Repatriation During the Holidays is Harder Than Being Overseas….

The pitfall of living overseas is the inevitability of coming home. Dull. And with that the recalibration of expectations that the Offspring have regarding holidays and how they are spent. Some expats have a problem living overseas during traditional American holidays because they`re just a little bit off.  And of course family is far away- which in some cases is a welcomed Christmas blessing. The Offspring were confused by a Japanese Christmas which included the time honored tradition of feasting on chicken at Kentucky Fried Chicken. Holiday decorations had Christmas lights and glass balls but the rest had us scratching our heads looking for a connection.


A Cinderella desk is inside, but no Santa.

With no family within 7,000 miles of home, ExPats are free to flock to exotic locations now only three hours away.  For ExPats in Japan, places like China, Thailand, Malaysia, Bora Bora- the list goes on. A 24 hour flight combined with jet lag that lasts for the entire vacation and another two weeks after getting home is enough for most people at home to opt for a drive to the Jersey shore. ( I don`t include myself in that category- any travel that includes Jet Lag gets me upstairs packing my carry-on)

During the holidays, we lived it up.

Snow Monsters in Japan….


To Snow Monkeys in Nagano…


To places we never thought we would see like the Great Wall of China


Unfortunately, this is pollution, not fog

To Hiroshima


The added bonus of these fabulous vacations was the cost- virtually nothing. In China we spent about $10/day feeding three adults. I`m one of those mean moms who forces everyone to find something to eat out of the local cuisine. Instead of baggage containing breakfast bars we are more apt to load Pepto Bismol.

Fast forward to our repatriation.

OS#2 “Where are we going for Christmas?”

Ouisar-san “Grandmama`s – maybe.”

OS#2 “WHAT? We`re not going to THAILAND? What are we going to do at her house for a week?”

It`s a tough life folks. Just to get them back in the swing, I may go get some KFC. That`s KPF to you Montrealers……(Poulet Frit du Kentucky)


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Some Beauty In These Sad Times

Over the summer, Offspring #2 and I visited Paris- her reward for the eight hours of French tutoring she endured weekly upon our move to Montreàl. As it always is when tragedy hits a place you know, there`s a certain connection to the people and the places one feels. I felt sick when I saw the picture of Le Carillon- the place we enjoyed so much on our visit. Our waiter who tried so hard to speak English when he heard our attempts at French, the two men behind us, teaching each other French and Japanese using English as a common denominator, the little girl who escaped her mother`s hand to ask for a taste of my smoothie. I hope they are all safe.

So, instead of my usual- a peaceful, beautiful setting to look at.

Ginkgo trees.














Peace people.

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The Children at Taya Cavern

Unfortunately for any of you still reading this blog, I have figured out the ICloud. Which means I`ve been looking through thousands of pictures, which I will now force upon you. Hopefully it won`t be as bad as looking at baby pictures or reading Christmas cards that come with a summary of the year`s (uninteresting to me) events. However, if after this post I lose a few subscribers I`ll understand that several of you would have preferred I keep my pictures to myself. Touché.

SO- my last blog post was about Taya Cavern. I didn`t include this part in that post because there`s nothing funny about it. Upon entrance to the caves, there are thousands of these Jizo Statues- each representing a dead child. Personalized in different ways, it`s a heart-wrenching display.

Here are a few:














Rest in Peace sweet ones.





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Fireworks in the Taya Cavern

There are usually 2-3 people in a location that seem to be plopped there to help usher you through the journey. So I feel really guilty that I`m about to laugh at this sweet woman`s expense, but I will. (Excuse me while I take a break to laugh- again.) Because I`m already feeling terrible about laughing- and writing -about this religious, church going, homeless feeding woman, I`ll go ahead and throw my friend the Social Chairman under this moving bus. It may have been her fault. It usually is.

The last time the Social Chairman and I were at a shrine we ended up in wedding pictures. This was right before the groom starting beating us with his fan. That wasn`t nearly as funny.


Happy Groom

On this particular day we were touring the Taya Cavern at Jousenji Temple in Yokohama. Famous for having carved images of Buddhas and mantras in both Japanese and Sanskrit dating from 1192-1720. Not the easiest place to find. Follow the giant head you can see from the train station, from there start asking people.


