This year in Orange Beach we had visitors. Usually, we are there on our own, we make new friends every year and often they are back when we return. This year we met a couple from North Carolina, Curt and Julia. They had two small dogs so we saw them often while walking Maggie. They were two sites away from us and are returning next winter. Curt and I went to see the new Avatar movie one afternoon. It was a good movie. We enjoyed their company.
This year there were many more electric bicycles and three-wheeled trikes like ours than we have seen in the past. There were many more electric bikes and trikes than non-electric ones. It probably is representative of the age of most of the folks in the park at that time of the year. If an e-bike gets older folks out and moving then they are a great addition.
Surprisingly, the winter is considered the “off-season” in Orange Beach. The condos and the RV Parks and the State Park are full of mostly older snowbirds, not like the crazy summer days with active families having adventures, eating out, and shopping every day. Family time at the beach in the summer is the “high season.”
In January our friends Jeff and Sandy from North Carolina stopped by on their way to Arizona as did Hans and Marjet from South Carolina who were going to Arizona with Jeff and Sandy.
I went to see the USS Alabama Battleship one day with Jeff and Sandy. I followed the tour routes one way, they went a different way. We didn’t have lunch there.
There was a seaplane launching catapult at the stern end of the battleship and a crane to hoist the plane back on board after it landed in the water. It seems like it would have to be pretty calm for this to work.
And way down in the engineering spaces at the bottom of the ship, there were eight boilers each with six burners. The Alabama was able to reach 25 knots on only 4 boilers. The top speed of 27.5 knots took all eight boilers. The fuel capacity of the ship is 2.1 million gallons. That is more than 11,000 times the fuel capacity of our motorhome!
It must have been very hot place to work.
And the boilers needed fresh water. The ship was able to convert 40,000 gallons of seawater to fresh water every day for the boilers and crew. The ship’s water tanks held 118,000 gallons of fresh water.
We had a potluck supper one evening. We made Barbecue Shrimp using a recipe from Pascal’s Manale Restaurant in New Orleans. Jeff and Sandy brought southern gumbo from a local seafood place. Hans and Marjet brought salad. It was fun. Way more food than we needed which is always the case with a potluck. We had enough leftover shrimp for several more meals.
Hans and Marjet have two Goldendoodles, Jazzy and her son, Storm. Storm’s father is Jax and his father was Calhoun. Maggie’s father was also Jax so Storm and Maggie have a common grandfather, Calhoun.
The dogs all got along quite well, especially Maggie and Jazzy. They both piled onto Marjet’s lap one evening when they joined us for a campfire.
Jeff and Sandy and Hans and Marjet left for Arizona. We got back to our everyday routines.
Susan and I drove over to Pensacola, FL about 45 minutes away to get fresh scallops. Our destination was Joe Patti’s. It is a big fish market. They also have a nearby restaurant.
Inside the fresh fish market, there was a very long counter with every kind of fish you might want. You took a number and when a counter person called your number, you told them what you wanted and you moved to the appropriate place on the counter. I was looking for sea scallops for a special dinner (our 47th anniversary). They had just what we wanted. Dinner was wonderful.
In February my cousin Sue and her husband Lloyd came for a visit. They stayed in a nearby condo. They had been spending a couple of winter months in Panama City Beach, Florida for many years. Changes in the condo rental market there had them looking for other options. So they were exploring Orange Beach and Gulf Shores choices.
We went out for lunch at the Sea ‘n Suds restaurant which is on the beach in Gulf Shores. Food is good and you are on the beach. And several other meals as well. We played a couple of Quiddler games too.
There were many condos to check out and it seems there is no easy way to look at and compare several choices at one time. They had to call lots of different sources, most had no units to look at, they were all occupied. So they had their work cut out for them. They found a couple of choices that would work. They are working on what will work for them. One thing is for sure, they want to get away for a good chunk of the Minnesota winter.
We did manage to get to the beach one day while they were here, the very green lawn anyway.
We bought a puzzle for Maggie. Something for her to solve to get treats.
She figured it out quickly. We have two more puzzles for her, more complicated. She seems to like the challenge and figures them out without too much trouble.
After Sue and Lloyd left we had just a couple of weeks left in Orange Beach. The flowers were in bloom at the RV Resort.
We were off to Houston to see friends there and then on to Fredericksburg. But first Maggie needed her second visit to the groomer for a trim.
Still the teddy bear look but all trimmed up. She got a bath, her nails trimmed too. Maggie is 23 weeks old and 25 lbs at this time. Her puppy teeth are getting replace with adult teeth. We managed to find a couple baby teeth and then lost them again.
We made our reservations for next year, got out for dinner with Curt and Julia and started getting ready to leave.
We ask ourselves why and the answer is pretty simple. 1) The weather is much better than at home in Minnesota. 2) The Sun Outdoors Orange Beach RV Park is nice and we like the row against the tall pines. When you stay here for 90 days or more there is no state or city lodging or hospitality taxes. That saves about 16% or so. And the long-term stay discounts are almost 60% off the normal daily rates. 3) The RV park is adjacent to Gulf State Park and has direct bicycle trail links to the State Park’s paved bike trail system. This gives us easy access to about 40 miles of trails in the park and to the trails in Gulf Shores which lead to the beachfront park.
And the Orange Beach/Gulf Shores area is on the gulf side of the Inter-Coastal Waterway making it an island. Gulf Shores bill itself as a “Small Town, Big Beaches”. There is more of each city on the mainland too but it is the small-town aspect of this area that we like. Everyday life on an island means everything you need is close by, ten minutes at most. That part of life here really appeals to us.
Maggie’s First Bike Ride
We brought along a basket that attaches to the rack on the back of the bike. It is about 14” square when opened up and folds flat when not in use.
We put a towel in it and loaded Maggie in it with a tie-down to make sure she didn’t jump out and tried it out in the RV park. It took a few trial runs for her to figure it out. She was close enough that I could reach back with a treat when needed. And we needed to understand her new signals that she wanted to stop for a potty break.
It didn’t take long before she was good at riding. She would stand up in the box on her hind legs and put her front paws on my shoulders and let her ears flap away.
We rode all over the State Park this way. Lots of people would comment that it was cute. We did discover that if Susan rode in front of us Maggie would start whining. If Susan was behind us it was fine. Maybe she wanted to be in the lead or if she saw Susan ahead she thought we were being left behind.
Even if Maggie was just going for a ride she seemed to get very tired. There was always time for a nap. It is interesting to note her color at this point. Much darker than it becomes later.
Maggie was growing quickly. The picture above shows just how much in only a month since she came to us.
A Day at Dauphin Island
One of the things we wanted to do while we were in Alabama this winter was to take the ferry to Dauphin Island and explore a bit. There are two RV parks there that we wanted to look at. And it turns out that the beaches on Dauphin Island are dog friendly.
The ferry across Mobile Bay leaves from Fort Morgan on the far west end of the island. It is 31 miles from Gulf Shores. There really is a Fort there that dates back to the 1830s.
The Ferry docks are right next to the Fort. We paid for our tickets and got in line.
It didn’t take long and the ferry was coming into the docks. It goes either way, loads, and unloads from either end.
Maggie has graduated from her box in the back seat to just the back seat. She has her own seat belt and usually just sleeps while we are driving.
It was a nice sunny day, the bay was calm. There is ship traffic and oil drilling rigs in the bay.
The ferry ride is about 45 minutes and arrives at the east end of Dauphin Island. Fort Gaines is also at the end of the island. Together with Fort Morgan, the two forts protected the opening to Mobile Bay.
