On to Savannah and Charleston April 28 – May 4

A few last thoughts about Tennessee

I  LOVED Tennessee.  Many of the front yards are as big as a football field…..well maybe only 50 yards deep.  If you live here you need a sit down lawn mower for sure.  The other thing we noticed was that the yards are not fenced.  The back yards don’t seem to be developed for outdoor entertaining.  A screened in porch or sun room was more common.  The freeways around Nashville are old and complex partly due to the Cumberland River.  Tennessee does have a state income tax but it is only on dividend and interest, not earned income…..attractive if anyone is thinking of relocating.  Sales tax 9-91/2% depending on the city. 

“Come as guests & leave as friends”  That was the slogan at “my most favorite” RV park.  We do feel like we are leaving friends.


Onward to Savannah  April 28-May 4, 2016

Today we are on the road and stayed the night at a KOA out side Atlanta.  We have been so busy that in 5 weeks we have not set out our chairs  and just “chilled”.  We thought tonight might be that night since Doug had already made friends with our camping neighbors…….not to be.  The bugs were soooo annoying (they were after my wine!) that we opted to eat inside.

Doug is working on his maps, trying to avoid going through Atlanta.  According to the camp host, Friday’s traffic is gridlock all day long.  Apparently the city moved the Braves stadium and the road reconstruction is horrendous…..bumper to bumper 20 miles in and 30 miles out. 

The next day as we got on the freeway, there was an accident that would have added 12 miles to our “bumper to bumper” traffic.  Doug did a detour.  That sounds easy, but No No No.  Unless you stay on a  truck route, you can be faced with tree limbs and low over passes, and itty bitty streets…..remember, we cannot back up.  He actually managed very well despite not having a detailed map of the area.  He did such a good job of getting around Atlanta that I can honestly say I never saw the city.  It is sort of like having a lay over on a flight….you have been to the city, but not really “in it”.

We made it to Savannah…….After being on the go for 5 weeks…I need a lot of maintenance. (Doug here – Bonny is remarkably low maintenance!)

Saturday April 30, 2016

After spending the day on all those things that are necessary, wasting a perfectly good vacation day……we thought we would head into Savanna Saturday evening around 6:30……mistake.   We could not find a parking place anywhere, not even the public parking structure…FULL.  An empty stomach makes for less tolerance of this inconvenience.  With a bad taste in our mouth for Savanah, we went to Kroger’s about 9:30 to buy something for dinner.  We ended up staying up to 1:30 am watching Forrest Gump…remember the opening scene with Forrest sitting on the bus stop bench with a box of chocolates?  Can you guess what city that took place?  That movie was so well crafted and Tom Hank’s is remarkable.

Sunday May 1, 2016

Twelve years ago today Doug and I were on the streets of Paris, watched a May Day Parade, and we walked to Montmartre….I can’t remember what I had for breakfast today, but I remember this, my first and only trip to Europe.

I could not face going back into Savannah, so we headed to where the Savannah-ites go to the beach…Tybee Island.  It is about 15 miles out of town.  It is an island surrounded by marshes, the Savannah River and the Atlantic Ocean.  I have now completed the intent of this trip….I have crossed this country via the highways and byways and walked in the Atlantic Ocean. 

Bonny standing in the Atlantic Ocean!
Bonny standing in the Atlantic Ocean!

I was surprised at how warm it is.  The waves come in in such a way as to not support surfing.  This is a beach town about 2 1/2 by 2 1/2 miles.  I read some place that a nuclear bomb was accidentally dropped on the island… it obviously didn’t go off, but has never been recovered.  Perhaps I should check that one with Snopes.

Apparently the population of the island has dramatically increased since the BP oil spill in the Gulf.  I hate to repeat this but…..it was very difficult to find parking and EVERYTHING was metered.  We did get in a bike ride.  We couldn’t tell if this was the beginning or the end of the season…….beginning, according to a local.

Tybe Island

Monday May 2, 2016

I fell like I am eating my way through Savannah.  We ventured back into the city this morning.  Our destination was Mrs. Wilkes’ Boarding House and Restaurant.  It is located on Jones Street which is considered one of the most beautiful streets in the South by Southern Living Magazine…red brick sidewalks in a houndstooth pattern, huge trees, and cute row houses.  We arrived before 10am and were not the first in line for an 11 AM first seating!  This place is loved by tourists and locals alike.  Lunch is served family style and the food is pure “comfort”.  There were at least 15 different dishes on the table…fried chicken, BBQ pork, beef stew, sweet potato casserole, mashed potatoes, red rice, cornbread stuffing, green beans, collard greens, squash, more squash, black eyed peas, lima beans, sweet tea, banana pudding and peach cobbler.  I know I have missed something.


Here is the10 AM lineup for Mrs. Wilkes’ 11AM opening!

We met Diane and Dennis while we were standing in line and spent much of the morning with them.  She is an avid traveler and became our tour guide.  We visited the Jewish synagogue and St. Johns Catholic Cathedral. Interestingly, the synagogue is actually built on a floor plan similar to all european catholic churches. It is the only one in the US so built. It also may have one of the ten oldest Torahs known in the world -a  long story. The Synagogue  was beautiful and it had have a wonderful museum documenting the often challenging history of the Savanah Jewish community which started here in 1733. The synagogue was a real historical surprise to us. Thanks, Diane, for finding this important piece of history. St. Johns is also perhaps the most beautiful Catholic church Doug and I have ever visited. These two historical wonders are about one block apart.

Diane and Dennis - our new tour guides and friends
Diane and Dennis – our new tour guides and friends

Did you know that the Girl Scouts were started in Savannah?  I still have may sash and badges.

Savannah is a beautifully planned city approximately a mile square packed with tons of history.  We will have only scratched the surface by the time we leave on Wednesday.  Imagine, no front yards, row house like construction that faces on a park.  There are over 24 of these park squares in this area…..what a gathering place for the neighborhood! Late in the afternoon we ended up in Forsyth Park, the largest park in the city.  Sitting by the fountain we were at the “dog meeting” place of  the neighborhood. We made many new friends among the “doggie gang”. We also got a great dinner recommendation.  What a great bunch. Tomorrow they are bringing drinks.

