The Fun of Home-Ownership

I come from a family of do-it-yourselfers. It keeps us busy on the weekends – every weekend, actually. My mom says my dad does better with projects, which probably explains why we’ve built a dock, a barn, a greenhouse, and countless other projects over the years.

Earlier this summer, we had a little issue pop up, as they do, as we were headed out the door to Wisconsin. I got home from work, we were packing up the car, and I decided to get a quick shower before we hit the road. As I turned off the water, I realized the tub was not draining. I did not want to leave standing water in the tub as we left for a week.

First I tried snaking the drain – no good. I tried plunging the drain – nothing. I called my dad. He said he and mom were out “checking the mail.” They check out mail when Jessie and I are out of town because they like being helpful and, more importantly, they have to pass a Sonic (their favorite dessert date spot) on the way to our house. Dad said to get on the road – he and mom would be over in a few minutes.

The bad news came when dad figured it was just time to replace some of the old pipes. Lucky for us, below our bathroom is another bathroom in bad need of renovation. This meant drywall could come out.

We replaced a section of drain pipe, and now we are back in (the showering) business. I’ll save you the gory details (mainly because it’s hard to type these things on a mobile device), but I will give you a few gory pictures below.

Next time, I’ll update you on my dad’s gardening skills and greenhouse project.

Old pipe that needed replacing

Clogged old pipe

Clogged old pipe

Clogged old pipe

Dad inspecting the newly installed drain pipe

Wisconsin Is a Fabulous Place

We went to Wisconsin to play at the Band on the Sand festival for the third year in a row. We get to meet so many great people on the road, and Wisconsin is no exception. In fact, it was one of the first, if not the first, places where we felt at home on the road.

Thursday night we played at a place called Xpeditions. This place is an underground bar, street-level coffee shop, and upstairs yoga studio. It’s fantastic! We had people singing along to our songs, which is rare so far in our journey. We hung out and talked with people that love Jessie’s music, and what a treat it is to share that bond through music with strangers-turned-friends.

Friday we started making our way to Band on the Sand, but not before a little fly fishing. I fished the Timber Coulee, and it was beautiful. It’s just a little creek running along the road. I found a place to pull off the road, geared up in my waders, and started fishing while Jessie relaxed and read. While I didn’t land anything and get pictures, I did manage to hook about 6 before they spit out the hook and swam away. I had so much fun anyways.

Then Band on the Sand. I don’t know what to say that I haven’t said about it in previous years. We love it. Dennis and Joyce are fantastic hosts to us, and Dick and his wife Pam help them put on our favorite stop along our tour. Two days of music, food, and camaraderie on a sandbar in the middle of the Mississippi River is just what the soul needs. I especially needed it after the previous two weeks’ frustrations with tires and the fact that we had to leave town with a tub full of water that wouldn’t drain (more on that story later).

Jessie and I love our travels. We also love being home. I’m so glad we get to make these memories sharing our music with people.

Burning up the Road

Apparently Jessie and I have been burning up the road.  How do I know?  In the last seven days, we have replaced seven tires.  I already posted about the two camper tires last week.  Today we brought five new tires into the family.

This weekend we had a show in Florida, and Jessie’s car needed an oil change.  I decided that I should do a tire rotation too, so I took it to my grandfather’s shop Thursday night to do all of the work.  I jacked up the car and took off the tires while the oil cooled.  As I was rotating them, I noticed one tire was so worn on one side that I could see the cords that are embedded under all the rubber.  That was not good.

I went ahead and changed the oil (it’s much easier with the front passenger-side wheel removed), and I put the bad tire in a position where I thought it would get the least amount of wear.  It was 9 p.m. the night before we leave for Florida – no time to get new tires before we leave.  The rest was going to be luck.

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Jessie kissing a gator at Bayou Bill’s in Florida

We made it down there, did our gig, had a fun weekend on the beach with our friends, and then headed home Sunday afternoon.  Monday morning, I was at the tire shop having my tires (I thought) balanced to remedy some shaking I noticed as I towed the camper back from Paducah.  Unfortunately, one of my tires was beginning to separate, meaning I needed a new tire.  $$

I had made an appointment for Jessie to get new tires today too, somewhere between teaching music lessons and meetings.  $$$$

All this on top of the two camper tires, having work done on my truck, and my gas-and-tire-saving bicycle being stolen.  It’s been a rough couple of weeks around these parts.  My friends suggested we start a GoFundMe campaign to raise funds to replace my bike so I can get back and forth from work.  It seems more and more like a good plan every day.

