very comfortable place to stay while I watch their dogs and house. I get to enjoy daily hikes out in the desert I know so well and drive my truck down the desert roads I used to bump along in my Jeep. I get to eat at the restaurants I remember and like — the pollo asado burrito I had at Filiberto’s the other day was just as amazing as I remember it and I can’t wait to get up to Nichols West, “the best restaurant in Wickenburg.” (The joke is, it’s not in Wickenburg.) I get to see old friends who are all genuinely glad to see me. And of course, I get to soak up the sunshine in warm temperatures that let me wear t-shirts so I can start working on my summer tan.

What’s not to like?

Best of all, I don’t have the burden and responsibility of owning a home here. And I don’t have to deal with local politics and policies, which are apparently as close-minded, crooked, and skewed to favor the “good old boys” as they ever were. (Seriously, Wickenburg: do you really think hanging a digital sign on the Community Center is going to get the Phoenix/Vegas drivers to stop? I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: people stop at destinations. Hanging a tacky sign does not make Wickenburg a destination.)

I’m not tied to Wickenburg anymore and I like that. When I’m ready to move on — or my friends start hinting that I’ve overstayed my welcome — I’ll put my camper back on my truck and head out to explore other places. And when all my friends die or move away, I’ll likely stop coming here. By then, I’ll have other places I prefer to spend my winter time — possibly places a lot farther south than Arizona.

So “home” really isn’t home anymore — and I don’t have a problem with that at all.

Snowbirding 2017 Postcards: A Desert Drive

I took my truck out to an old favorite destination near Wickenburg this afternoon: Box Canyon. This is literally a box canyon on the Hassayampa River, partially hidden by massive salt cedar trees. Upriver from there is a narrow slot canyon that the river is always flowing through. I drove through that, too, then exited on another road I know to make a loop drive. 

I was scouting for tomorrow’s trip with friends who are new to the area — I wanted to make sure it was possible to reach Box Canyon in my truck before I tried bringing my friends. I can. I’m beginning to think my truck can go anywhere

Here are a few photos from the drive. I’ll likely have better ones if the canyon tomorrow, since we’re going at midday. 

How I Became a Snowbird

It only took eleven years.

I’m halfway through my first full week in Arizona, the place so many mostly retired Americans go in the winter to escape the cold at their northern latitude homes. With my second winter season in a warmer climate now under way, I think it’s safe to say that I’m officially a snowbird.

I also realized that I’ve been doing some form of snowbirding for the past eleven years now, although I didn’t do it the usual way.

And I think I prefer it the way I do it now.

He’s the scoop. Be advised: this blog post includes the airing of some dirty laundry, which, unfortunately, is an integral part of the story and explains what took me so long to get here.

The Reverse Snowbird

For the eight or so years leading up to my eventual divorce and move to Washington state, I was a sort of reverse snowbird. Instead of migrating south for the winter, I migrated north for the summer.

2004 was the first year I did this. That’s when I got a job as a seasonal tour pilot at the Grand Canyon. A week in the significantly cooler Grand Canyon area followed by a week at home in Wickenburg. It was a busy summer. I was just another tour pilot at the Canyon, flying over “the big ditch” up to 13 times a day, but in my home office, I cranked out the fifth (or sixth?) edition of my best-selling Quicken Official Guide and got started on an Excel book. When I wasn’t home, I dealt with the relative discomfort of life in a horse trailer’s cramped living quarters, parked on 40 acres of property I owned with my future wasband five miles from pavement. I’d leave at 6 AM to get to work by 6:45. And yes, sometimes I did fly to work; I had a R22 parked beside my Jeep at the trailer. That’s the summer I decided to “go for broke” on my struggling helicopter charter business and order an R44.

Howard Mesa Cabin
Our Howard Mesa cabin was a nice place to escape from the heat.