Not a part of the Taya Cavern- it would`ve been nice if her eyes had pointed the way.

The victim headed in to the caves. DSCN1190There are no lights in the caves so we were given long candles. No pictures were allowed either. Apparently flash is dangerous to sculptures. If Church lady wasn`t watching our every move we might have snapped a few pics, but doing so would have precipitated our ex communication. We would have to use great stealth in order to do it behind her back.

We followed Church Lady closely. I would then distract Church lady from the front – ask a well-timed question, invite her over to interpret some Sanskrit while the Social Chairman attempted to snap a few pics without using her flash from behind. This meant being absolutely still for the camera to soak up the little light present. My distractions had to be time-consuming and loud to flush out the sound of the camera. We shouldn`t have done it with so many deities present. The mojo was too bad and lots of sacred carvings, serious faces illuminated by candle light, were watching us. Disapproving.

SC moved the candle to her left hand as she tried to stealth snap with the right, Church Lady still positioned in front.

Then her hair went up in flames.

Our sweet church going, homeless feeding Social Chairman was on fire, framing the back of Church lady`s head with flames. I began to beat the top of SC`s head with my handouts. Which then caught on fire. The inside of the cave was now spectacularly lit by the human hair torch. All the other women on the tour seized this great opportunity to snap pics of the temple cave now warmly lit with the glow from a fire. Church lady continued down the hallway, talking and pointing while behind her a rebellious group of Catholic women were snapping pictures haphazardly hoping at least one would turn out.  One of the more quick-witted ladies, and might I add the only one to follow the example of the great saints, doused the Social Chairman with her precious bottled water, which I couldn`t do for choking on laughter and smoke fumes.

Her head smoked while the other ladies ran away from the scene as the Church Lady turned to make sure her charges were in tow.  The BBQ`d Social Chairman pulled chunks of long blonde hair off her shoulders. It was hard to breathe for laughing. Don`t get mad at me for laughing- she still had at least half of her hair. For weeks after, short random pieces of hair that had been burnt spiked off the tops and sides of her head.

Good time good times.

I guess one should expect karma when in a temple. Other rule breakers and rebellious types have posted pics of the inside of the caverns- but I`ve messed with the karma there enough without linking to them from here.

Here`s a  link for with lots of good info on the cavern…


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Fishing with the Clampitts – Canadian Edition

Children of avid fishermen- and women- are all aware of the big fish and where to hook them. All the liars in my family have stories, very rarely backed up with photographic documentation, of swordfish caught in Mexico or Tarpon pulled in only to be snatched in half by an opportunistic hammerhead shark that was longer than the boat. I have a hypothesis which states that fish size has a direct correlation to the amount of beer left in the cooler when the boat docks. I get increasingly skeptical the more time I waste casting in to a seething pool of disinterested tarpon or riding up and down the coast at infinitum, 4 swordfish lines in the water, only to return with a nasty case of seasickness from inhaling diesel fumes for 8 hours.

But the lure of Canada (Yes I said it) and her trophy trout, caught only by bear and a few lucky anglers able to helicopter in to an unspoiled picturesque mountain location, had me hooked on trying. Spouse, however, did not take the bait and instead suggested we fish alongside the road while driving through Western Canada. Which to me sounded a lot like a canoe trip- it sounds fun until you`re in the water paddling to nowhere- which always takes 6 hours longer than planned.

Some of the Clampitts are more successful than others in landing the big ones.

Grace mahimahiAnd some have branched out with skills so superior that they can catch other species on a fishing trip

IMG_0542So even though we were  going to be the family you see fishing off the side of the bridge when driving by, I thought it was worth a try.

We didn`t spend much time- none in fact- planning where to fish, hiring a guide, or consulting helpful books. Our preferred method for wrestling in the big ones was to eye the rivers, lakes, and mud puddles along the way and decide if nestled in the rocks was the big one.  Eyeing might insinuate we spent a substantial amount of time evaluating a location, but it really just involved  pulling over, turning on the hazards, baiting the hook and seeing what happened.