We have a couple of shows in Wisconsin this weekend.  I’m hoping we sell a bunch of merch at these shows to help offset all of these recent costs.  For those of you who won’t be in Wisconsin, feel free to check out Jessie’s merch over at Swampicana.com – there are even a few new items I have yet to add to the online store.  That reminds me – I need to add the new Jessie Smith tank tops to the store.

Maybe we can make a case for a tire endorsement…

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This is Cam and me getting the spare tire out to put on the camper somewhere in Nebraska.

The Whole Family Is Home Again

Since my last post, we have had some excitement.  After packing up in Nebraska, we headed for home.  We knew it would be a long drive, we just didn’t realize it would take as long as it did.

As we were driving down Interstate 80, I looked in my left rear-view mirror to check on the trailer.  As I did, I felt the right trailer tire run over what felt like truck tire debris.  I thought to myself, “I don’t remember seeing any debris on the road, but maybe I missed something.”  I kept driving.

A minute or so later, I felt another bump, and I decided to pull over to check my tires.  I’m glad I did!

The right trailer tire had lost about 70% of its tread.  The tire was still inflated and riding smooth, but it was definitely no longer safe.  Cam pulled out the spare as I pulled off the old tire.

The new tire looked as if it had never touched pavement, much to my delight.  I inflated it to the proper pressure, I mounted it on the trailer, Cam packed away the old tire, and we were on our way once again.

About two hours from home, we were passing Paducah, Kentucky.  It was just after 10:30 at night, and I felt the trailer no longer pulling smoothly.  Since there are often miles between exits on this stretch of interstate, I pulled onto the shoulder.  Our like-new spare was apparently not like-new.  The tire had shredded and was half off the rim.

We tugged the trailer about a mile or so to the next exit, then off onto the shoulder to remount the old tire.  We then towed the trailer to the nearest parking lot, where we decided to leave the camper overnight.  We crammed as much stuff as we could into the car, including the two bad tires.  I left only what could be left in the hot sun in the trailer until I could return with new tires to get the camper home.

We rolled into the driveway as the clock struck two in the morning.  We unloaded Cam’s instruments and sent him on his way.  We then unloaded all of our gear, I showered, then crawled in bed around three.

Monday morning hit us like a ton of bricks.  I got up and started calling tire shops looking for the small trailer tires.  I found a place that had them, and set off to drop off the rims.  They said they would have my new tires ready this afternoon.

I went to the office to check in after being gone and prepare for a the week ahead.  After lunch, the tire shop called to tell me the tires were ready.  I took off to get the tires and started the journey back to Paducah.

I made it to Paducah about seven in the evening.  I got the new tires mounted and the camper hooked up to my truck.  I stopped to fill the tank, and then I headed for home.

The camper made it home just fine on the new tires.  I arrived back at the house around ten Monday evening beat like a rented mule.  Now the whole family is back home.

The rest of the week will be spent catching up on sleep in between pressing more CDs and hopefully making some new Jessie Smith tank tops in preparation for several more shows this month.  The fun never stops!

P.S. I apologize for the lack of pictures.  In my exhaustion and working to keep on the road, I neglected to take any pictures of our distress.

Wyoming – What a Place!

What a trip we’ve had so far! After playing for a great crowd in Lincoln, Nebraska, we set off for Centennial, Wyoming.

None of us have ever been to Wyoming. Cam has never been west of Texas. Neither Cam nor Jessie had ever seen the Rocky Mountains. All of that changed this weekend.

As we crossed over the state line from Nebraska to Wyoming, the landscape really started to change. Hills started rolling as we passed through Cheyenne on our was towards Laramie. Then the hills started to climb and become what looked like drip-sand castles I used to make with my cousins on the beach. As we neared Centennial, we really started to climb.

Centennial is a small town claiming 270 residents. It looked like a scene out of a movie, and we felt like stars the whole time. The people were so welcoming and accommodating! We wished we didn’t have to go home so soon. In fact, I wasn’t sure Cam would even get in the car with us to go home!