We followed the road around the east end past Fort Gaines to a big beach. We wanted to give Maggie a chance to run.
It was a big beach, with lots of white sand and we were by ourselves so Maggie got to run off-leash and dig holes in the sand, and just play in the sun.
There were two RV parks to check out, one was a pretty full city park. Narrow winding roads connected the close-together sites. Most of the RVs that were there were trailers or fifth wheels. Just a couple of motor homes, maybe one that was 40 ft. Parking for tow vehicles was limited. Probably not a place we would stay at for a couple of months, maybe for a week or so.
The other was a park behind a small convenience store across the street from a beach. It had about 10 spots in the rear parking lot. Ugh.
We went to the Pirate’s Cove Bar and Grill for lunch, a place that said it was dog friendly. There was a line and the person taking names said that the outdoor patio was wet from the rain the night before and they weren’t seating anyone out there. Bummer.
So our next choice was Miguel’s Beach’n Baja, a take-out Southern Mexican place. The food was great, the outdoor picnic tables were dog friendly, and the owner had diet cherry Coke. Something we have never seen before or since. It was good, sort of like a diet Dr Pepper.
Lunch in the sun at a picnic table with Maggie was perfect.
You can drive from one end of Dauphin Island to the other in about 15 minutes. We talked to a couple on the ferry who had left their car at Fort Morgan and brought their bikes to ride around the island. Their fare was about 1/4 of the price for a car and 2 passengers.
The main road runs east and west, much of it is a divided boulevard. A north-south road heads north to a causeway over part of the bay to the mainland.
I was last here on Dauphin Island in 2010 while working on Habitat Homes on the west side of Mobile Bay after Hurricane Katrina. On the weekend, we drove down to Dauphin Island for the Mardi Gras Parade. It went down the main east-west boulevard and it was pouring rain, a hard rain. It stopped nothing, the route was lined with people on both sides of the road, and most were wearing garbage bags with appropriate holes for heads and arms that were handed out by the parade organizers. The parade went on, baubles and beads were tossed, and moon pies bounced across the pavement for anyone brave enough to eat them. The time before that was in 1976 when Susan and I ended up here at a campground on part of the island that is long gone from later hurricanes. It was our first RV trip together. And we are still doing it together.
There is a nice dog park in Orange Beach. We went there a couple of times every week with Maggie. Just like at the beach, she gets to run, chase the ball, and dig holes. Sometimes there are other small dogs there to play with as well.
A Day at the Beach
We liked going to the beach but they are off-limits to pets. But the lawn areas along the beach sidewalks are not. We visited the lawn several times, often bringing lunch.
Goldendoodles have hair that grows and needs to be trimmed regularly. Maggie has a wavy coat that is not as tightly curled as a curly coat. It is easier to brush and can be trimmed a little less frequently. It was time for Maggie’s first trim. It would still be a puppy cut with the teddy bear look, just shorter.
She got a bath, a trim, and some cute bows.
A New Biking Experience
Maggie is getting bigger, she doesn’t fit so well in the box on the back of the bike. So we got a dog cart for her.
We started with several rides around the park to get her used to it. She did pretty well. At first, she didn’t like being further away from us, the cart fits on both of our bikes and just like with the box, she didn’t like it if the other person was in front. We got in a lot of miles with Maggie in the cart. We rode to a nice dog-friendly restaurant in the State Park for a late breakfast one day. We brought Maggie’s breakfast with us. She is curious and wants to check everything out but minds her manners when we are out with her.
There is lots more to come, it seems like it is all about Maggie and it is. We knew we were taking on a big task, a growing puppy traveling in our motorhome. It was all new for all of us.
Thanks for sticking with us over what is now coming up on two years while I got behind on posts, I heard from many of you wondering when the next post would arrive. There have been lots of challenges, losses, and new things to learn, and then, finally, it is time to just get on with it.
Thanks are in order.
I have to acknowledge how grateful I am for Susan’s steadfast love and devotion and support through all of my cancer surgery and treatments. She made it possible to work our way through it. I complained and griped, she listened, all she needed to do, and she is good at it. She provided the footholds to climb out of some pretty deep holes.
And to my friend Mike, who reminded me to allow people I care about and trust to know what you are going through. That act of love and trust allows them to return so much more. Care, concern, love, a listening post, and sometimes a gentle (or not so gentle) nudge to make you think about things more clearly. You get so much more in return than you ever thought was possible.
And to Bob, my “Up North” friend that I talk to almost every week, who was my never-ending source of positive reinforcement. And Lou, who always helped me stay on track. It is so easy to stray from the yellow brick road and get lost in every distraction, fear, and worry. Lou held the guiding lantern high. And Richard who has been through this himself, for reminding me that the future is a place we can get to. And finally to my dear friend, Ted, who would have been my biggest cheerleader at the finish line. I made it. Ted, very sadly, didn’t get there with me. I rang the bell as much for Ted and everyone else as I did for myself.
And to many more, all helped in their own way, many had no idea how much.
Off to Alabama
Winter in Minnesota is OK if you have to be there and travel is optional when the weather is bad. For the most part, we have been able to limit travel to the nice days when we are home and are privileged to be able to get away in the winter.
In late November, three weeks after Maggie Mae arrived and two weeks after my last radiation treatment the coach was loaded and ready to go. We took our time loading, a little bit every day. I was starting to feel the fatigue that the radiation oncologist said would set in a week or so after treatment ended and last for 4 to 6 weeks. At two weeks I was already feeling the fatigue, probably because I just didn’t slow down. And we had a puppy to deal with as well.
We have a hard time remembering just how small Maggie was when she came home. Here she is with a toy dog pal who was about 12 inches long.
It surprised us just how much puppy stuff we accumulated and were bringing with us. It includes a large basket of toys. My friend asked if she had toys, I said, “More than I ever had when I was a kid.” Most of the toys we thought would be perfect got ignored for a worn sock or a plastic bottle or just an old tennis ball. She does have a couple of small stuffed dogs that were sleep buddies to make up for the loss of her litter mates. She likes these and treats them well. A small stuffed bear, a chicken, a cow, and a turtle fill out the soft toy zoo.
We brought along a small corral made of short fence pieces and a dog crate. She was over the fence in just a couple of weeks and never really liked the crate. We donated those to the vet she saw in Orange Beach. Better to go to someone who needed them.
Ready, Steady, Go
Our tire pressures had been adjusted on both the F150 and the coach for the temperatures at the time. The weather was still pretty warm so for the first time in 12 years we de-winterized the coach’s water system and added fresh water to the tank before we left. The heat had been on for about a week, set to 40 degrees.
We were ready. The day before we left we increased the temperature in the coach to a more comfortable level. The evening before we left we turned on the engine preheat system. The morning of departure we went through the departure checklist, turning off everything in the house that didn’t need to be on, setting the house temperature to 50 degrees, double-checking everything, and finally locked up the house.
The coach was out in the driveway, the F150 connected for towing, and the barn was locked up. Nothing left to do but depart. So we did.
Maggie had ridden in the coach once before. She was still not quite big enough to jump up on the couch so Susan helped her up and sat with her for an hour or so as she rode in a pet box. She was calm and quiet. We helped her up and down when she wanted. She often slept between the front seats. She just wanted to be close to us.
The little box didn’t last long as Maggie outgrew it quickly. She was OK on the couch with some help up and down. It took a couple of weeks before she was able to jump up on the couch by herself and another month or more before she would get off on her own.