The Savannah "Doggie Gang" - including the photographer!
The Savannah “Doggie Gang” – including the photographer!

They directed us to the Old Pink House Tavern…..we had heard about this place and told we would have trouble getting reservations on such short notice. The “doggie gang”  told us no reservations were needed in the basement Tavern.  I loved it.  Low wood ceilings, fireplaces at both ends, used brick walls, and candlelight.  Well, after our enormous lunch, we did need to eat yet again…right?  We shared a fried green tomato & bacon salad called a BLT and fried cheese grits & shrimp coved with ham hock gravy.  It think it is the best thing I have ever tasted….we are coming back tomorrow to the upstairs dinning…..luck wold have it that there was an early reservation.  Thanks, “Doggie Gang”.

The Red Gate RV park is quite beautiful and was originally a farm that has been divided between five family members.  Portions of the RV park are located in the field…great if you desire satellite reception or nestled under giant oaks with Spanish Moss trailing over your site.  There is also a lake, fields for horses, and a chicken coop.  We have been awaken each morning to the crow of a rooster- over and over and over.  We did get some fresh eggs…still warm from the womb.

Doug takes care of this coach the way a guy takes care of his first car.  This is hard to believe for those of you that know him….at home he can’t even close a drawer.  I have even caught him polishing the woodwork. 

My morning ritual is a cup of coffee in complete silence.  I made the mistake of sitting on the bed with the window open……well I woke up fast when Doug squirted me with he hose.  He was out in the wee hours of the morning washing the rig.  He claims he didn’t realize the window was open….do you think he resents me for not doing a lick of housework in 5 weeks?…..where is Dr. Phil when you need him?

Tuesday May 3, 2016

Today we rode our bikes to the “back of the property” and were treated to the most beautiful venue.  An enormous 3 story house with wrap around porches, woods, ponds and fresh flowers on every post…one of the farm owners lives on the top floor…we could have toured the house but it was by appointment only.  We had seen cars come and go over the weekend, but could not figure out where they were going and where they had come from.  It is amazing the treats you will find just around the bend or down the road.

We thought we would take it easy today, go into Savannah and aimlessly take the “on off” trolley around until our 515 pm reservations at the Old Pink House.

First off, Doug got to talking to our neighbors…..surprise.  They were driving their brand new 33 foot Bounder, fresh from the factory, to Pennsylvania.  Get this, the wife was the driver.  I am ashamed to admit that I am somewhat skittish about even turning on the ignition or activating the jacks on our coach. I know, I know, but the thought of driving this scares me to death.  Since they didn’t have a tow car and really no supplies, she was going to drive it to Whole Foods.  She was either very sure of herself or crazy or both.  We suggested she take our Jeep…..she returned quite grateful.  I wish I had her moxie.

Down on the waterfront, it started to rain so we ducked into a gift shop.  The folks in the south pride themselves on being friendly, sometimes that can be a very time consuming quality when I am with Doug.  An hour later we were late for our dinner reservation, but the owner and Doug  had discussed everything from AIDS to ghosts.  The question she posed to Doug was “what did you think Jenny  died of in Forrest Gump”?  This of course led to a very detailed discussion of how aids is transmitted (she was a biology major).  Do you realize that our children have not lived in a world without aids?  The rest of the time was spent on the fact that they were soon going to have a paranormal investigation done at their shop.  It seems that several customers at many different times have said they see a woman sitting on a settee up in a room at the store.  Their description of her is always the same.  They said things have fallen off the walls and that items get moved all over the store.  The other occurrences happen in the flat upstairs which was going through renovation for a new tenant.  The contractors claim that power tools will turn on with no one close by or pieces of wood are flung across the room with no one standing where the wood comes from.  This project was originally to take 8 months, 3 years later the owners cannot get the subcontractors to come back. They say the place is haunted.  I don’t believe in this sort of thing, but have to admit I am intrigued.   We will check into their web site in a few weeks and see what the investigation found.  Stand by.

Our dinner at The Old  Pink House was fabulous.  The place is reminiscent of the 5 Crowns in Corona del Mar where Doug & I were married.  I would simply like to try everything on their menu.  I think my gall bladder has started exercising it rights, but I am not listening.

We planned an early evening by the pond at the RV park watching the sunset.  Instead we were treated to a thunder and lightening storm.  It actually got  quite fierce.  Sitting in a swing under a metal roof was not wise.  The rest of the storm was enjoyed from the first seat of our coach….not as wet either.

Doug and I have been in a “news” void most of the time.  We just heard that Ted Cruz suspended his campaign after a loss in Indiana.  Just a thought…what if Hilary picked Bernie as a running mate?  A year from now, we will reread this blog and know how the presidential election of 2016 turns out. 

The history in Savannah is endless.  One of the sites we didn’t see was the First African Baptist Church….one of the sites of the underground railroad during the Civil War.  Doug says I am sometimes a little literal “like Forrest Gump”.  I actually thought that there were underground tunnels with tiny little tracks like in a coal mine! (Sorry, Bonny)

Georgia is famous for it’s fried chicken and waffles.  I don’t think I could face that in the morning.  Fried chicken…….why have I limited myself to only once a year with Colonel Sanders.

Wednesday May 4, 2016   Onto Charleston, SC

South Carolina is shrimp & grits……..my new favorite food and I get to keep eating it in Charleston.  We arrived in time to meet up with my good friend and former nursing colleague, Maryann Sandie and her husband, Scott.  They left for Tennessee (he was a coach and principal at Valley Christain in Cerritos, California) as soon as their youngest son graduated from high school.  This was particularly memorable because Scott is a true surfer.  No surf in Tennessee.  They and all their adult children made the move.  Scott became the superintendent of a small Christian school district near Knoxville.  I loved this…he said all of the seniors at his high school had to take Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace course as seniors.  I can’t think of a better introduction to adulthood.