We had dinner with our hosts, then they sent us up the mountain to see something really spectacular. Our host Mike gave me directions to Mirror Lake where we could stand and look straight up to a 14,000-feet-above-sea-level peak. I was so thrilled to get to see Jessie and Cam react to such beauty! We walked in near-silence (except our panting in the thin air) as we took in the majesty of the mountains. Pictures truly don’t do the sight justice.

We couldn’t believe this was work. We went back down the mountain and got to talk to Mike and his wife Kat for a little longer. They are the owners of the Historic Mountain View Hotel in Centennial, and they are also the ones coordinating the Elevation Festival we were to play the next day.

During our conversation, we started talking about fly fishing. Of course I told them I brought my rods just in case I found myself with a few minutes to fish. Mike said, “Hang on just a minute,” and he proceeded to pick up the phone to call a friend. Moments later, he hands me directions to a fishing spot on a friend’s private waters. I was overjoyed at the thought of getting to fish waters that see so little fishing pressure!

We headed to our room to get as much rest as possible. I got up early this morning to head to the fishing spot. I have been trout fishing before, but never on my own for wild trout, and never have I caught trout without a guide. Within a few minutes I had my first fish. I was nearly giddy with the fact that I had caught one all on my own! He was little, but that didn’t bother me at all!

Within a few minutes, I had another hooked. I almost wet my pants in excitement this time – I knew I had something much larger on the end of my line.

In total, I caught about 7 fish. I just couldn’t believe it. The water was cold and clear, and the fish were biting everything I was throwing – Griffith’s Gnats, Prince nymphs, Bluewing Olives, Elk Hair Caddis, and Woolly Buggers. I didn’t want to stop, but I knew I needed to get back.

I got back, got showered, packed up, and the three of us headed across the street to where we would be playing on the front porch of the Mountain View Hotel. We were set to play first, so we got plenty of time to soundcheck. It was very different playing at high altitude – it was harder for Jessie to sing, and Cam and I had to catch our breath as we played!

Once again, the crowd was fantastic! Getting to see people bob their heads, clap, and some even sing along is such a heartwarming experience. We got to meet so many great people like Mike, Kat, Mara, Gary, Rick, Jimmy, Dave, Shane, and so, so many more!

I can’t wait to go back, whether it be to play (hopefully in next year’s Elevation Festival) or for vacation. The people we met hold a special place in my heart. I love doing what I do because I get to meet such wonderful people – I mean that in the sense of my wonder for what people do and how they do it – and I get to see so many things I’ve never seen. I’m so glad Cam got to experience these things with us as well. He’s been such a trooper helping get the camper set up and torn down, and he’s been a great companion on this long journey over the last few days.

Tomorrow is the last (long) leg of the trip back home. I can’t wait to be home, even if it’s not for long. Florida and Wisconsin lay ahead of us in the coming weekends. I can’t wait to see old friends and make a few new ones too.

Off and On the Road Again

First, the off the road story:

Shortly after the last post about riding my bike to work, I did something stupid. About a week and a half ago, I was fixin’ to head home on a Friday afternoon on my bike. I wanted to pump up my tires before starting my homeward trek, so I unlocked my bike and took it to the door that leads from the parking lot directly to my office. Here I pumped up my tires using an electric pump, then took the pump back inside. I changed clothes to my riding attire, packed up my things, and walked back outside to my bike.

Only it wasn’t there.

My bike had been stolen.

I think I know who did it, but I haven’t been able to spot them or my bike since. I still have a little hope.

We’re now back on the road. Jessie and I are currently in the camper in a park outside of Lincoln, Nebraska. Last night, we made it to Monroe City, Missouri, with our friend and drummer Cam. We spent Independence Day driving to Monroe City, then headed down to the park marina for dinner and to do a little people watching. Monroe City didn’t disappoint! It was a warm and muggy night, but we made it all right!

The camp site was beautiful; the bathrooms were not. As hot and sticky as we were, we opted that the showers were too nasty to get us clean. We got a night’s rest and packed up in the morning for hopes of better facilities.

Today we drove to Lincoln. We arrived at the camp site, and Jessie decided to first check the bathrooms and showers in hope we had found something better than what we had just left behind. What she found was an outhouse – a glorified hole in the ground. This was not how we thought it would go.