We planned our travel days to be short with several stops each day. I was feeling fatigued from the radiation treatments and we were being careful to let Maggie out frequently. So instead of a three-day trip, we planned for five. Our route changed on the first day. It looked like our second day would have led us right into a significant storm brewing in Texas and heading northeast. So we went a different way from the original plan and arranged to stop west of Saint Louis where our friends Douglas and Amanda were staying for part of November and December.
Amanda was very excited to meet Maggie. Everyone got along well. We had a few hours in the afternoon to visit, ate a pizza that was a St Louis favorite (unlike any pizza we have ever had) and played Quiddler in the early evening. It was quite cold that night and very windy as the storm moved south of us to the northeast. Cold but clear in the morning.
We had been hearing a clunking noise under the front end of the coach and the steering seemed to be getting sloppy. I crawled under the front end and had a look, it was very cold. I didn’t see anything out of order. So we packed up, said our goodbyes, and headed south.
Most of the places we were going to stop for overnights didn’t work anymore after our weather stop so we just figured out where we could get and went there.
We stopped at a rest stop and I just had to look under the front end again. There is a big steering gearbox that had been rebuilt a few years earlier. This time when I looked more closely, I could see a large bolt that was coming loose. When I touched it it fell out.
I got out from under the front end, got some tools and gloves, and crawled back under. I got the bolt started back in and threaded it in as far as I could get it by hand and then with the biggest wrench I had was able to get it as tight as I could. Then with a flashlight, I could see four slightly smaller bolts that were loose as well. A different wrench tightened two of them and a socket wrench got two more. I was pretty dirty, very cold. I hoped it was enough.
We finally got to an odd little campground in Clarksville, TN. Something about the last train rang a bell. Then off towards Nashville and south towards Birmingham. The roads through Birmingham are some of the worst we have ever seen. Many sections of the Interstate were so bad that 40 mph was a practical speed limit. Friends had recommended a campground at the (town of) Hoover Sports Complex south of Birmingham. We called and made a reservation, got there later in the afternoon, and stopped. Our short days and frequent stops plan was not working very well.
The weather was warmer, and I had a better look at the steering gearbox again, it seemed secure. I think when it was replaced they put all the bolts in by hand and never finished tightening them up.
There was plenty of room for Maggie to explore at the end of her leash anyway. The campground was a big parking lot with electrical hookups. There were water and waste connections but we didn’t need them for just an overnight stop.
Maggie was pretty happy on the couch when Susan rode with her.
We left Hoover, headed south towards Mobile on I65 then angled towards I10 east of Mobile. Then 10 miles east to Buc-ee’s. If you haven’t experienced a Buc-ee’s, they are the biggest gas station – convenience store – department store – fast food place you have ever seen. The biggest one is more than 74,000 square feet, bigger than five Trader Joe’s combined! It has the world’s longest car wash with 255 feet of conveyor. And 120 fuel pumps. It is an experience.
This Buc-ee’s even has its own two lanes on the exit ramp from I10. Past Buc-ee’s and south to the Baldwin Beach Express and then the Foley Beach Expressway to the high toll bridge over the Intercoastal Waterway and onto the island where Orange Beach is on the east end and Gulf Shores is on the west end.
Our RV Park used to be called Pandion Ridge. It was purchased a couple of years ago by Sun Outdoors, a big corporate RV park owner/developer. So now it is Sun Outdoors Orange Beach. Pandion Ridge just sounds better to me.
At the bottom of the bridge ramp, we turn right onto Canal Road and then left after 1/4 mile into the RV Park. We were parked in Site 19 at the top of the map. This row is up against rows of tall long-leaf pine trees and all of the sites are pull-in. With the front window facing the forest, the sites seem very private. Our site was about 50 feet wide and about 120 ft deep. It was wider at the end by the woods than at the road.
The driveway was wide enough for two cars, the patio was about 12 ft x 20 ft, plenty of room for our shade room, a picnic table, and an LP gas fire-pit and chairs.
We arrived at the beginning of December, set up our shade room, hung the wreath, and the festive chili pepper lights, and plugged in the awning lights. We rearranged things on the patio after our first go at it. Mostly to get the door of the shade room under the edge of the big awning.
Maggie seemed to be the focus of most of our days. She went for a walk first thing in the morning, another walk later in the morning. An afternoon walk and a couple in the evening. We started just going around one of the loops in the section of the park we were in. As she got a bit older that increased to two sections and then the entire loop. And then we just kept adding in more, especially the section from Canal Road to the office where there was a wide grassy median for Maggie to explore.
We got a few packages from Amazon every week so stops at the office were frequent. The ladies in the office always stopped to greet Maggie, they voted her the cutest dog in the park. Even if we had no package to pick up Maggie always wanted to stop in anyway.
Christmas was coming. Maggie seemed to know something was going to happen, I think she could smell a new bag of treats.
We had our “fireplace” going.
And packages carefully piled.
Maggie was exhausted from the excitement, she actually sleeps about 16-18 hrs a day in any case.
Susan and I enjoy doing jigsaw puzzles and we give each other a new set from Lee Valley Tools every year, one is a garden puzzle and one is a tool-related puzzle.
So we got to the end of December. A month in Albama. A month living with a puppy in the coach. A month of of recovery. A good month.
The weather has been quite nice. Better than we expected, mostly sunny days, some rain usually overnight, and some pretty sunsets.
We have met new folks in the park too. One couple from South Carolina with two nice dogs that get along with Maggie (she gets along with everyone.) Maggie has been to the Vet down here to continue her vaccinations and other puppy treatments. Her first haircut is coming up too.
We are getting older. And so are our friends and family. And we are losing some of them, seven in the last few months. We remember all of them fondly.
My cousin, Sandy died last Fall.
Sandy grew up in MN, got married to Klaus, raised a family, and worked for many years at a Law office. We will miss her at our Senior Cousin’s lunch get-togethers.
Our friend Ted died in November.
Ted and Karen, were long-time Foretravel friends. They were full-timers for 13 years. They stopped and sold their coach just before Covid-19. We met up with them whenever we could. We played Quiddler (a card game) using ZOOM from wherever we were every couple of weeks. Ted liked to wear silly hats when we played. In Quiddler, you use your cards to spell words and Ted would always try to make a story with his words no matter how little sense it made.
We miss Ted. He was a steady hand for me during cancer treatments, always had a smile, was a bit contrarian at times, and a good and ready friend.
A dear friend and gracious and gentle lady, Shirl slipped away from us, her husband Norm, and her many friends towards the end of last year.
We had known them from our stays in Fredericksburg, TX where they spent the winters and went home to Colorado for the summers. Norm and Shirl moved to Fredericksburg full-time a few years ago.
Last winter when we were here in Fredericksburg she was feeling good. She was even going to Line Dancing and the Texas Two Step evenings wearing her fancy cowgirl boots.
I talked to her a couple of times, last fall. She kept her spirits up even as she began hospice care, her kids got to come and see her, and then she was gone.
There is an empty spot here in Fredericksburg without our friend Shirl. We still see Norm almost every day and many of her other friends in the RV park too on our daily walks with Maggie. Shirl is missed by everyone who knew her.
Another Foretravel friend, Brad, lived on a small farm in western Virginia. He liked the retired farmer lifestyle. He raised feeder calves from Spring to Fall. He had a collection of tractors for every job, a Foretravel in the barn, and a big selection of side-by-side and 4-seat ATVs. He had trails that he rode on at the farm but mostly like to take his favorite (usually new) off-road machine to the desert in Arizona in the winter and the sand dunes in Idaho in the summer. He would spend a couple of months at each place. We met Brad and his wife Phyllis at both places when we had our Jeep Wrangler and went off exploring with him. He was really surprised that our Jeep could do as well as it did in the sand dunes. I told him it was just like driving in the snow.