Lunch with Mary Ann and Scott Sandie in Charleston harbor. A nursing reunion!

Thursday May 5, 2016  Happy Birthday Mike Catalano

I am so happy to wake up to sunny skies and no humidity.   I hate cloudy gloomy overcast days except when it ends with a good rain.  I am afraid I would be a statistic if I lived in Washington State.

This beautiful day started with the absolute best walking tour of Historical Charleston led by a wiry attorney turned tour guide whose family has lived here for several generations. We learned so many fascinating facts.  This is the second most frequent city for destination weddings, second only to Las Vegas.  40% of the incoming slaves were sold in this port. This is generally a geographically segregated city, by choice.  The race relations here are very cohesive as demonstrated by the city’s reaction to the horrible shooting at the AME Church here in  2015.  This city, led by the people of the church, showed forgiveness and would not allow the media (and “Reverend” Al) to make it into a circus of racial discord. SOB now has a new meaning…South of Broad (street).  It a designation of the the wealthy area of the city….those charming antebellum homes that range in price from 2-7 million dollars.  The Historical Preservation Society will not allow any alteration to the exterior of a home in the district…not even the removal of a tree.  Nothing can be torn down unless it is less than 75 years old. They still have debutantes presented here and kids still go to cotillion  dance classes.  The homes have very little street frontage with the front door on the side with piazza (porches) on the 2nd floor.  This allows for the breeze from the water to cool the homes(before a/c).This is called the “holy city” because of the enormous number of churches and there was a tavern for every 15 resident at one time.  You look at the skyline of this city and you don’t see high rises only church steeples. At one time all religions were welcomed to practice their faith here…..except Catholics. How is that for a multitude of unrelated facts.   I could go on.

That evening we decided to “entertain” for the first time since we have been on the road…..I used our best Melmac dishes  and set a fine table and even used a tablecloth.  We learned quickly that a plastic table cloth plus candles plus wind make a dangerous combination.  As we were sipping wine and having a lively conversation something bright caught my eye…….our table was on fire!

Running inside to retrieve our industrial size fire extinguisher, I realized it was overkill. I had forgotten about the small extinguisher by the front door.  Doug was calling for ice……what do you need ice for?….is that a new way to put out a fire?  Seems he managed to contain and extinguish the fire with his bare hands…..the ice was for a painful burn to his ring finger.  He is not stupid, as this would indicate, but the melted plastic stuck to his finger… a second degree burn is healing far faster and better than we expected.  Our first aid kit contains a multitude of items, but nothing for a burn except aspirin…….if he had cut off his finger, we had enough supplies to suture it back on.

(Doug here. The finger is now just fine. I was moving the plastic table cloth to the ground off the table to then stomp the flames when a portion of the molten plastic stuck on my finger)

Fort Campbell, Clarksville and Nashville Tennessee

Clarksville, Tennessee

Back to reality…we heard the Stock Market hit 18,000 today.

I really need a hair cut…this has been troubling me on the road.  I have had only 2 people cut my hair in the last 38 years! How is that for stuck?…or maybe obsessive should be the word?  I want something a little “spiky” (not nose ring, tattoo spiky, but sort of perky, 70, spiky)  I did it…not nearly as painful as I had anticipated,  but her instrument of choice was a razor.   Does this mean I am on the cutting edge? Ha, Ha!

A Blackhawk Medivac Helicopter in Bob Johnson's hanger at Fort Campbell
A Blackhawk Medivac Helicopter in Bob Johnson’s hanger at Fort Campbell

Today began three days of fun, fun, fun, with Doug’s former Army buddy, Bob Johnson and his lovely wife Julie.

Doug spent two of the best years of his professional life as a surgeon with the 101st Airborne Division (Screaming Eagles) based in Fort Campbell, Ky. 

B0002719The staffing called for six surgeons to be assigned to cover general, vascular, and thoracic surgery but there were only three. Doug was counted as a general AND a thoracic surgeon – sort of a two for one arrangement. These three Army surgeons were very busy and very much appreciated by the Division. Doug will often talk of the outstanding people he met in this all-volunteer, active, Air Assault division. Bob Johnson is certainly one of these outstanding individuals.

In the den with Bob. Military awards and mementoes cover the walls.
In the den with Bob. Military awards and mementoes cover the walls.

Bob is an Army Aviator – a special type of person. Doug and Bob were both Majors at the time and they both loved to fly. Doug had a little over 1000 hrs of fixed wing flying experience but NO time in helicopters. Bob and Doug became close friends and were even known to fly Army helicopters together on weekends with Bob letting him take the controls when appropriate. Bob was an experienced aviation officer, a pilot and commanding officer of Army aviation units. Bob even came to the OR one night to help Doug operate on a soldier needing emergent surgery. It turns out Bob had thought about going to medical school at one time and his interest remained even that evening. Bob and Doug have stayed in contact for over 35 years – mostly through phone calls. There have been three visits and now number four was this trip.

Bob’s aviation career was long and distinguished. He led the initial Special OPs aviation elements into the Grenada invasion in October 1983 to rescue the British Governor-General held under house arrest by the rebel forces. Cuban “construction details” were building a very long runway for questionable purposes. Bob and his crew completed their mission but Bob was badly wounded by Cuban gunfire. He flew his helicopter to a Navy carrier for medical care and surgery. Bob later returned to flight status and was a lead aviator into Iraq during Desert Storm. More recently, Bob was featured on the Smithsonian channel when they presented the Blackhawk capability in combat operations. Bob has written a book about his Special OPS helicopter unit, the Night Stalkers,  entitled Night Stalkers – surprise! Actually the full title is The Night Stalkers: Top Secret Missions of the U.S. Army’s Special Operations Aviation Regiment. The first review on Amazon is written by none other than …Doug! Go check it out! Its a very good read for military aviation buffs. Bob’s coauthor for this book was the pilot that survived the incident documented in the movie “Blackhawk Down”.  