In 2005, I had a brand new R44 helicopter but virtually no summer flying work. (Seriously: who wants to fly when it’s 110°F out?) When the Quicken book revision was done at the end of June, I headed back to the northern Arizona property with my horse trailer and horses. In a compromise with my future wasband, we’d had a prefabricated custom wooden shed delivered to the property. While he worked at one of the many jobs he bounced between in the Phoenix area, I spent all of July at the “cabin,” fitting its walls with hard foam insulation and building an interior wall to divide the main room from the future bathroom. On weekends, my future wasband would join me, handling tasks I couldn’t do then (but can certainly do now): wiring, plumbing, cutting lumber, fitting large sheets of T111 (think plywood paneling) on walls and ceilings. Together, we turned that shed into a very cozy four-season escape in a place where the Grand Canyon was our local park. But when the work was done, it was still too hot to hang out at home. So I hopped into my 2003 Honda S2000 (which I still own), and headed out on a 19-day road trip by myself to explore points north. I visited places (and friends) in Arizona, Nevada, California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, and Utah, getting a real feel for a lot of the off-the-beaten-path places. I came back with a lead on a hangar home in Cascade, ID — perfect for a summer home — and even flew my future wasband up there with me to see it after I got home. (What a waste of time and money that was.)

In 2006, I made the mistake of marrying the man who would, six years later, leave me for a desperate old whore he met online. (Yes, I do realize now that the marriage was his attempt to “lock in” on the considerable financial, real estate, and business asset investments I’d been making since I had my first best-seller in 1998. But back then, I couldn’t imagine anyone I loved plotting to use family law to try to screw me over. Silly me.) I had some surgery in May and then went on a road trip with my wasband in that Honda to Napa Valley. That trip, which was the closest I’d get to a honeymoon, was probably the last fun trip we took together. Then it was back home to Wickenburg for the summer, with occasional trips to the cabin. That was also the first summer I heard about cherry drying, but my contact couldn’t guarantee me any work and I wasn’t willing to take the helicopter to Washington without some sort of guarantee of revenue.

In 2007, I worked on books, including that Quicken book again. Cherry drying was an option but again, without a guarantee of work, I wasn’t prepared to go north. But I was prepping for a seasonal lifestyle. Financially and mentally, I was ready for it. My wasband promised to join me on the road during the summer when he turned 55. In 2007, he was 51. My goal was to have enough work lined up by the time he was ready to join me to support both of us, so we could work together in the summer. Then we’d return to Arizona in the winter and he could do what he wanted to do — he’d talked about a bike shop, solar power consulting, being a flight instructor, and a few other things that interested him. Since we’d also need a place to live on the road, bought my first RV, a hybrid pull trailer that turned out to be a less than satisfactory choice. We used it at a rides event in Kingman, AZ and may have taken it on one or two other trips. In the meantime, he started learning how to fly helicopters so he wouldn’t be stuck driving the trailer all the time; when we traveled, he could reposition the helicopter and I could do the commercial flying at destinations. That was the plan. (Or at least I thought it was.)

In 2008, everything changed. My wasband bought a condo in Phoenix, closer to his job, where he began living four or five days a week. My office was in our Wickenburg home and due to the amount of computer equipment I needed to write, I stayed there with it. Between my wasband’s weekday life in Phoenix and his numerous trips to the New York area to visit his family, I didn’t spend much time with him at all. And then I got a contract for seven weeks of cherry drying work in Washington state. I left in June, making two trips to get the helicopter and RV up there by myself. I worked on my Quicken book in the trailer. My wasband joined me for a week in July. We stayed at a lakeside motel with the helicopter parked on the lawn and toured a lot of central Washington while I waited for a call out. Then he went home and I finished the season alone, making two trips to get the helicopter and RV back by myself.

Life fell into a routine from that point on, with me becoming a sort of reverse snowbird. I’d live in Wickenburg from September through May, mostly by myself, while my wasband lived in his Phoenix condo with a roommate and spent just about all of his vacation time visiting family in New York. Because his roommate was openly hostile toward me and I was still writing several books a year, I didn’t visit very often. In early June through August, I’d head to Washington alone — making two trips each way every year — for cherry drying work. I was building up a good client base, extending my season, and my flying business was finally making a decent profit. I even added winery tours and a profitable annual rides gig. In early 2010, I replaced the pull trailer with a very large and comfortable fifth wheel trailer — again, with the goal of living on the road every summer with my wasband. But in 2011, when he turned 55 and was in yet another dead-end job, he said he “wasn’t ready” to join me on the road. (It wasn’t until much later that I realized he never intended to join me, that it was just another empty promise.) That winter, I lived with him in his dark and dreary Phoenix condo, even moving my office there when he finally kicked his roommate out. Silly me: I was trying to bring us closer together. I even went to the marriage counsellor he wanted us to see.