Brad was riding one of his ATVs on a trail on his farm and had an accident that left him with serious injuries. He died shortly after. He was in his 80s doing what he liked most of all.
Brad was quite a character who will be missed by many Foretravel folks, Phyllis, and his standard poodle best buddy, Barney.
Our friend Rudy was determined to get me to meet Chappell and his wife Mary Elizabeth who lived in Nacogdoches, TX. Chappell was a skilled woodworker because he wanted to be. Before he retired, he repaired and restored antique clocks at his shop in Houston. He brought all of this detail skill with him to Nacogdoches when they retired. Their home in Nacogdoches is like a clock museum. His small woodworking shop out back reminded me of pictures of Andy Rooney’s shop, stuff everywhere, piles of boards, machines pushed into every corner, projects underway here and there, and then emerging out the door with beautiful results. From a small box made from curly maple to a large cherry kitchen table, patience and skills learned over a lifetime were evident.
We shared our projects every time we met. We shared a lifelong passion for learning new skills and improving all the time.
Chappell was dealing with back pain when we last saw him less than a year ago. It didn’t get better and later in the year, they discovered it was because of cancer. He died shortly after this diagnosis.
Another friend from the Fredericksburg RV Park, Curtis, exemplified (to me as I imagined it) the kinder, gentler side of a Texas gentleman just as Chappell had. Curtis and his dear wife, Peggy, have been here in the same spot in the RV park as long as we have been coming here. They have a home on a lake about 60 miles north but spend most of their time here where friends are closer. Curtis died in early January.
Curtis helped us understand a lot of the personal level of Texas history, what it was like over the past few generations in the Hill Country. And he organized twice-weekly Texas Hold’em card games. What a collection of players, mostly serious and skilled about the game. Many who we’re no longer in the RV Park. It was a $10 buy-in, and the top three at the end of the allotted time shared to pot. Sometimes there was only one or two left.
Like our Quiddler games, everyone was willing to help the new guy learn. I sort of understood the fundamentals but my strategy was weak at best. I never won any money but always enjoyed playing and the players.
Susan’s cousin, Patsy (Patrica) died in February.
Patsy and her husband, Joe were long-time Florida residents and raised their family there. Patsy and Joe got back to see friends in Minnesota and Wisconsin. We would often see them when they did. Those trips got less frequent and then stopped after Patsy’s mom, Susan’s aunt, Jessie died.
We visited them once in our winter motorhome travels at their home near Orlando. We will miss Patsy too.
We start seeing this as more real as we get older. When we were younger and a grandparent or maybe later an aunt or uncle would pass away, it was almost surprising. This is what happens to old people, we thought. Wait, we are old people. When my Dad died 25 years ago it hardly seemed real for a long time. And then my Mom died, leaving my generation of cousins waiting for that surprise phone call about something we have now come to expect.
Treasure and celebrate your loved ones, friends, and family. Someday you may be the sole survivor.
We left St Ignace and headed south across the Mighty Mac, The Mackinaw Bridge, to the lower part of Michigan. The entire bridge is 26,372 ft long, 28 ft short of 5 miles long. It is the fifth-longest suspension bridge in the world.
There are days when the winds cause the speed limits to be reduced or even close the bridge. This time and the last two times we crossed the bridge the speed limit for semis was 40 mph so that is what we did. And all three times the outside lane was closed for maintenance (painting). Susan was glad we drove on the inside lane away from the edge of the bridge but the inside lane of the main suspension section is also an open grating road surface. Probably for the wind to go through and for rain and snow drainage. In any case, it is a noisy road surface. We are still here, we made it.
East Jordan is 25 miles or so inland from the east shore of Lake Michigan. It is right at the end of the South Arm of Lake Charlevoix and a small river feeds that end of the lake. It is part of the bigger Lake Charlevoix which empties into Lake Michigan at the small city of Charlevoix.
East Jordan is pretty small and its primary claim to fame was the East Jordan Foundry where they recycled almost anything iron or steel and made cast iron manhole covers, street drains, and lots more. The foundry was right on the edge of town on the lake and made quite a racket at times. A few years ago the foundry moved to a new and modern facility several miles from town. The old site is now quiet but the new site makes even more of these cast iron things.
And East Jordan has a nice municipal campground. Perfect for us to visit Amanda and Douglas who spend the summer here in their motorhome. And they have cabins too so Ted and Karen drove up from the Cincinnati area as well. We went sailing on Douglas and Amanda’s boat, walked, played Quiddler, tossed bags of something in a Corn Hole tournament, went out for dinner, made dinners to share, and did a big pancake breakfast. More than anything we had a chance to be together, to share our time, to reinforce the bonds that make us such good friends.
Amanda and Douglas make and sell jewelry at select craft shows, one was the weekend before we arrived at South Haven a couple hours south of East Jordan. It was the International Blueberry Festival. The last time we were there blueberries were plentiful and cheap. Amanda brought us 2-10 lb boxes of fresh giant berries. They cost about $30. We had blueberries with everything including pancakes, a blueberry crumble, and especially oatmeal in the morning. All that was left were spread out on cake pans and frozen. They freeze well. We can hardly get enough blueberries.
Here they are watching an intense Corn Hole match – and making jewelry at the same time. Well, Amanda was busy.
Ted and Karen drove from the Cincinnati area. They stayed in a cabin at the campground. They brought what cooking and coffee-making equipment they needed so they were all set. And Ted brought his growler, filled with local craft beer, necessary for the big match.
We tried the local pizza shop one night for dinner, it was pretty good. We have discovered that local pizza preferences and tastes vary widely across the country. What is popular in one area may not be quite what you like.
We went into Charlevoix one day too for a bit of exploring. Charlevoix is a small town on the east side of Lake Michigan. It was a popular destination for the privileged Chicago wealthy who came to stay in fancy resorts or, as many did,
to build large homes in neighborhoods made up mostly of other wealthy owners. Most of these homes are still there. They came mostly by railroad, much easier than driving. These neighborhoods are primarily on a bay on the west end of Lake Charlevoix where there are now, and likely then as well, large marinas for big boats.
The bay is connected to Lake Michigan by a channel that is crossed by a Chicago-style lift bridge. I am sure it was simply a creek or small river that made the connection long ago and was finally dug out to make a regular channel with a lighthouse to mark the entrance.
There is a small sailing school that we visited on the bay too. People, mostly kids, start in small boats with one per boat and move up to bigger boats with two people on board and then bigger boats. Lake Charlevoix has lots of big and fast power boats but is a very popular sailing lake.
Douglas and Amanda have a 22 ft sailboat. They were hemming and hawing about buying it. It was for sale in Iowa. I told them to buy it or I would, and they did and immersed themselves in sailing jargon, techniques, and best practices. They have become competent sailors now.
Here we are in a calm state. We cannot remember the good ship’s name but we kidding called it the SS Minow. Most of our sail seemed to be at a death-defying angle to one side or the other. I think Douglas was trying for a new world speed record.
We had a great time, maybe I did more than Susan, but fun to share some time with Douglas and Amanda and their new passion for sailing.
We drove around to the east end of Lake Charlevoix for an early supper at a brewery/pub. The food was good, the company was the best.
We sat around the campfire in the evenings spinning yarns (nautical speak) and other tall tales, mostly remembering all of the great times we had shared over the several years we have known one another. None of us “live” near each other so we have to choose to make the effort to get together and share some time.