Bob is now retired from the Army and lives with his lovely wife, Julie, in Clarksville. He works at the base as a civilian managing a team that rebuilds and refurbishes the very aircraft he flew for so long – the Blackhawk. He says the desert exposure all our aircraft have had over the last 13 years has been very challenging for these complex helicopters.

Chef Bob dueling with his famous pizza oven. He won this time!
Chef Bob dueling with his famous pizza oven. He won this time!
Bob and Julie with us after another famous Bob Johnson Pizza Dinner
Bob and Julie with us after another famous Bob Johnson Pizza Dinner

Julie Johnson is a fireball on legs.  Bob said it was love at first sight…..she was this cute blond in her flight suit.  She also was a Army pilot and found she didn’t like flying (she gets car sick) so it was suggested she become an Aviation Maintenance officer.  However, because of a personnel shortage in the 101st division, she ended up doing a lot of test flying of helicopters.  After she got out of the Army, she got her masters and then her PhD in computer science. She now teaches at Vanderbilt University in Nashville.  She is also considering running the Boston Marathon-AGAIN (Second time!).  Not being a runner myself, she gave me a much better appreciation of the training, qualifying, and recovery from participating in a 26 mile run.  She said, because she is “old”, it would be an approximate 2 year process. I could be her mother! 

Sunday April 24th

Clarksville is a town of 134,000 that borders Fort Campbell Military Base on the Tennessee side.  It has 200 churches. We attended Bob and Julie’s church, Grace Community Church.  If I lived here, my church seeking would stop here.  It is currently held at the high school while their own sanctuary is being built.  It can only be described as “young & lively”.  Doug and I were sure that we would qualify for “most senior” attendees.   While our host, Bob, felt the music was too ruckus……we loved it….guitars and drums…..soulful and singable and a little country.  The pastor looked to be about Sean’s age and his message came from the Sermon on the Mount and really hit a cord with the two of us. Communion was served.  I have never seen “prepackaged” wafer and wine.  We both had a hard time opening it and was distracting.   I can understand the expediency necessary in serving Communion to a large crowd, but this struck me as weird….fast food bread & wine…..WWJD?

Bob is a wonderful cook and we enjoyed 4 meals with them…..from Creole BBQ, grilled pineapple marinated in rum, brown sugar & cinnamon, banana & walnut pancakes to home made pizza.  Dinner one night was in Nashville at a college hang out.  You know, one of my favorites….a hole in the wall with plastic utensils.  It was a Mexican restaurant, run entirely by blacks, and not a  word of Spanish spoken…smile.

Leaving Clarksville for Nashville – People we meet on the road of life (Doug reporting here)

Natchez Trace Clarksville-4250664

In his wonderful book, Travels With Charley, John Steinbeck noted that the real adventure of his travels was meeting new people on the road of life. We agree!  We have met some of our most memorable new friends at diesel pumps and gas stations. When I pull in I may be pumping 80 to 100 gallons – so I have some time. Men pumping diesel are usually traveling or working, and usually friendly. I now have decided that no one should be allowed to run for president of the USA unless they have driven across this country from shore to shore and has pumped their own gas or diesel. Its educational and enlightening.

The young man above is a heavy construction worker, cowboy, entrepreneur, and owns a bison heard! He and his veterinarian wife founded their own local business, parlayed that success into a bison ranch in Kentucky, and now have a home in South Africa! He also told us of a 2 billion dollar solar panel production facility he helped build in Clarksville with 2009 stimulus money. The money came  from the Federal, state and local governments – i.e the taxpayers.  That plant never opened for production! Where have we heard this before?  The plant never produced a single job after it was built! Ouch! We exchanged emails and now we have yet another new interesting friend on our road of life.

Today….  Off to Nashville for 3 nights

Glenn and Doug getting acquainted on our arrival
Glenn and Doug getting acquainted on our arrival
Natchez Trace Clarksville-4250672
The Front Porch Crowd solving the world’s problems in the afternoon. Southern life is GREAT!

Staying at The Grand Ole RV park just outside Nashville in Goodlettsville. It is my favorite so far.  First off we were greeted by a guy right out of Duck Dynasty, Glenn. I have never had a park host come out and disconnect our tow…that is my job (well I am learning).  I am not sure if this is custom or the fact that there were about 5 rigs showing up at the same time.  They also have a cafe in the “lodge” with a cook that is outback smoking ribs all day.  We decided at the last minute to go to an Elvis concert.  The cook put together a dinner of smoked beef ribs.  I told him to give us his favorite sides.  mac & cheese & sweet potato casserole….I am seeing a pattern here.  Glenn found a nest with a bunch of newborn bunnies that have been abandoned by the mommy.  He is so sweet…calling a vet to find formula to feed them.

Elvis and Bonny - Great Show
Elvis and Bonny – Great Show

Got to see the King – a wonderful performance actually.

The Cowboy Church-Theatre where Elvis plays twice a week
The Cowboy Church-Theatre where Elvis plays twice a week

April 26, 2016  Nashville

Fontanel Mansion……home of Barbra Mandrel

Fontanele in Nashville
Fontanele in Nashville

This was a fun tour that was recommended to us of the grounds and home built by Barbra Mandrel. This is the only star home tour in Nashville.   It was like a walk down memory lane of country singers.  It was built in 1988 and home to her family for 14 years.

Bonny in Barbara's Bed. The box of crackers is there to commemorate her famous line "You can eat crackers in my bed anytime, baby ".
Bonny in Barbara’s Bed. The box of crackers is there to commemorate her famous line “You can eat crackers in my bed anytime, baby “.

You would think that after all these years, Doug and I would run out of things to talk about.  We purchased our tickets then went for lunch…we had an hour.   We were so busy talking that we realized we were a few minutes late.  The bus had left…to our surprise the CEO of the property was in the office and drove us up in his golf cart (named Reba) to join the rest of the tour group.  That is Southern hospitality for you. Thanks CEO Bob Eckman of Fontanele in Nashville. Visit this interesting and informative place.