We found out why landing the big ones only comes with a helicopter ride. There are two rules for fishing in national parks in Canada which ensures the fish survive and the fishermen never return. The first is worms can`t be used as bait. Fishing without a worm? That`s like drinking a beer without the accompanying cigarette. And second, the hooks can`t be barbed. The hooked fish just shakes it`s head and swims off. Where`s the fun in that?

We were going to have to get crafty to land the 10 pounders.

A little known fishing secret- follow the railroad tracks. Apparently fish migrate alongside them.

IMG_7067After a few climbs pulling ourselves up by weeds I was not as enthusiastic.

IMG_7068Ah but then, Ouisar-san landed the big one.

IMG_7011That`s what I`m talkin` bout.



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So- Where Were We When I Last Told Riveting Stories of Canada?

I know many of you have been wondering whatever happened on our driving tour of Western Canada two years ago. My last post involving our year stint as Canadians involved  complaining about the cold and singing hallelujah to the Canada Goose Company. Which is about where I`m picking up- only two years and two moves later. But I`m sure you get as sick as I do of everyone whining about the cold and how unexpected snow is during the winter so I`ll skip the rest of winter and pick up where I last left off- our Canada Tour- from two summers ago. After a couple of years, it may be complete fiction with some pictures to inspire my story telling.

Our two-week car trip went something like this:

Screen Shot 2014-06-07 at 9.30.45 AM

Some of you may be asking, “What do you do in a car for 19 plus hours with two teenagers that doesn`t involve taking drugs?” For starters, drag the trip out for two weeks so the hours spent in the car with a student driver are limited otherwise the bills for Pepto Bismol and Tums make the cost of the trip prohibitive.

Next you follow National Geographic`s recommendations religiously, eliminate all the boring stuff they use as filler and substitute a substantial amount of the hiking for fishing. Let`s face it, sitting by a picturesque lake with a beer is much less taxing than a climb requiring special shoes and heart defibrillator. This constitutes a Clampitt dream vacation. No duct tape required but helpful if one needs to attach the fishing rods to the top of the car because the bags of food required to keep Offspring #1 fed take up all the room in the back.

We launched in Vancouver with a quick peek at the art scene. Apparently there isn`t a lively debate on what constitutes art in Vancouver. It’s surprising there weren’t several starry-eyed tourists and pot smokers excitedly debating the use of color in this collage, but somewhere in city hall there is debate on when the construction contracts will be renewed.


Said City Commissioner to the Mayor, “I`ve got a great idea for getting rid of all the demolition material we can`t dump…”

Is this all we did in Vancouver? I think it is. We drank some coffee. OH- I wrote another post about Vancouver- I totally forgot. It`s here. We talked about visiting the University of British Columbia, which Spouse and I were all over given it costs about $10 to go to college in Canada. (Montreal students protested this astronomical tuition a few years ago but were unsuccessful in getting tuition lowered to $5 per year) Offspring #1 was convinced we had ruined his chances of getting in to college with our maniacal moving so we skipped it.

We did stop for a visit with my Aunt, cousin and her husband. It`s hard to believe that I have blood connections to this talented branch of the family. (Have I ever mentioned my Dad is Canadian? Perhaps not) Auntie Numbers was the original Bachelorette. I got to visit the stylish 30 something vixen when I turned 13 without my annoyingly adorable younger sisters present to divert any attention directed towards me. I left wanting to live the life of the free unencumbered 70`s single lady- taking cabs to dinner and living in a posh 2 bedroom overlooking Vancouver.

My poor cousin, an expert in childhood development and education, only hears from me when I need advice on something the Offspring need to do but won`t. She talks to me anyway God Bless her sweet heart.

So Vancouver is great with  lots of scenic stuff, expensive real estate and movie sets. But let`s talk about the real tourist attraction in the Great White North- fishing.

Yea Baby. Next time.


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Dear Spouse, I`d like an RV for my Birthday

During the six days of driving it took Offspring #2 and me to cross this great country, I came to the conclusion that an RV would have preferable to the Toyota we had to push half the way to California. In fact, there are several reasons that I NEED an RV- and I think you`ll want one too once you get to the end of this post.

So, the question is, why would I want an RV in the first place?