A couple of years earlier while we were in Fredericksburg, Susan and I went to the Garrison Brothers Distillery in Hye, TX about halfway to Johnson City. They make exceptional Bourbon. Ted and Karen enjoy a glass of bourbon on occasion. My last occasion was in 1984. So I decided to get a bottle to share with them. It was two years later in East Jordan when we first pulled the cork on that Small Batch bottle and began the process of sniffing and sipping and enjoying over a couple of evenings. I was keenly aware it was bourbon, it packed a wallop. Somehow with plenty of help from Ted and Karen, we managed to create an empty bottle memorial for that visit.
None of us knows what the future holds and while this trip ended with the joy of good friends sharing time we will never see Ted again. Just three months later Ted died, his heart just stopped. All of the heroic efforts to get it to restart just weren’t enough. It was shocking news, very hard on our dear friend, Karen. We miss Ted dearly.
Today is the day to renew connections, commit to getting together, call someone when you think of it, dust off memories, and celebrate all we hold most dear, what we are most grateful for. Our loved ones, our family, our friends. These are the people that get us through every day, every situation, every one of life’s challenges.
Ted was a critical foundation stone for me getting through my cancer treatments. He left us before they were complete but with the commitment and determination to see it through.
From a song by Jackson Browne, “For a Dancer” …
Keep a fire burning in your eye Pay attention to the open sky You never know what will be coming down
We had planned for some time to visit Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and then cross the Mighty Mac Bridge to East Jordan on the South Arm of Lake Charlevois to see our friends Amanda and Douglas and Ted and Karen.
We stopped for the night on the way to Michigan at Holtwood Campsite Municipal Park Campground in Oconto, WI. It was a really nice spot, we had a pull-through site, easy in and out the next morning. We made a reservation for the way home too.
There is a very nice rest stop on the road heading east along the lakeshore. We stopped for almost an hour or so for lunch and a break
And then to Lakeshore Park Campground on the north shore of Lake Michigan just west of St. Ignace. We have been to this campground before and it is quiet and has a great view of the lake.
We spent a day on Mackinac Island. The ferry got us over and back. We mostly just wandered around exploring. We found a place for lunch that was off the main track. It was good.
The ferry ride went out to the bridge and underneath it before going to Mackinac Island. We saw the Viking Ocantis, a brand new Great Lakes cruise ship as we came into the docks.
The small tender boats were ferrying passengers back and forth.
As usual, it was busy in town. We walked by a bed and breakfast that we stayed in several years ago. it is right on the harbor. From the front, it looks pretty normal, from the side it is much bigger. There is a gift shop and a nice coffee/pastry shop at the rear.
Coffee and a pastry morning treat in the sun was nice. up and down the Main Street, checked out the toy store, the kite shop, looked into a dozen fudge shops. We resisted but broke down and bought a jigsaw puzzle with a ship going under the Mackinac (it is pronounced mackinaw) Bridge, a Great Lakes patch and a patch from Mackinac Island with an 8.2 on it. The 8.2 is the length of the bike path around the island. We did that last time we were here. It is a very nice ride, mostly level along the lakeshore Bring your own bikes – they are very expensive to rent on the island.
We had a nice lunch at the Yankee Rebel Tavern. It was not all that busy given how busy it was but we were a couple of blocks off Main Street and past the normal lunch hour. Then all the way to the West End and back to the docks for the ferry ride back.
We stopped at Clyde’s Drive In on the way back to the campground to get something for dinner. We have been to the Clyde’s in Sault Saint Marie and enjoyed the food there. This one is bigger and it was slammed. It took about 10 minutes just to get an order in and a 30 minute wait. And then the place really got busy. We were patient and rewarded with hot off the grill burgers and onion rings. We made a bee-line for home and gobbled them up.
On Saturday we went north and east along the north end of Lake Huron to the small town of Hessel for the one day a year 45th Annual Antique Wooden Boat Show. We have had this on our list to do when in the Upper Peninsula but missed it several times.
The north part of Lake Huron is made up of many long skinny rock islands and a few big ones carved by glaciers. They are called the Les Cheneaux Islands.
Every year has a custom artwork poster, this one was from 2017. The Boat Show had well over 100 wooden boats from as far back as 1917. Everyone was spectacular in their own way. Many were carefully and faithfully restored from near wrecks. Many had been owned for generations and maintained along the way. They came from as far away as Maine and Louisiana. Most of the local owners stored their treasured boats in almost as spectacular boat houses.
It was a beautiful sunny day. All of the boats were in slips in the marina and the visitors made their way back and forth on the docks. I took well over a hundred pictures. Every boat from every angle was breathtaking.
When you think of wooden boats you think of Chris Craft. There are many of these here including hull number 4 and a Chis Craft built in Italy at their factory in the Lake District of Northern Italy. But what surprised me was the dozen or more nameplates represented from all over. High-end, high-quality wooden boats with inboard engines and two or three cockpits were built all across the Great Lakes, New York, and up into Maine.
And some of the most famous were racing boats. Here is a Gar Wood Chris Craft with two turbocharged V16 engines. The driver and mechanic sat in the very rear.
This is a fairly rare three-cockpit boat. The engine is in between the second and third row of seats.
It is hard to pick out pictures that do the boats justice. The absolutely perfect, glass smooth finishes and perfect woodwork were a joy to see. The descriptions of dozens of coats of varnish, hand sanded between each layer to get where it needed to be are nothing short of woodworking art.
These boats ran from a 17 ft canoe to a 49’ cabin cruiser.
Miss Lilly, a 1917 canoe was a crowd favorite, and Susan’s too.
We had lunch there and visited the tent with t-shirts too late to get a beautifully embroidered shirt so I settled for a long-sleeved t-shirt. I came to find that it was a very comfortable shirt on those cool evenings. I have since added a couple more to my traveling collection.
Next time you are thinking about an upper peninsula adventure include the Antique Wooden Boat Show. It is well worth the time.
A few of you know this, but not many. I was diagnosed with Prostate Cancer in 2017 after a long overdue PSA test followed by a prostate biopsy. The Doc said it was at a very early stage and that like most men at this stage, I could just continue getting a periodic PSA test and a biopsy once a year. The “wait and watch” approach. Many men will get prostate cancer and eventually die of something else before cancer becomes an issue so waiting and watching seemed to make sense.
By the fall of 2021, my PSA results had been slowly going up and the results of the last biopsy indicated that perhaps a more aggressive approach was warranted. We were ready to depart for the winter and the Doc assured me that waiting another 6 months wouldn’t make any difference. So I made the appropriate appointments for the following spring and we left.
There were two approaches at the time to deal with prostate cancer, surgery to remove the prostate gland or radiation. Both have advantages and disadvantages. I chose a surgical path, it was more definite. The radiation option while usually effective made a follow-up surgical approach if needed much more difficult.
Surgery was scheduled for July 2022 with a two to three month recovery. The surgery was robotic and scheduled for 280 minutes. It didn’t take quite that long. As they were starting the initial sedatives all I wanted was to get it done and wake up. After the surgery I stayed overnight in the hospital and went home the next day.
The recovery process wasn’t too bad. I had five or six incisions from 1 to 2 inches long, it looked like I was in a knife fight and lost. I had a couple of follow-up appointments and all was progressing well. I was scheduled for a PET scan to see if there were any indication that the prostate cancer had spread. A post-surgical pathology report detected a very small amount of prostate cancer in one of eight lymph nodes that were routinely removed with the prostate.