Grand Ole Opry

Great show…If I was a Country Music fan I would have known more of the songs.  Amazing that the 4,000+ seat venue was packed on a Tuesday night.

The Gatlin Brothers at the Grand Ole Opry
The Gatlin Brothers at the Grand Ole Opry

April 27, 2016

Doug humored me and took me to Franklin today for a little shopping.  This is a very cute upscale town about 45 minutes from Nashville.  There was a lot more to see but I was pretty focused on seeing what the boutiques in Tennessee had to offer.  There was one display in a small dress shop that surprised and delighted me.  It was a praying wall.  You could write a prayer request and hang it on the spikes on the wall.

Prayer Request Wall - Franklin Tennessee
Prayer Request Wall – Franklin Tennessee

I was looking forward to dinner at our RV Park and live music on the patio and a bonfire…not to be.  A storm came up and moved everything inside to the RV store.  I do have to say that a backdrop of plungers, antifreeze, and toilet paper diminished the ambiance I had in mind…but the music was great with just a guitar and drums.  The drummer was a gal I had seen around the park and the cook came out with a variety of pots and pans and she played a fabulous solo.   I do have to say, I am sorry to leave tomorrow.  “Come as a guest and leave as friends” is their slogan…….true true true.

The Camp Store Band!
The Camp Store Band!

New Orleans to Natchez, MS and Onto the Trace

The Mississippi River bridge at Natchez
Our campground is just beyond the bridge over Doug’s left shoulder. Beautiful evening in Natchez!


Doug has just informed me that we have already traveled 3,056 miles.  Our day ended on the banks of the Mississippi River near the town of Natchez and the beginning of the Natchez Trace.

You must understand that the “Trace” is a pathway (now a road) that connects Nashville, TN with Natchez, MS. Initially the trace was a south to north migratory route for the “Kaintucks” (the Kentuckians). These men built large flat bottomed boats to float Ohio River Valley goods down to New Orleans. When they arrived they sold everything including the boat for lumber!  They then walked, yes walked, home using a well established trail – the Natchez Trace! There were no boats that could move upstream against the Mississippi River current. (more information to follow) By 1820 the steamboat ended the need for the upstream, south to north walk to Nashville. However there soon began a reverse north to south migration which remains a dark part of America’s history – the slave walk.

In the early 1800’s one half of all the millionaires in the U.S. lived in one town, Natchez! Their fortunes came primarily from the expanding cotton industry and, sadly, the slave trade.  By 1820 the importation of slaves into the U.S. was illegal. However, the declining tobacco farms in the North provided valuable slaves for the ever growing southern cotton fields. Selling slaves  remained legal in the southern states.  A Virginia or Maryland slave was worth 50% more if transported to Mississippi. This financial incentive generated the new north to south slave trail. The civil war ended  this slave trade – thankfully! There is more to this trail and road but the fact that it ends in Natchez explains the city.

Natchez, once one of the wealthiest towns on the Mississippi, survives mostly on tourists visiting the many antebellum mansions.  Don’t think I am smart using big words like “antebellum”.  I had never heard the word before today.  It simply means pre Civil War.  These are homes that survived the civil war and are original buildings built before the Civil War.

The openness of this RV Park on the river is Natchez is a stark contrast to The French Quarter.  Natchez has shut down by 9 pm while New Orleans is a 24 hour city.  The closest RV is at least 60 feet away not 12 feet away as in the French Quarter.  A bike ride on the banks of the Mississippi river completed our day.  Dinner was at a darling cafe called the Cotton Alley Cafe.  Seems they can fry anything here…..even our dinner rolls were fried!  So far I have not encountered a vegetable that isn’t fried…

Today my church is sitting in a swing on the side of the Mississippi River.  I am grateful for the privilege  of being able to see this fine country and learn more of how it came to be.  It seems that the majority of people in the world simply want to earn an honest living, love their God and their families.  Why do things get so complicated?  As my grandma La Bertew used to say “What is this world coming to?”. Something else comes to mind….Dinesh DeSousa mentioned in one of his documentaries that, throughout the world, many millions of people are born into this world and NEVER venture more than a mile from their birthplace….imagine. I am glad we have this opportunity to see our wonderful country – from sea to shinning sea.

It is Sunday and I am expecting to see some pleasure craft on the river, but no….it seems this part of the waterway is “all work and no play”.  This is the 4th largest river in the world as determined by its length and volume.  It is muddy brown.

We will be dry camping (no hookups) for the next few days, so we need to get some clean clothes and food.  Walmart….. I can find my way around the food section of the store, but I doubt I will ever be able to navigate the rest of the place.  It is the most bizarre store I have ever shopped.  Is it my logic or their’s?  At any rate, their parking lots are usually easy to navigate and we have been known to spend an occasional night there.  I did find that along the I-5 coming back from Washington last year, that several of the Walmarts did not allow “overnighting” … it seems some people spent there entire time  “vacationing” in the parking lots….yuck.

Another Adventure begins…..The Natchez Trace 4/18-22/2016

The Original Natchez Trace
The Original Natchez Trace
Navigator's view of the modern Trace
Navigator’s view of the modern Trace

The trace stretches 444 miles from Natchez Mississippi, through the north west tip of Alabama, to Nashville, Tennessee.  It originated in prehistoric times when giant bison carved the original path.  Then came hunters, numerous indian tribes, the Spanish conquistadors followed by trappers.  As stated earlier, the “Kaintuck” boatmen would float their goods down the Mississippi then sell everything, including their boats for lumber in New Orleans. They would then tramp home on the Trace.  With the development of the steamboat in 1820, the Natchez Trace was suddenly quiet  Time marched on and the Civil War was fought.  Some of the notables that lived in the area were Elvis Presley and Helen Keller.