I had my hopes up in the spring of 2012 — my fifth cherry drying season — when my wasband got what looked like might be his “dream job.” He said he could work from anywhere and that he’d join me in Washington for the summer. Finally! I began prepping the RV for his arrival with our dog. But then he called me on my birthday in June to tell me he wanted a divorce. He wanted to stay friends, he told me, as he was secretly giving my investment statements and tax returns to a lawyer to estimate his take.

What followed was the beginning of four years of insanity, with him calling friends and family members to tell them that he still loved me, changing the locks on my house and hangar, trying to lay claim to half of everything I owned, harassing me at home, sending a private investigator to spy on my future neighbors in Washington, lying and making absurd statements under oath in court, making false accusations about me trashing the house, claiming I’d hid property and money from the court, losing in the divorce decision, appealing the divorce decision, putting the house on the market without informing me or getting approval from the court, hacking into one of my old investment accounts, losing the appeal, begging the appeal judges to reconsider, and then doing everything he could to delay paying me what he owed me for the Wickenburg house that he wanted and got in the divorce. Along the way, he went through three lawyers — one of whom he neglected to pay who then put a lien on the house — drove a court-appointed Realtor and a title company person nuts, and sent me a ridiculous email threatening me with legal action that I knew would fail.

In the span of four years, he made so many often comical errors in strategy and judgement that I find it hard to believe I could ever love someone so unimaginably stupid.

Yeah, there’s definitely enough material for a book.

Anyway, the winter of 2012/2013 was the last one I spent in my Wickenburg home. When I didn’t have house guests, I was alone — at least while I was there; I traveled a lot that winter — but it really didn’t feel that different. After all, I’d been living mostly alone there since my wasband bought his condo in 2008. I spent the winter packing my belongings and discarding the things I didn’t want, waiting for the divorce trial. When the court stuff was done at the end of May 2013, I left my Wickenburg home for what I thought would be the last time, and headed north.

Real Snowbirding

The day after the divorce decree came down from the judge and I was finally free, I bought 10 acres of land in Malaga, WA, at the heart of the area where I did my cherry drying work. Over the following two years, I designed and built a home there and moved in. Ironically, my new home has all the features my wasband would have liked, from the wrap around deck with endless views to the huge garage and shop area to the limitless space for gardening. It’s perfect for me and I don’t need (or really want) to share it with anyone.

And the weather? No, it doesn’t rain all the time like it does in Seattle. Malaga (and the nearby “big city” of Wenatchee) is on the dry side of the Cascades. Annual rainfall is less than 10 inches. The weather is very similar to Prescott or Flagstaff, AZ: dry, but with four seasons. Warm and dry in the summer, sometimes reaching the low 100s for a few days with low humidity. Cold with snow in the winter, sometimes dipping into the teens at night for a few days but usually warming to the 30s or 40s during the day.

Summer is perfect, as far as I’m concerned. And that’s when I do my work there. But winter? Sure, my home is cozy and warm and the views out to the valley can be magnificent when the snow falls and the sky clears just enough to offer glimpses of brilliant blue between the clouds. But the days are short and sunlight is limited. It gets cold in December and January. And 15 years of living in Arizona taught me one thing: I like sun and warmth in the winter.

My Home with Snow
Here’s my home as it looked in late November 2015. It sure is pretty on a nice day with snow on the ground.

Late winter is not an issue. In 2013, I began doing frost work with the helicopter in central California. So I’d head south with the helicopter and RV — remember that big fifth wheel? — in late February and could stay until late April.

But early winter? The way I saw it, the winter’s “dark days” were during December and January. That’s when I really needed to head south.

It took a few years, but I finally got a routine figured out.

In January 2015, when my home was partially built, I accepted an invitation to house/dog sit for a friend in Wickenburg. That gave me an excuse to head south for two weeks in the coldest part of winter. I stayed in my friends’ comfortable guest house with my dog Penny and cared for two very large golden retrievers.

Much later that same year, as the days shortened and the air chilled, I realized that I had exactly what I needed to be a real snowbird: that big fifth wheel. Although my home was done and I was moved in, the short days were getting me down. After my annual Christmas cross-country ski trip to the Methow Valley, I packed up my rig and headed south to join some friends camped along the Colorado River south of I-10. The trip itself was a bit of an adventure — requiring me to buy a new truck along the way — but my first full-time snowbirding season was a real win. You can read about it starting here.