The PET scan showed no other indications of prostate cancer but did show a positive indication of something in a lymph node in my neck. There was no swelling or pain there. The medical oncologist scheduled a biopsy which indicated a type of lymphoma cancer. A bone marrow biopsy confirmed cancer had not spread into my bones. And another lymphoma-specific PET scan confirmed that it was confined to the lymph node where it was found.
So when we were just over a month away from leaving for the winter, we met with the medical oncologist and a radiation oncologist who both recommended a 12-session focused radiation treatment. I scheduled the initial visit and scheduled the 12 sessions of radiation. These went over the Thanksgiving period so it stretched out a bit. We ended up leaving about 10 days later than we anticipated but still got off for the winter.
In the initial visit, the technicians make a mask that holds your head in exactly the same place for each of the radiation treatments. You are the mold for the mask so it is rather snug, with not much wiggle room. The radiation machine is sort of like a CAT scan machine. You lie on a bed (plank) that goes up and down and in and out and the radiation machine rotates around you. part of the machine is what emits the radiation and part is like an x-ray machine to do real-time scanning. Radiation is a high-energy form of x-rays. The high-energy beam kills the cancer cells or damages their DNA so they can’t reproduce.
Each session lasts about 15 minutes from the time you walk in to walking out. The actual radiation time is about 2 minutes. In what seemed to be a fairly short time the radiation treatments for the lymphoma cancer were completed, follow up exams and blood work confirmed there was no indication of any remaining lymphoma cancer. These tests and exams are repeated every six months for 5 years.
Before we left I had a follow-up PSA test. The results indicated that the prostate cancer was undetectable. The prostate surgeon urgently wanted me to start a hormone treatment before we left. They are very cautious when there is any indication of cancer may have spread outside of the prostate. A six-month dose would work while we were gone and a follow-up after we got back would determine what was next. So I agreed, got the shot and we left.
This was a pretty brutal treatment. I had no idea what to expect but found out quickly that it was like a very severe and intense menopause, often called manopause. Intense hot flashes, fatigue, muscle and joint pain, loss of strength, mood swings, loss of muscle mass and endurance and weight gain. It also really screwed up my diabetes care. My diabetes insulin use doubled. These drugs are in the same group that are used for chemical castration. They stop testosterone production and starve any remaining prostate cancer. There was no backing out once you get the six month dose and no means to ease the effects. It made for a pretty uncomfortable winter.
When we got back and we met with the prostate surgeon I told him I did not want to continue on with the drugs. He said OK and said I had to wait 4 months to get another PSA test to see how I was doing.
My primary care doc started me on Trulicity to help reestablish some diabetes management. This is another story.
And while doing all of this we decided to become dog parents. At this point, we just got on the list to pick from a litter not yet conceived. A Petite English Multi-Generation Goldendoodle. This will be another ongoing story. We are excited to have this prospect to look forward to. Sally and Jax’s puppies are expected to be 25 to 30 pounds as adults, right where we wanted.
While waiting we went to Michigan for a month, more on that later. It was a nice diversion
When we got back from Michigan my PSA test was again undetectable. Wonderful. The prostate Surgeon was unimpressed. He wanted me to start a 39-session radiation treatment. We were shocked. With no prostate cancer indicated, Why? We got no good answer from the prostate surgeon. I called and we got in to see my medical oncologist the next day and the radiation oncologist the day after. While I was uncomfortable with the prostate surgeon both of these oncologists took the time to help us understand why this was suggested and why it made sense to do it. The radiation oncologist made it pretty clear, this was the best path going forward to minimize the chances of prostate cancer reoccurrence and the best quality of life going forward. We agreed.
The next step was the initial session where they did CAT scans to locate the targets and apply tattoo alignment marks on either side of my pelvis and below the belly button. Rather than a mask which held you in a very fixed position for a tightly focused radiation beam, these treatments used the initial CAT scans and alignment tattoos to get you aligned so that the radiation where it needs to get. This happened the next day. My 39 day schedule was set up at the same time. This was on a Thursday, treatment started the following Monday morning. I met with the radiation oncologist every Thursday.
I had to be very careful to not get sick with Covid or anything else during this process. There is no pause in the treatment process, you just start over. And we had a puppy on the way and a departure date on the calendar.
Puppy Selection Day
In late October, about halfway through radiation treatment, puppy selection day came. Sally and Jax’s brood were six weeks old. We were #4 on the picking list and while we had looked at all of the 5 female puppies online and had a couple in mind, we had no idea who would pick which puppies in the choices ahead of us.
Our time came, we were on zoom with the breeder in Georgia. She told us that they had the first choice, #2 chose a male, and #3 chose a male. And then she surprised us by saying they were going to pass on their selection, they had enough females for breeding at that time. We had three choices. One was higher on the personality evaluation scale and the breeder suggested that she would be a bit harder to train and more independent. Pink Girl was very cute and right where we wanted on the personality scale. Blue Girl was also very attractive, same score on the personality scale, and weighed 1 pound less. The breeder said this would probably mean a 5-pound difference as an adult. We chose Pink Girl. We had already decided to name her Maggie Mae.
We had thought about driving to Georgia to pick up Maggie but we were in the last half of radiation treatment. The breeder connected us to a Flight Nanny who would pick up our puppy and deliver her to us at the Minneapolis/St Paul airport. The cost was about the same as it would have cost for a 6-700 mile side trip and several days in RV parks. So when Maggie was 8 weeks old she flew to Minnesota with Tosha, the flight nanny.
We stopped at Fort Snelling National Cemetery to introduce Maggie to John and Dorothy, my parents, and to give Maggie a chance to do what she might have needed to do. We are sure my folks would have liked Maggie as much as they did our last dog, Xenia.
It is hard for us to recall just how tiny Maggie was as we were finishing up radiation treatments and getting ready to depart right after Thanksgiving. She got her first Vet visit and the next set of vaccinations. All was good.
All the while radiation treatment were continuing I had been showing the staff at the clinic pictures of Maggie. She arrived about 10 days before my last treatment. We brought Maggie into the Clinic a couple days before my last treatment to meet the Staff. It was our first hint at just how popular she might be. They were all glad to meet her.
And finally the last radiation session, ringing the bell is a significant event at the end of this process. I was glad to do it and at the same time immensely grateful for the support and guidance I got from Susan and from my oncology team to make this treatment choice, to get it scheduled so that we could leave on time and to have the very good chance of no reoccurrence of this cancer and opportunity for a longer and healthier life. And at the same time to have chosen to add Maggie to our lives.
If your a guy and have not had a PSA test, check with your Doctor and get one done. It is a simple blood test. Then you will know how you are doing. Stay ahead of this, don’t ignore it, a sooner solution is usually going to be simpler.
Life’s Challenges, Additions, and Rewards. Life is not static. All of this was going on while the projects in the last post were going on and we had a really great trip to Michigan. An eventful last year and a half.
There seems to always be some projects to do on the coach, mostly driven by something we think that would make our life in the coach better or by some maintenance requirement.
Fluff and Buff
This summer I polished the entire coach. You never have any idea how big it is until you do this. We had the coach washed last December in Fredericksburg. The guy that did it said they could wax it too, I said OK. They used some spray on stuff that looked very good when they were done but within a few weeks it started interacting with what was already there and started looking blotchy. It was more noticeable in the white gel coat areas where it just started looking cloudy, off white, discolored. I tried cleaning it by hand with no success. So when we got home I got out my machine buffer, a micro-fine polish and set out on a mission. Of course it was in the hottest part of the summer and sunny. It was hard to see what I was doing in the sun and almost as hard to see on the shady side. I had a roll-around scaffold that made the job easier.