This is the longest National Park in the US.  It only averages about 800 feet wide.  The renovation and preservation of the highway started in 1938 and not completed until around 1996.  It is simply a two lane highway in the most beautiful country you can imagine.  There are no billboards and cell service is weak to absent.  No trucks or commercial vehicles are allowed and the speed limit does not exceed 50 miles per hour.  There are a multitude of places to stop and explore. We found that 5 days on the Trace was not nearly enough time.  Doug always says “ We will come back”.  I know we never will. (Doug here – yes we will!)

 A segment of well used "sunken trace" worn down by heavy use
A segment of well used “sunken trace” worn down by heavy use

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When the rebuilding of this “road” was conceived and started in 1938, RVs, big RVs, were not even a spark in someones conscience.  This is reflected in the road’s construction.  There are numerous turnouts for picnics or historical markers. We never knew if we were turning into a pullout from which we could not easily exit!  Doug is a master at driving this huge hunk of machinery.  He can manipulate this thing within an inch of a tree now….did I mention that he did once back into our Jeep (our brand new Jeep) a few years ago…our maiden voyage to Bend, OR?  He has become a true master since then.  Fortunately we only had one incident in the 444 miles where we had to unhook our Jeep just to back up. This does make for some anxiety.

1st Day out…..we only made it to mile marker 55.

Our first stop was Mount Locust, only 15 miles into our journey.  It is the only place on this entire road that we saw a Park Ranger, and these were volunteer docents.  The structure was a residence of a married couple that homesteaded the property in the early 1800s. They were required to build a structure 16×20 feet to honor that agreement with the Spaniards.  They found that men  would stop for shelter and food.  They added a few rooms and started a business….perhaps the precursor to today’s B&Bs.  These were called “stays”.  This was  the only “antebellum” stay left standing on the Trace.  The docents were a married couple that had been “full timing” for many years.  She said when they first started that they didn’t see their children for 5 years.  They encouraged us to “just let your imagination run wild and imagine what life was like back then”………and we did.

Mt Locust Stay
Mt Locust Stay

We spent the night at Rocky Springs Camp Ground.  First come, first served. 18 sites and only 1/2 full.  No services  No cell signal  No reservations  No Fee, only a beautiful forrest with a fire pit and a picnic table and pull throughs. NO KIDDING.  With “nothing to do” Doug and I watched the first half of Gone With The Wind…….very appropriate for the Civil War National Military Park..Vicksburg….that we toured the next day.

Our campsite as seen from the RV. We were deep in a forest!
Our campsite as seen from the RV. We were deep in a forest!


Day 2…..Vicksburg…..The “Key” Victory for the Union Army

We thought we would be moving up the Trace today but we were encouraged to visit this Civil War site.  This is an enormous memorial to the Confederate and Union troops that fought one the the “key” battles of the American Civil War.  It was the battle for control of the Mississippi River in the South.  This was a battle waged over an approximately 7 month period with an actual 47 day siege on the city.  The park spanned 16 miles of battle fields.  I had not realized the 620,000 lives were lost during the Civil War. Roughly 1,264,000 American soldiers have died in all the nation’s wars–620,000 in the Civil War alone and 644,000 in all other conflicts. It was only as recently as the Vietnam War that the amount of American deaths in foreign wars eclipsed the number who died in the Civil War.

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Bonny standing behind the still standing Union earthen works. The guns are trained on the Confederate lines and the city at Vicksburg
The restored hull (partial) of the USS Cairo
The restored hull (partial) of the USS Cairo
One of the guns of the USS Cairo
One of the guns of the USS Cairo

While we were in one of the museums that housed a restored iron clad boat (one of six produced for the war) we started talking to couple of other tourists.  Doug  wears his 101st Airborne hat because it often starts some very interesting conversations with total strangers. There is a certain affinity within the ranks of the military that we outsiders don’t understand. Steven was a retired Army aviator and had served at Fort Campbell where Doug was stationed for two years after finishing his residency.  Well, I should have just gone and taken a nap…..this conversation went on and on.  It turns out Steve had worked with Bob Johnson, Doug’s best friend and the person we were going to be spending some time with at Fort Campbell.  To top it off, Steve also knew John Mihalka, the son of our friends Denny and Mary from Redding and Long Beach.  Their son John is an aviator graduate from West Point that gave up his commission and became a Warrant Officer in order to continue what he loved best…flying.  True aviators love to fly! Small world.

Steve and his wife Suzanne. Retired Army Aviator
Steve and his wife Suzanne. Retired Army Aviator

Day 3….we have only gone 60 miles

Cypress Swamp

Another of many interesting places along the Trace.  I was keeping my eye out for those “logs with eyes” (‘gators) and glad I had turned in my flip flops for hiking boots.  We had been warned that there are 6 species of poisonous snakes here. 

Footbridge over the Cypress swamp - safer than wadding!
Footbridge over the Cypress swamp – safer than wadding!
Cypress Swamp
Cypress Swamp

French Camp

This place turned out to be an amazing stop.  The population is 176 with an additional 150 students enrolled in the French Camp Academy…..total 326. It is a small American town but with a VERY big heart. It was established in 1838.  The entire town works to support the mission of the Academy….”French Camp Academy is an interdenominational Christian boarding school.  Striving to feel more like a home away from home and push toward academic excellence, French Camp Academy accepts students from first through twelfth  grades who are interested in a fresh start in life. They provide a safe, healthy, community for young people from all over the country nestled in tall southern pines located in rural Mississippi away from many distractions and negative influences of our culture. Their goal is to educate academically, develop sound character qualities and an inspiring work ethic, develop skills and talents, open doors of opportunity, mentor and counsel for social and emotional maturity, and lay a Christ-centered foundation on which to build a successful life.”

The one thing I particularly liked was the work program.  Each student works 10-15 hours a week.  This helps offset their tuition.  They pay according to family ability or not at all.  A student is never turned away due to inability to pay.  Besides a diploma they end up with a work resume.  Some of the skill development opportunities are in radio broadcasting, horse care, building maintenance and management, clerical skills, photography, quilting and needlework, pottery,  grounds keeping, woodworking, mechanics, photography, graphic design, and construction projects. Another component introduces juniors and seniors to resumé writing, interview skills, and exploring career fields.