Interactions with People I Don`t Know is Close to 0

I`m an introvert which means I prefer to keep conversations with people I do and don`t know as short as possible or, in an ideal world,  avoid them all together. In general, people like me much better the shorter the interaction. So, when I can avoid conversations with a smile and a wave, I am much more popular. Win-Win. Driving an RV would allow me to minimize all those conversations forced when staying in a hotel.  The higher end the hotel, the more employees will follow you around trying to engage in conversation.

There are always at least four people one has to interact with prior to reaching the safety of the hotel room. The more stars attached to  hotel, the more people and the more interested they are to have a long conversation. And now that Trip Adviser is ruling the travel roost, everyone wants travelers to have a positive, high touch experience. One bellman told me in lieu of a tip, he`d prefer an enthusiastic endorsement on Trip Adviser.

“Done, now every time you talk to me my glowing endorsement will dim proportionally”

Although I`d like to just silently toss the keys to a valet (If there is one, if there isn`t even better) it embarrasses my family. It doesn`t matter if there are 15 , 500 pound trunks loaded in to the car, I`ll lug them up myself to avoid talking to the bellman. In fact, I`m a better tipper if allowed to drag up my own bags. When the bellman`s in charge, it takes an extra 15 minutes to get your stuff because they are busy talking to all the other guests, who like to chat, on the way up- or worse- letting all those people ahead on the elevator thus slowing down the process further. Then there`s the front desk clerk interested in where you`re from. I learned a long time ago to hide my accent in order to avoid discussing how we hid from tornadoes in the trailer park. Room service?  I usually just have them leave it in the hallway- sort of like a delivery to solitary confinement in prison. (I`m assuming here) Then there`s the unbearable situation that can occur the toilet clogs, a light is out, I forgot the code to the safe holding a crisp $5 bill and someone needs to come in to the room for an extended period of time. Maintenance people don`t mind you looking over their shoulder if there`s some conversation in it. Add all these seemingly small conversations up and that`s 10 minutes I could`ve spent on Netflix.

For those of you not as well versed on the art of the road trip, without an RV, the best alternative to a regular hotel is a motor lodge where the rooms are lined up in a row. They are designed for sneaking around- whatever the reason. Park right in front of your room and walk the ten steps to the door. Almost as good as an RV except that at some point you have to stop for a key to that room. No one will complain about your dogs or the other things you shouldn`t be doing because they`re doing them too.

See Things You Can`t See from the Plane

I`m not very intellectually curious. I never got in to healthy debates with teachers or other motivated students about a topic because I really don`t care that much. But I do suffer from travelers fear of missing out- TFOMO hits me hard.  Which is the part of flying that urks me the most. As I look down from the window of the plane- my preferred seat – I wonder what`s below that I`m missing. Probably something thrilling- like the world`s largest golf tee, or something entertaining, like the road signs from my home state:


In a car, the more miles covered, the more in a hurry to get to the final destination, and the less likely one is to pull over to investigate some small, but potentially entertaining spot. With the handy RV,  pull over whenever the smallest stop promises even a small amount of entertainment because there`s always a Wal-Mart in the next small town when it`s time to call it a day. (Parking for free in the Wal-Mart parking lot has got to be fabulous. Just hang the “Beware of Dog” sign in the window to keep other RVers from inviting you over for s`mores)

As I discover every time I take a road trip, there are always places that I would never fly to see but I would stop if I happened to pass in my new RV.

Like- Santa Rosa, NM. Driving down historic route 66, which is now a parade of ghost towns, we found the home to the Blue Hole. Who knew it is a major dive destination. 100 ft. to the bottom- clear as a bell. 150 degrees outside and hardly crowded at all. Maybe because the dive in to the 65 degree water is dangerous to the heart.

imageimageWe got Spouse a new coffee cup-

imageFurther down the road was Sedona, AZ. Supposedly a vortex of crystal energy of all sorts. My mother was excited to know if the universe had shocked me upon exiting the car.  I don`t think I felt the shock of the macrocosm but it was certainly worth stopping for a hike.

imageAnd coming in to California, these dunes appeared out of nowhere and disappeared just as quickly:


After reading ThirdEye Mom`s blog post about the Crazy Horse Memorial  I`d stop in if I happened to motor by in my RV.