I got the whole coach done. It looked much better but there are still areas where more attention is needed. I’ll get to them sooner or later.
It is not very exciting but we got two new tires for the front of the coach. They had about 40,000 miles on them but reached the 6 year point when most sources suggest replacing them for safety reasons. So we did. The rear tires will get replaced next summer. I kept the take off tires, most dealers in Minnesota won’t give you any trade-in for them. My Texas friends say they get something. I brought them home, put an ad on Craig’s List the next morning and sold them for $100 each before 3 in the afternoon. Thanks Craig’s list. The buyer was a Ukrainian fellow from north of the Twin Cities who has semi-trailers in which he hauls sand and gravel. These are better than retreads for him. He asked me to call him next summer when I replace the rear tires. Good for us and for him. We stand with and support the Ukrainian people in their struggle for their country, their homes and families, and their very lives.
I also replaced the bathroom fan. The old three speed fan was original to the coach and was still working. The newer ones are variable speeds, reversible, and have built-in thermostats to control the fan. And they have a remote control. In the evening you can set the fan to a temperature you want, say 65 degrees, and the fan will start exhausting air. The further away from the temperature you set the faster it goes. The fan slows down as the exhaust air gets closer to the temperature you have set. This is a pretty effective way of cooling the coach, especially the bedroom, when the days are warm and the evening and overnights are cooler.
The fan was on sale, cheapest I had seen it, works great.
Our friends Hans and Marjet, from South Carolina, asked me to make a new cover for the cooktop in their coach. The existing one was a fold up metal one, they were thinking a wooden one would be nice. There was quite a bit of back and forth about dimensions and fit. I finally got busy on a new black walnut cover for them.
They report a perfect fit and they can use it as extra counter space when it sits on the top kitchen drawer when it is pulled out.
Our 21 year old house (we can’t hardly believe we have been here that long) was due for some maintenance and upgrades.
When we got home and started all of the normal systems back up we thought the water softener wasn’t really working as well as we thought it should. We called the guy who installed it when we built the house in 2000. He had retired and sold his business but he came over anyway. He was pretty surprised it was still working but not as well as it should. He suggested replacing it, the guy that bought his company could get it done in just a day or two. So we ordered a new water softener with fancy controls. The recharge cycles are based on how much water we actually use not just how many days go by. Much less salt and water use.
The installer showed up the next day and had the old softener out and a new one installed in just over an hour. He also installed an incoming water sediment trap, something we should have
done originally. So we are all set.
Susan asked if, as long as he was here, could he replace all of the filters under the kitchen sink so he did. And, Oh by the way, she asked, we have a new kitchen faucet, could you install that too? Sure, he had it done in a fraction of the time it would have taken me. The kitchen filters and faucet are now done and working fine.
Fresh Air Exchanger
If it isn’t one thing it is something else. The fresh air exchanger that removes air from the house and replaces it with fresh air from outside wouldn’t come on. If the outside air is colder than the inside air it is warmed up as it comes in. If the incoming air is warmer than inside it is cooled. If it is humid some of the moisture is removed.
One thing about living in a smaller town that we like is that we get to know who to call for help when we need it. We called Jeff, he came over to check it out. It wasn’t working, he said. When was the last time you cleaned the filters, he asked. It has filters? I replied. So obviously, in more than 20 years the twice a year cleaning had never been done. And he said it was installed incorrectly in any case. We could fix the old one but for not much more we could replace it with a new one, much more efficient, and all four of the controllers. So it got replaced.
Our job was to figure out how to get wires from a place on the wall in the library down to where the new air exchanger was. We couldn’t just go down through the floor. With in-floor heat there are tubes running through the concrete floor that might get damaged. There was an access hole made through the floor when we built the house but it was now behind the built-in book cases and desk in the library. We managed to snake wire up from down stairs where the internet, phone, and cable tv cables were, back up between the wall and the back of the book cases, across the top of the cabinets and desk, into the wall and down to where the air exchanger control was mounted. It only took most of a day.
The new air exchanger is installed (correctly) and fully functional.
A couple years ago we did a long term radon test over the winter while we were gone. The results were right on the border between OK and Do Something. We decided that it was time to do something. nothing was installed when we built the house, it was probably not required and no provisions were made for a later installation.
We found a qualified radon mitigation installer and he came out and took a look. These are pretty simple to install, a 4” hole gets cut through the concrete basement floor, a space under the floor is opened up, and a PVC pipe gets installed in the hole and out through the roof of the house. Any radon gases are sucked out from under the basement slab and exhausted outside with the help of an in-line fan.
Once again the heated floors presented a problem, where to put a big hole in the floor without hitting any of the tubing in the floor. The installer had a camera system that clearly showed where the warm lines in the floor were which is where the tubing was. It was pretty easy to mark where to make the hole safely. The radon mitigation system was installed, tested and is working properly. A followup radon test showed no more radon gasses. Perfect
Some projects take a long time to finish. The lower level of our house is finished, we did it ourselves. But not quite completed. The wood work on the interiors of the three closets was left to do. Each closet has 21 pieces of trim that has to be carefully cut, fitted and installed. And all of this woodwork (as is all of the woodwork in our house) is custom woodwork we made ourselves, carefully sanded and finished, and then installed. We also added a new door between the store room and the room where the water heater and HVAC equipment is located. And that door needed trim too, just 12 pieces. This part of the downstairs project is almost done now.
In the NE corner between the street and our driveway there are three old majestic oak trees. We have no idea how old they are but the fellow that trims our trees guessed 75 years or more. This entire area was at one time what is called an “Oak Savannah”, a prairie with oak trees spread across it. In the mid 1800s, the City of Nininger was located right where we are now. That city is long gone and the land became farm land and then pasture land. The oak trees returned and survived the farming and grazing. All of this ended in the 1960’s and a forest of smaller trees and undergrowth filled in.
We want to provide a healthier area for these three oak trees by removing any of the new growth trees that interfere with the oaks and all of the undergrowth that used water that could be used by the oaks and then plant an appropriate ground cover for an open woodland setting.
This meant clearing a few thousand square feet of the woods around the oaks, getting rid of all of the cuttings, leveling off the ground and preparing it for a new woodland grass seed mix. We don’t intend to mow this but want a stable grass that will promote a better and healthier area for the oak trees.
There is more to trim and clear, a never ending job in the woods.
As we get older steps get harder to navigate. We had three steps coming down from our deck to the walkway along side of the garage. Moving things on and off the deck was much easier 20 years ago than now. And while trimming some branches I tripped and did a face plant into the steps. The docs said I did not have a concussion but I got pretty black and blue and now have a new wrinkle (dent) in my forehead.
It was not pretty. Bouncing my head on the edge of a step was no fun.
We decided to remove the steps, replace them with a ramp, add a gate, and improve the walkway.
Another project done in the name of geezerdom.
Well that is enough. I apologize for the long stretches between posts, you might just guess that we were busy. But there is more, next time.
Where has time gone? Poof and months go by. A friend mentioned last week that he missed my blog posts and I figured I better get back to it.
We have been to Fredericksburg several times, it is starting to feel very comfortable being there. We have many friends who live there, we know about half of the good places to go eat (that is a never ending learning curve), we know where to get groceries, we know where Walmart is, we know where the hardware store is, almost like home. But there is always something new and new people.
We left a few extra weather days to move from the Phoenix area to Texas after cancelling out stop in Santa Fe which got us into Fredericksburg early so we stayed at the Lady Bird Johnson Municipal Park Campground in the Lady Bird Johnson Park. There is a golf course there, a big dog park, lots of places to walk and ride bikes, and it is next to the airport which provides endless entertainment.