On the Steps of the Mobile Mansion
Here I am with Penny, on the steps of my old fifth wheel, the Mobile Mansion, last winter in Quartzsite, AZ.

I spent all of January and half of February in Arizona, in my fifth wheel and in my friends’ Wickenburg guest house. Then I moved my helicopter to the Sacramento area for frost season and made my way there with my fifth wheel by way of Valley of Fire and Death Valley. Because of engine problems, my truck and RV never quite made it to Sacramento, though — at least not in February. While the truck’s engine was replaced with a new one (under warranty, fortunately) in California, I returned home in March, prepared to fly down to Sacramento when called out. In April, I made the two trips to get the truck with RV and helicopter home.

That was last year. This year, I’ve made some equipment changes, got a reliable house sitter, and set out early on my snowbirding trip.

The big fifth wheel is gone, replaced with a slide in truck camper, the Turtleback. I’m absolutely loving the flexibility this new rig offers; learn more here. I left home the day before Thanksgiving and, after stopping at a Yakima Lance camper dealer to get a part replaced on the Turtleback’s huge sunroof, took a leisurely drive south on back roads through Oregon and Nevada. Another stop for two shows in Las Vegas and then more leisurely travel to my eventual destination: more house/dog sitting for my Wickenburg friends.

Poolside in Wickenburg
Poolside in Wickenburg where I’m house/dog sitting for some friends. I’ve got no complaints at all.

And that’s where I am now: sitting in their poolside guest house with a fresh cup of coffee beside me and three dogs snoozing after their breakfast. At 8 AM, a new friend will come by with her dogs and we’ll go for our twice-daily mile-long walk in the wash out behind the house. I’ve visited my disassembled helicopter in Chandler, seen numerous friends in the area, and even got an invitation to a pilot party on Saturday where a lot of people will be very surprised to see me.

This is only a stopping point, though. When my friends return later this month, I’m not quite sure what I’ll do. They’ve already told me I can stay as long as I want, but I’m thinking about a trip to Tucson and Tubac, which I haven’t been to in some time. And another friend was recently at White Sands in New Mexico — how far is that? Can I take a few days to visit? I’ve never been there. I’m already booked for New Years Eve at La Posada in Winslow and have a chore to attend to on the Hopi Reservation near there. And I’m definitely going to spend a good part of January along the Colorado River with my friends; I bought a new fishing pole just the other day and my kayak is ready to be offloaded when I reach our campsite. After that? Who knows?

All I know is this: my helicopter needs to be in the Sacramento area by the third week in February. So eventually I’ll be there. There’s a campground nearby on Puntah Creek where I look forward to paddling in again. And lots of wineries to explore in the nearby Napa and Sonoma Valleys. And the California coast. And San Francisco. I really do love late winter in central California.

The lack of definite plans doesn’t bother me one bit. I like making things up as I go along. And if you ask me, that’s the best part of being single: being able to make decisions for yourself without having to consult or rely on what someone else tells you they want or plan to do. I don’t have to worry about anyone letting me down again.

And when the winter is over, I’ll go home. That’s what snowbirds do.

How ironic: the lifestyle I planned for all those years ago with my wasband is basically the lifestyle I have now without him. And I’m loving it even more than I thought I would.

The Odd Thing about My Old Eyes

Can vision problems reverse themselves with age?

I’ve been nearsighted for most of my life. I began wearing glasses in the fifth grade and switched to contact lenses nearly full time when I was in college.

Over the years, my vision has gotten progressively worse. Each eye exam resulted in a slightly stronger prescription. I was lucky, though. Even though my natural far vision is bad, it’s very correctable. The contact lenses I’ve been wearing for at least 20 years — Acuvue disposable daily lenses — fit me like they were made for my eyes’ size and shape and bring my vision to 20/20 or better.

My near vision, on the other hand, is amazingly good. With glasses and contacts off, I can see nearly microscopic detail of things within 4-5 inches of my face. I can even read the micro text on $100 bills.

Of course, with contacts on, that close vision disappears. And as my far vision prescription got stronger and stronger, my close vision with contacts on got worse and worse.