Fewer Injuries

A hotel room provides unlimited opportunities for injury. Take for example the suitcase jutting in to the middle of the room during the night.

imageI didn`t take this with an electron microscope but it is equally scary. My toenails aren`t black they`re just painted to look that way.

When the Drive is Boring, Turn it Over to Someone Else and Nap

We saw a lot of this on the Western side of our trip:

imageAnd a lot of this on the Eastern Side:

IMG_5944That`s when having your stock of coffee, half and half and sugar come in handy. Give the keys to anyone capable of driving in a straight line, grab yourself a cup, and relax on the couch playing Words with Friends. Or nap.

So there you have it.

Won`t our friends be happy when we roll up and plug-in to their garage in something like this stunner-

IMG_6877-0Oh YEA I need one of these…….


If you need more info on RVing- read Kathy`s account of driving one with her 90-year-old Godmother

It`s a little more balanced in terms of pit falls…..






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Culture Shock In Photos

For the past several days I`ve been trying to figure out how the Cloud ate all my photos. The ones that hadn`t been consumed were permanently frozen on my phone, no longer available for sharing, emailing, or converting in to captivating blog posts. My computer became wary that I would carry out all threats made against it and embarked upon  a self healing process where poof! All my photos reappeared. My computer winking at me in the background. Some of these pictures have had me reliving painful memories of culture shock. So of course I thought immediately to share them with you. My culture shock seemed to revolve around withdrawal.

There`s not one grain of sugar in all of Japan. We immediately went in to sugar withdrawal, our serotonin levels dropped and we realized that the milk and pumpkin ice cream was about as sweet as it was going to get.

Japanese children happily paraded around snacking on…


I kid you not. Cucumbers on a stick. No ranch dressing in sight. Salt? Only in soy sauce. My blood pressure plummeted in the absence of all dietary sodium. I became the zombified version of my low energy self. Spouse had to slap my face to force blood in to my brain. I traded salt and vinegar potato chips for dried fish with peanuts and shrimp fries.


The architecture seemed to be rated R. Asahi claims that this building is a replica of a frothy foaming beer in a mug. OK- what about the thing beside it? Is staring and pointing at a building as rude as doing the same to a person? I rolled my eyes toward the building and made grunting noises at Spouse to get him to look in that direction.


He was engrossed in the car covered in grass. The Chia Car benefited greatly from the rainy season and would take up two parking places until the next trim.


Peter Cottontail in a baseball cap was a morning commuter.


My “no touch” zone dwindled down to the small area on my face used for breathing. Where was my giant American car with space enough for all of these people to sit comfortably? Me yelling “Don`t touch me or my stuff” did not resonate.


It took six weeks for this to become normal. In no time I was napping on my neighbors in the subway, yawning at the buildings, and happily chowing down on anything that sat still long enough for me to grab it with chop sticks.

Good times, good times.

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Moving Diaries- Episode 2 Cont`d. I See Red Shoes Under That Barn

When we last left off, pots and pans, the coffee pot, and two suitcases were hog tied to the top of the car. Neither me, nor Offspring #2, nor any number of thieves would be able to break in to that bag once I was finished with the bungee cord -which also meant it would be inaccessible for the rest of the trip. However, I`d rather that then seeing pots and pans clanging down the highway in the rearview mirror as I did my bike one ill-fated road trip.

Our day was doomed from the start when these guys settled down on the neighbor`s roof.


IMG_3317I chose to look at the positive aspect of this sighting by adopting the Native American view of animal visits. Fittingly, a buzzard means “new life” in animal speak. After 4 moves in 3 countries spread out over 4 years, starting a new life wasn`t as appealing as it was 12 moves ago. But, the alternative view, being on the look out for something dead and rancid was less appealing.

Honestly, after six hours of looking at corn ….

IMG_5944admiring the highlights along the way,

IMG_5952and wondering who said, ” How much f`ing ham is served in 65 restaurants anyway?”


I was feeling punch drunk. Admiring 500 miles of corn provides an explanation as to why top tourist attractions such as the world`s tallest golf tee (Casey, IL) and largest rocking chair (Fanning, MO) are hot spots in a mid Western tour. Somewhere between Cuba, Lebanon, and Paris, Missouri, the scenery started to change.