She knew there had to be more, so she went searching while Cam and I got started setting up the camper. Several minutes later, Jessie came back with a smile on her face – she had found better bathrooms and clean showers!

Jessie gathered up her things and headed to the showers to get ready for tonight’s show. She discovered a problem – these showers required quarters to operate. The rate was 75¢ for the first three minutes, then another 25¢ for each additional minute and a half. That was going to cause a problem. I went through the car and found quarters for a 9-minute shower for Jessie. She was determined to make that work. I luckily found a dollar that I could feed into the machine to get four more quarters. I was able to get a shower before the show as well, and Cam had braved the “prison showers,” as we called them, at the previous camp site and would wait until later for his turn.

Now that we were clean, we headed to the venue in Lincoln to scope it out and find some dinner.

We had found out before we left Nashville that they had accidentally double-booked the night, and there was already a poetry slam happening. They graciously said we could take the stage when they were done at eight, and they would stay open an extra hour for us – all so kind!

After seeing the room, Jessie, Cam, and I found a great Greek restaurant called Sultan’s Kite. With our bellies full of Mediterranean baklava, we headed back to the venue. The slam was going a little long, so we decided to break out the guitars and play a couple of songs with the girl who was opening for us right out on the patio as we waited. As soon at the slam ended, we quickly took our places.

As Grace, the girl performing before us, sang to the crowd in Mo Java, Cam and I played along. It was fun to help this 14-year-old feel like a star with a band. She is very talented, and we were happy to help!

Jessie took the stage next and absolutely blew away the crowd! They were hanging onto every note that fell off her lips, and they were already trying to get us to play their hometown of Omaha on our way back from Wyoming this weekend!

We had a great time playing at Mo Java, and our new friend Rex, who ran sound for us, even helped suggest a new name for our camper – Jim! “Jim the Camper” has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?! Well, maybe not.

Anyways, we were so excited to make some new friends this evening, and we are thankful for clean showers. Now it’s time for a little shut-eye before we head to Wyoming in the morning for our show on Saturday. It’s going to be long days from here on out to make it back to Nashville for work on Monday, but we’re up for the adventure.

It’s always an adventure in the camper, but it makes touring possible. Cam has his own bunk, and he’s got the hang of camper life already! We’ve got the A/C on full blast, and it’s feeling quite nice in here tonight. Tomorrow is another day with another song to sing; we have to give it all we have and put on a show for the people. Until then….

Saving Money + Healthy Living

I’ve always been pretty active. My wife will tell you I can’t sit still, which isn’t far from the truth. I completed my first half-marathon this April. On Saturdays, I’m always working in the yard, on the house, or on the pop up camper. I started thinking and then talking to a few coworkers about commuting to the office on a bicycle.

When I was a kid, I biked every day to school. It was about four blocks of freedom. I knew every crack in the sidewalk that created a mini ramp and every curb that would jolt me through the bike frame. I’ve always loved bicycles. I searched online for several days and found a good road bike in good shape for a good price.

Last Saturday, I took a test ride from home to the office. I wanted to make sure I could do it, and I needed to know just how long the commute would be. It took me just over an hour – only 20 minutes longer than it takes to drive. I couldn’t wait for Monday.

Monday I made it to the office, and I felt great! It was a long, hot, sweaty ride, but I felt great that I did it. On the way home, my chain popped loose, but that was an easy fix. It delayed me only a minute or so, and I was back on the road.

Tuesday came around, and I had to stop by the jewelry store to pick up my wife’s ring that had been repaired. The store is only just off my route to work, so I biked again. As I left the store, I decided to take a shortcut through the local college campus. As I turned into the parking lot of campus, I couldn’t hit the curb head-on. This popped the tube in my back tire. Luckily, the first thing I did when I got my bike was to purchase a helmet and a repair kit for my tubes. A couple minutes later, I had a new tube installed, and I was once again back on the road.

Today I drove to the office since an early meeting would have had me waking up too early to make the trek via bicycle. It has also been a welcomed day of rest. Tomorrow I’ll be back on the bike.

Doing some math, I save almost $7 per day that I ride my bike. I also get a killer workout. I’m hoping to keep biking about three days a week. I want to the bike to pay for itself, then start saving for A/C for my truck. I get some savings, I get my workout, and I save on my carbon footprint. Hopefully I can keep it up for a while.