At first, I combatted the close vision problem by letting my stronger eye do distance and my weaker eye do close vision. The ophthalmologist did this by prescribing a strong lens for my right eye and a much weaker lens for my left one. This worked pretty well, at least for a while. But then I realized that what it was really doing was making both my far vision and near vision less than satisfactory. So I went with contacts for good far vision in both eyes and began using reading glasses for close vision when my contacts were in. My back up eyeglasses were progressive lens bifocals.

Last year, my contact lens prescription was -6.50/-7.00 (right/left). My understanding is that that’s the equivalent to 20/650 and 20/700. Again, with the lenses in, my vision was about 20/20.

This year, however, I began having trouble with my vision. It started in the autumn when allergy (?) issues made it impossible to wear my contacts for more than a day or two. My eyes were itchy and teary. I wore my glasses quite often. I could see okay through them, but not great.

Then I started my drive south for the winter. I was wearing my contacts again and should have been seeing great. But I wasn’t. Everything in the distance was a bit blurry. I was having trouble reading signs. Objects in the distance on the side of the road that I thought were shrubs turned out to be cows. Oops.

What really confused me, though, is that when I wore my sunglasses and looked through the reading lenses at the bottom of the glasses, I could see distance better. That wasn’t right. I should see distance worse. Sure enough, when I put my readers on, I could see distance better than without them.

Eye Prescription
My current eye prescription shows a remarkable improvement in my vision.

So when I got to Arizona, I made an appointment at the same eye center I’d visited the year before, which is the same one I’d used when I lived in Arizona. After the usual eye health check up, I told the doctor what I’d noticed. He didn’t seem terribly surprised. We went through the usual exercise with the machine and eye chart to figure out what my prescription should be. The result: -5.50/-5.75.

My far vision had greatly improved over the past year.

He fetched some sample lenses and I popped in a pair. It was amazing. I could see perfectly again.

But what was even more amazing was that my close vision was also somewhat improved. Although I’d still need readers for small print, I could see good enough for most reading in good light. The doctor confirmed this: instead of +2.50 for readers, I could now use +2.00 readers.

I left the doctor’s office looking around me like a blind person who has just been given sight. I was drinking in everything I saw. The detail amazed me.

Needless to say, it really made my day.

The question both the doctor and I have is why my vision might have improved. He says that vision is often tied in with blood sugar levels and asked if I’d had any blood work done lately. I told him I had, about a month before, and that the doctor had given me a clean bill of health. He said that high sugar levels usually cause vision to get worse, not better. So now I’m wondering if I had high sugar levels last year when tested and they’d come back down gradually since then.

But I have to admit that I honestly don’t care. As long as I can see as clearly as I do now, I’m happy.

On Saturday, I treated myself to a new pair of good quality readers. On Sunday, I ordered two new pairs of bifocals, one of which includes snap-on sunglass lenses. For those interested in saving money on glasses, do check out Zenni Optical; I ordered two pairs of glasses for 1/4 of the price of one pair at Walmart Vision Center. You can’t beat that.

Glasses Order
My eyeglasses order. I decided to treat myself to two pairs: one just for indoors and the other for outdoors/flying. The pair with the snap-on sunglasses is a reorder with my new prescription. For some reason, they automatically applied a 10% discount so even with priority shipping, my order was less than $130.

My Poor Man’s Backup Camera

If a poor man happens to own a wifi-capable GoPro and spare smart phone.

One of the things I really like about my 2012 Ford pickup is its backup camera. Incorporated into the tailgate, it automatically shows an image on the rear view mirror every time I shift into Reverse. It helps me see what’s behind me in tight spaces or parking lots and, when used in conjunction with the obstacle warning system, makes it impossible for me to hit anything while coming as close as possible to it.

Trouble is, when the truck’s tailgate is off — as it is when I’m traveling with my truck camper (the Turtleback) — I don’t have a backup camera anymore. And when the Turtleback is on board, I can’t see out the back at all.

Clearly I needed a backup camera that would work with the Turtleback.

Commercially Available Solutions

There are some options I could buy to give me the setup I want.

The first is the Lance backup camera, which installs over the back door. The Turtleback was already wired for it, although the camera wasn’t installed. I had to buy the camera and then buy the cable that would connect the camera to my truck or some sort of monitor in the truck. I was spared the ordeal (and cost) of putting this system together by the simple fact that Lance no longer sells the camera. At least that’s what I was told and it works for me.