We spent some time talking with the waitress at the little cafe at the Academy where we stopped for “Mississippi Mud Pie”.  Besides enjoying her “drawl” we learned so much about the heart of this community.  She was the 2nd person that day to mention how terrified she is about our country’s national debt.  There is no grocery store…the downtown is about 1/2 block long.  It seems when you have a “mission” in your life, life is certainly fulfilling as demonstrated by the folks we met. This town actually works to ensure that the Academy succeeds in offering these often troubled kids a new life. They all know the reason the town exists is “the kids”. 

French Camp
French Camp

Do you know the origin of the Apple logo?  Just a thought… We were asked, is it linked to Genesis? 

The night was spent in civilization at an RV park in Tupelo, Mississippi….the birth place of Elvis.  I had almost forgotten what a great artist he was.  You cannot go to Tupelo without actually visiting the King’s birth place.  That is Doug sitting on the porch where Elvis was born.  Did you know that Elvis was the 2nd of twins?  He was born 30 minutes after his stillborn brother.

Doug swinging on Elvis' porch singing of course!
Doug swinging on Elvis’ porch singing of course!

Send me to your favorite “hole in the wall” diner and I am a happy girl.  Tonight we had SOUTHERN BBQ.  I had fried green tomatoes, brisket, corn bread fritters, & sweet potato casserole.  If I don’t stop this, I am going to look like a little sweet potato.  Our RV stay was at a place call Barnes Crossing almost behind the big Visitor’s Center for the Trace. $35 Veteran discount and cash only “Obama does’t need to know our business” was their answer.  I like their moxie – they are very direct.


Barnes Crossing
Barnes Crossing

4th Day on the Trace

Today we celebrate one month on the road.  Someone asked me if we have wanted to kill each other yet……Doug has got to be the easiest person in the world to live with.  I can’t even “pick a fight” with him….I have tried.  However, every once and a while he will say “It is a good thing you are cute” which I interpret to mean “Hon, you have stepped on my last nerve”.  So far, no need for Dr. Phil.

A small part of the Trace traverses the north western tip of Alabama.  Can’t really say we “saw” the state.  The number one food to taste in Alabama is “white BBQ sauce. What do you think it is?  The predominate ingredient is mayonnaise.  Doug’s two favorite food groups are peanut butter and mayo.  We may not be able to pass this one up.

Our last night on the Trace was at The Meriwether Clark Camp Ground.  It beautifully accommodated our big rig.  Again no hookups, no Host, no cost.  It was so incredibly dark.  It rained and rained and rained.  And, it is not cold.  The RV felt like a steam bath.   Made for a rather sleepless night…….ah but the morning was beautiful.  We ran into a couple of other campers that were alone………I love having time to myself, but camping or hiking alone is not the least bit appealing to me.

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Camping in the forest

Meriwether Clark of Lewis & Clark fame died a age 35….on the Natchez Trace.  We have all heard of Lewis & Clark, but learning about them is fascinating.  For us it began in Astoria Oregon which was the western terminus of their famous expedition, finding the mouth of the Columbia River. To become a part of this history making trip, one had to be the equivalent of a Navy Seal (or and ARMY Ranger) and have a skill that contributed to the success of the mission.  The manner of his death remains a question……was it suicide or murder?  The forensics of the time were questionable.  Doug did point out that the pistols at that time only shot one round and had to be reloaded.  With at least 2 gun shot wounds and his money missing, how could suicide even be considered?

The Clark Monument and our bus
The Clark Monument and our bus

What you don’t see, but you must imagine, is the sound of the wind, the smells, and the bird song.  I read once that God made birds for our pleasure.  Here, their sweet voices are everywhere.  The wild flowers are everywhere, white, purple, pink, yellow, and red.

Leaving the Trace in Tennessee is an enormous double arched bridge.  As we went to walk out on it, we saw this sign.

The sign at the bridge - "There is hope - call anytime"
The sign at the bridge
View from the bridge
View from the bridge

I could’t figure out what it meant,  Doug did!

Our condo in Redding……from the front door you know you are in a condo development.  But you walk to the back and you would think you are out in the country with a grassy knoll covered with oak trees, manzanita and wild black berry bushes and not another house in site.  But, just over that hill is the I-5.  The Trace is sort of like our condo, you feel like you are in the middle of nowhere, when civilization is just around the bend or through the trees.

New Orleans Fun! April 11-16

Louisiana    April 11-16, 2016

Today we are exiting “the great state of Texas” and entering Louisiana known for Jazz, the French Quarter, Mardi Gras and humidity.  Our goal was New Orleans which was 2/3 distance across the state.  This required an overnight stop…….we overnighted in a rest stop that touted “overnight security”.  This was already scarring me.  Why did we need “overnight security”? 

There was an immediate stark contrast from the prosperity of Texas to the somewhat depressed economy of Louisiana.  There suddenly were billboards all along the freeway touting only two things….casinos and attorneys.  Every sign for a casino had a disclaimer at the bottom with a 800 number to call for gambling addiction.  Some lawmaker had its hand in this one.

In all fairness….have you ever looked at Los Angeles through the eyes of a tourist?

The other noticeable difference was the humidity.  As it turns out, we were in the middle of the largest river fed swamp in North America, Atchafalaya.  Can you say it?  We learned that they have only two seasons in this particular Louisiana swamp…high water season & low water season.  This explains why the trees looked like they were underwater along the causeway.