Runway right in front of us. This particular day there was a grass fire not too far away, lots of white smoke for a while.
Jeff and Sandy and Hans and Marjet, all of whom were in Tucson when we were there stopped in for a while at the Fredericksburg RV Park. It was fun to see them again.
We had lunch with Jeff and Sandy at Alamo Springs Cafe. It started as a cool day but the sun came out and it was nice. Their dog, Greta came along hoping for a morsel.
Hans and Marjet and I went for a hike to the top of the Enchanted Rock, a giant granite boulder about 20 miles from Fredericksburg.
You start by coming down a long set of steps, cross over a dry stream area and then up the rock.
You just go up there aways.
It is a ways and then you get to the rock, no specific trail, just up. Easier to zig zag. Hans and Marjet were on their way.
At the top (about 400 ft higher than where we started) there are views in every direction. And then back down and at the end that long stairway back up to the parking area. We slept well that night.
We had a nice time visiting with Hans and Marjet and Jeff and Sandy again in Fredericksburg. And the dogs. And then they were on their way.
Our friends Mike and Jackie from Nacogdoches, TX, sold their home there and bought a home in Fredericksburg. And they moved all of their stuff and their Motorhome to Fredericksburg while we were there. The coach moved into the RV Park and they stayed there while things were moved into the house and had some work done on the house to get it just right. We visited the new house, perfect for them and much closer to their kids in Austin.
We managed to get to Emma and Ollie’s for breakfast again, went to Warner’s for lunch one day with several friends, visited the Airport Diner, and we went to Camp Verde about 40 miles south for a birthday lunch.
Mike surprised me with a gift certificate to a place in town to get a pedicure. I was skeptical. But it was fabulous.
I also started playing Texas Hold’em Poker one or two nights a week with a regular bunch from the park (as many as 14 would start). Curtis is sort of in charge, $10 buy in, the top three at the end get shares of the pot. I never won anything but had a good time, every time.
Susan and I got over to Lady Bird Johnson Park to ride our bikes a couple times a week. We rode 6-8 miles each time. It is pretty hilly so it is a good workout. Our new Terra Trikes are working quite well.
I added a phone mount on one of my handlebars so we get accurate route, distance, and time information and it lets me take videos while we ride.
Time to head for home, sort of.
We had another pleasant spring time in Fredericksburg. We left at the end of March and headed for Houston. We wanted to see Rudy and Caroline in their new, to them, 2001 Foretravel in their new place. And then we went to dinner at the Monument Inn, Rudy’s favorite. Keith and Jo joined us.
Their new coach used to be our friends, Scott and Carol’s. So now it is Rudy and Carolyn’s coach. They have more room to spread out and relax. Rudy is an AquaHot heating system specialist and he finally has a coach with one in it.
Always nice to see Keith and Jo.
Then we headed to Nacogdoches to get our fuel lines replaced. At 22 years old there are a series of preventative and normal maintenance items related to age, just like all of us. This is the last of these that we need to have done.
Motorhomes of Texas did the work, they suggested we stay overnight in a local motel since it usually takes more than one day. So we made reservations. Scott and Carol drove up from Houston and stayed overnight in the same motel.
That night we went to Auntie Pasta’s for dinner and some time together. Dinner there is always good. In the morning we went to Dolli’s Diner for breakfast. Dolli’s is on the main square downtown and is a favorite spot for many.
Good food, good friends. Our coach was done so we were leaving the next morning. We said goodbye to Scott and Carol. One last stop, an afternoon visit with Chappell and Mary Elizabeth Jordan.
We had a nice visit, they are very kind and gracious and a pleasure to visit.
And so, finally, we left for home in the morning. It was an uneventful drive home, three days and we were there. Then the move from one home to the other, a dozen or more doctor, dentist, eye doc, lab, and more appointments saved up until we got home. And coach projects, home projects, easing back into Habitat for Humanity work. A full schedule and a busy summer ahead.
We tried to get more time at McDowell Mountain but it just wasn’t going to work. We heard about a new tool that checks for openings in reservation systems and it works well. It is called Wandering Labs. https://wanderinglabs.com/ Check it out.
We planned to leave McDowell Mountain and drive north to I40 at Flagstaff and drive east to Albuquerque then north to Santa Fe. We had reservations at the Trailer Ranch in Santa Fe. https://www.trailerranch.com/ They weren’t actually open, but they said they had a spot for us, just call when we arrived. We have stayed there before. It has been there since the 1950’s as I recall, back when most RVers had trailers. I am sure it was way out of town then but today is in the middle of town and right at a bus stop. Walkout, get on the bus and watch Santa Fe go by. Soon you are at the Rail Yard and train depot or just a bit further to the downtown bus stop. It is a block to the Plaza or just steps away to a different bus line going anywhere, the Museum Hill for example. It is a pleasant and safe ride. No parking issues in the Plaza area.
Best laid plans, you know. We watch the weather closely and after a colder than normal winter in Arizona, the weather for 10 days was showing significant storms along I40 eastbound, even up to Flagstaff at almost 7,000 ft and all the way to Albuquerque. The weather in Santa Fe looked OK, around freezing at night, 50ish during the day. But getting there looked more challenging than we were expecting.
We called to see if we could get in a week early at Fredericksburg RV Park and were surprised that we could. So we made that reservation and canceled the Santa Fe reservation. We were disappointed. Santa Fe is one of our favorite stops, always a pleasure to be there. The people, the weather, the food, everything, are all nice. We try to get there every couple of years, we are over due. We have been regular visitors since 1980.
We went the safe way back to Texas. South from McDowell Mountain back towards Tucson and then east through Texas Canyon heading for Deming. We stayed in Deming for two nights thinking we could visit one of our favorite local history museums, The Deming Luna Mimbres Museum. https://demingnmtrue.com/deming-luna-mimbres-museum/
This is a museum we have been to several times. It is big and complex. A wide range of historical events, people, ancient indigenous cultures and much more. This is a museum worth a day or more. Unfortunately, the days we chose to stop were days the museum was closed.
So we relaxed, read, cleaned a bit, and went to Si Senór for lunch. It was Sunday and the after-church diners were just finishing up. We enjoyed the families, mostly multi-generation, all dressed up in dresses and sports coats with clean, pressed jeans, and cowboy boots. There was a lot of family pride that day, just another Sunday. It was almost as good as an afternoon at the museum.
One of the interesting things we learned was that many of the young men from Deming and Luna County were soldiers in the 200th and 515 Coast Artillery Regiments. This was like a National Guard unit before World War II. They were activated in 1939 and sent to the Philippines. When the war started Japan soon invaded the Philippines and thousands of American service people and tens of thousands of Philippine people were captured and forced to march to a prisoner of war camp. It was the Bataan Death March. More than half of all prisoners died on the March. Demming and Luna County had a total of 39 men that died during the Bataan March and 53 men that were fortunate enough to be liberated. It was a huge blow to the community to lose so many of their young men. https://bataanmarch.com/about-bataan/
And just last week we heard a story on local TV about the 64 men in the 194th Tank Battalion who left Brainerd with Company A in 1940 also bound for the Philippines. Like the men from Deming, about half died in the Bataan Death March, while the other half returned home to Minnesota. All except one who remains missing to this day. And for that family, there is an on-going search for remains in many of the unmarked graves along the trail of the Death March.
We discover new and meaningful things everywhere we go, and even at home. Stories of people, places and communities. Important to them and us as well.
Next an overnight in Fort Stockton and then on to Fredericksburg.