When this….

IMG_5925morphed in to this….

IMG_5932I called the Nose to inquire as to the boundaries of Tornado Alley.

When we headed in to this….

IMG_5998I woke up the hibernating Offspring #2 for a tornado check on Clear skies according to the meteorologist sleeping at his computer station.

First came the rain, then came the wind, then came small objects, garbage, branches, and tiny animals blowing across the road.

“I`m pulling over at that exit ahead or we might be the next thing blowing down the road.”

But between us and the exit, a tornado blew over the highway about a football field`s distance away, dropped a barn on the road, and was promptly hit by two trucks. Several myths regarding tornadoes were dispelled from my mind that day-

  1. It might make the sound of a freight train but it`s not loud enough to drown out OS#2`s music
  2. I didn`t see it coming from miles away like they do on storm chasers
  3. Don`t count on the cars around you to be smart about the need to take cover- They`re just as stupid as you are.
  4. A lady flying through the air on a bike isn`t the cue that a tornado is on her tail.

IMG_6548 I didn`t see any red shoes in the vicinity.


IMG_6547After sitting on the highway for three hours, we made our way to the next exit shaking and ready for a bathroom. The tornado had knocked out the town`s power which was why all the Subway employees were just hanging out when we came in to borrow the facilities.

“Whose barn was it?” Asked one of the management trainees.

I assumed in a town so small that barns are recognizable  a stranger in town would be also. Well that would be wrong.

5 More days to go…..

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Moving Diaries- Episode 2- One Teenager, One Car,Two Dogs, and 3000 Miles

In the Clampitt family we love our Offspring but it`s possible we love our dogs more. When you think about it, until the Offspring can talk, a pediatrician and a veterinarian are interchangeable. Both keep you up all night as infants and teenagers, and only later do discernible differences emerge. Dogs are always glad to see you. Teenagers are if you have food. It doesn`t matter if it`s been 10 minutes since the door closed separating you on the toilet from your dog, he will happily greet you, smiling and wagging his tail like you`ve been gone a lifetime.

A month or so before, our big dog got sick and he looked headed for the back yard cemetery. When he miraculously recovered and the time came to load him on a plane, the possibility that it would be too much for his sickly self caused me to do what I normally wouldn`t-  choose the path most likely to cause me pain and suffering. But this, my friends, is the only rationale I have for why I thought it was a good idea to load up one teenager, two dogs, and my menopausal self for a relaxing road trip from Philadelphia to Southern California. 2,777 long miles. For those of you keeping count, two critical members of the Clampitts were in fact missing- Offspring #1 recently deposited at college and Spouse who had road tripped earlier for entirely different reasons. Without dogs.

So first let`s meet the members of the clan you may not have seen. First, the elder statesman and teacher of all young dogs yearning to run in the tall grass. Harley. 100 pounds of bad breeding.

IMG_4346And second, the bribe to get OS #2 to Canada, Zoey. Because every teenager should have a wiener dog puppy for a day before handing her over to Ouisar- san full-time.



My original plan included an RV and OS#2`s BFF. Leisurely driving, enjoying this great nation`s sites, napping and brewing fresh coffee whenever the urge hit. Overnighting at Wal-Mart locked in the RV didn`t sound so bad. That plan went up in smoke faster than marshmallows in the fire at the Uncle Sam`s RV park. Not a soul would rent an RV for a one way trip. Surprising given that the cost of renting the RV was probably a break even vs the cost of shipping a car, airplane tickets for us and the dogs, and all the minutiae that comes along with those logistics. OS #2 wasn`t nearly as excited to drive a UHaul van across country and BFF baled in favor of meeting us on the other side.

That`s how we ended up in a Toyota Rav 4. I started to realize the gravity of the bad decision I`d made once the dogs were put in the car leaving no room for anything other than a small make up bag, some dog food, a suitcase and OS#2`s road tripping gear- her pillow and blanket.


Which is what led to the decision of putting a soft sided cargo carrier on the roof. Afraid it would topple off in the mid west somewhere, I bungee corded it to the roof with a mile or so of cord never to be opened again.

Which was perfect for when we got hit by a tornado.

It`s a long story- for next time.



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