I could also buy a Ford backup camera just like the one in my tailgate. After spending $800 for that, I’d have to figure out how to mount it on the Turtleback and run the wires to the truck’s existing plug. That would be great because it would work just like my tailgate camera. But $800. And how the hell would I mount something that was designed to fit into a truck tailgate?

There were various wired and wireless options I could buy from various online sources. Prices ranged from $50 to close to $1,000. All of them had one thing in common: they would likely be a bitch to install, the biggest problem being getting power to the camera. This, however, would be the avenue I’d travel if I couldn’t come up with a better idea.

The DIY GoPro/Smart Phone Solution

Camera Mount
The window over the Turtleback’s sink with the GoPro mounted and plugged in. I can close the blinds without disturbing the camera. In this photo, the Turtleback is parked in my friend’s backyard in Arizona.

Reading about all these wireless cameras and receivers reminded me that I already had a wireless camera: my GoPro 3. It also had a suction cup mount that made it possible to mount on the inside of the Turtleback’s back window (so I didn’t have to worry about it falling off or getting stolen when parked). And because I’d had a USB power center installed in the cabinet over the sink (where the stereo is), I could run a power cord to the GoPro to keep it powered all the time, thus enabling me to keep the WiFi feature turned on and ready all the time. That gave me the camera component without spending a dime.

But I still needed a monitor.

Sure, I could use my iPhone and just run the GoPro Capture app every time I wanted to look behind me. But did I really want to deal with pushing buttons every time I shifted into Reverse or just wanted to see what was back there? Not really.

And that’s when I remembered my iPhone 5. I’d sold it to Amazon when I bought my iPhone 6 two years ago. They’d rejected it. There was nothing wrong with it. In fact, it was in remarkably good condition since I’d had a skin on it the entire time I owned it. I tried again. They rejected it again, on different grounds. I called up and complained. They looked at my Amazon purchase history. They saw the thousands of dollars I spend on Amazon every year. And they gave me a credit for the value of the phone. When I offered to send it to them, they told me to keep it.

And it had been sitting in a box inside another box in my garage ever since.

By some miracle, I found it. I charged it back up. And then I set it up to work with the GoPro. Sure enough, the rear view picture was almost exactly what I needed. Certainly close enough.

I poked around in my box of RAM mount parts. I found a suction cup mount and an iPhone 5 cradle and all the other parts I needed to mount the old iPhone over the truck’s dashboard beside the mount I already had for my iPhone 7. Then, because I knew the now 6-year-old iPhone 5 wouldn’t hold a charge as well as a new one, I attached a power cable to it.

The result: a dedicated monitor showing a live image of whatever’s behind the Turtleback.

Backup Camera Monitor
Here’s an example image from my backup camera “monitor.” In this example, I was parked at a campground in Washington. The empty phone cradle to the left of the monitor is the one where my iPhone 7 lives in transit; I was using my phone to take this picture.

All without spending a dime on any equipment I didn’t already have.

Best of all, when the Turtleback is removed from my truck while traveling, I can set up that camera in the truck’s back window to give me some of the same benefits as the backup camera in the tailgate I left home.

Keep in mind that although I’m unlikely to use that old iPhone for anything else, I can grab the GoPro and use it while I’m on my trip any time I don’t need it back there. In fact, I brought an assortment of GoPro mounts and SD cards, as well as my GoPro 3+, to use on my trip.

A Word about Having “Too Much Stuff”

My friends constantly rib me about having too much stuff. After all, they’ve seen my garage and the seemingly countless labeled bins and still unpacked (but labeled) boxes of things I’ve collected throughout my 50+ years of life.

But there’s a lot to be said about having all this stuff and this blog post offers a perfect example. Because I kept that old iPhone, I had an easy monitor for my camera solution. And because I had later model GoPros with wireless built in, I had an easy camera setup. And because I had that old RAM mount stuff, I was able to put together a solid and reliable mount for my monitor.

In other words, this solution cost me nothing because I already had all the components I needed. And I had those components because I don’t throw much of anything out if there’s any possibility I might be able to use it in the future.

So yes, I have a bunch of labeled bins with old electronic equipment in it. So what?

It’s what made my poor man’s backup camera possible.