Four Days in New OrleansNew Orleans -4140534New Orleans iPhone-0261You have heard me discuss the amenities of the various RV parks we have stayed in. This one, The French Quarter RV Resort, is located about 2 blocks from the French Quarter and perfect for walking (if you have pepper spray). It seems an unusual spot for an RV park…..flanked by a very very old cemetery (no one is buried underground in New Orleans due to the water table), the I-10 freeway, and industrial and abandoned buildings.  It is probably the most expensive place we will stay on this trip at $105/night.   The park itself is very nice and caters to very high end travelers.  Compared to the $500,000-1 million dollar coaches around us….we fell like “Jed Clampett and his Beverly Hills Hillbillies.”  We are surrounded by a Prevost Club Rally!  After we moved in and we were all hooked up, we were told we were in the wrong space and “had” to move.  We immediately made friends with our other “errant” neighbors and went to dinner with them. No one had to move and we made new friends with the couple from San Diego, John and Debbie.

We had our first taste of what Louisiana is famous for….  Gumbo, soft shelled crabs, charbroiled oysters, and bread pudding.  The four of us ate at the Acme Oyster House on Iberville St.New Orleans -4120518

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Charbroiled Oysters!
Charbroiled Oysters!
Soft Shelled Crab
Soft Shelled Crab

We dashed back to our RV to watch our Long Beach neighbor, Caity Peters perform on The Voice.  This was the week that the “people” could vote.  The participants had been narrowed down to 24.  One Half would not be returning.  Sadly she went home.   Keep your ears tuned, this is not the last you’ll hear of Caity Peters. Doug says “she is not a dancer or a prancer”, as the show seems to like, but a beautiful singer of soulful ballads and praise songs.


(Doug here – I really see her as having great talent but the “show and staging” of the TV show required action and “hip hop” antics. Her talent is her VOICE and her soul. Can you imagine Barbara Streisand jumping and hopping on stage? I can’t. Barbara, time to move over – Caity has arrived.)

Day # 1

I have never been in rain like this……..all night long and into the afternoon there was a down pour.  If it rained like this for one day in California….the draught would be over.  Not wanting to miss one minute of sightseeing, we went on a City Tour that took us from the French Quarter to the 9th Ward where the flooding following Katrina was most damaging.  We drove out St. Charles Avenue near Tulane University where the homes are fabulous Southern mansions (one of these being being a model for staging of Gone With The Wind). St. Charles Ave. is the beginning of the Mardi Gras parade route.

The rest of the day was spent at the World War II Museum….originally called The D Day Museum.  It has expanded to include the Pacific Theater.  It is beautifully done with actual planes and tanks and war gear, interactive displays and narratives by men and women that were actually there.

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I was born a few years after the end of the war.  My father was essentially an orphan from England…his mom died in childbirth when he was 4, leaving no siblings, and his dad was a Merchant Marine. He came to the US and was raised by a family that were not relatives.  My maiden name was Cheesebrough…very English.  My father had polio as a child, so was not physically able to serve in WWII.  Because I had few cousins or uncles….I grew up not hearing much about “the war”.  It was only after I met Doug that the fascination about WWII started.  His dad and all of their Southern California transplants were Vets.  His dad was in the Army Air Corps as an aviation engineer and was actually in an airplane crash out of Long Beach Airport.  All of their friends were also transplants in California working in the Aerospace Industry after the war.  As you well might understand, I have heard story after story from the “supreme story teller” about his dad and WWII. 

One of the things I learned  today, that I never realized until now, was that our entire world could have be ruled by tyrants like Hitler……we were on the brink of this being a reality.  All of our generation, the Baby Boomers, have lived a life of freedom because of our fathers.  Once we were in the war, this entire country put their heart and soul into winning it.  Can you imagine graduating from college and within hours being inducted into the service and wondering when your life was going to start? I feel like such a spoiled and unappreciative person when I read about all the sacrifice.  Again, very emotional.

Doug here. One of the great quotes of the day was in a display of the new role of women in the war. It showed women being trained as welders and aircraft mechanics. Underneath it read “Aircraft can sink battleships and women can build aircraft” . You bet they can – and they did!

On a lighter note….we ran into friends from Redding outside the museum….a half a world away. New Orleans  had been invaded by four additional Redding ladies celebrating a “29th” birthday.

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Bonny, Sue, Maya, Anne, and Nena – all from Redding celebrating Nena’s 29th something! New Orleans be prepared!

Doug is a meat & potato type of guy….never very experimental with his food and not much of a fish eater.  He has ordered fish both nights here.  Tonight was fish tacos at Kingfish in the Quarter.  Andy, these were almost as good as yours.

Day # 2

Again, it rained most of the night.  Everything is damp.  Our day got started a little late since we had to move the RV.   Our new found friends, Debbie & John Giiaquina, are on their maiden voyage, moving their brand new RV back to San Diego.

We are fascinated by the enthusiasm of the locals about their city. They are very proud of how the city has been rebuilt after Katrina – a long 11 year process. We happened upon a tour driver retelling his personal experience during the unexpected flooding following Hurricane Katrina. If you didn’t have someone to move in with out of the area, you had no place to go.  This man spent 2 years living in Philadelphia waiting for his home to be rebuilt.  Where would you work or make a living while waiting to come “home”?  It was harrowing.  We are often quick to criticize how this tragedy was handled, but can you imagine dealing with unexpected flooding when all the communications systems, except am radio, were knocked out by the hurricane just before the flood? Can you imagine a world without cell phones or the internet, even for a few days?

Doug and I saw one big hospital that sits empty surrounded by barbed wire. It never reopened after Katrina.  We are told there are several  others. 

Imagine being a nurse working at that hospital – the flooding happened at 6 am.  You can’t leave.  No one can come to relieve you and you couldn’t get home anyway.  You have no communication with your family or with the families of your patients.  Where are you kids?  It’s hot and there is no ventilation.  You can’t even open the windows.  Your supplies are running out.  All electricity is shut off.  You must ventilate your respirator dependent patient by hand! The oxygen supply system is gone.  When do you stop the hand ventilation?  The hospitals became morgues.  I can’t even begin to imagine the horror.

We walked to the waterfront (Mississippi River) and Cafe Du Monde for beignets.  It is open 24 hours a day and closed only on Christmas and for the occasional hurricane.  These are fried dough with powdered sugar on top.  This is equivalent to eating three donuts.  We did this so late in the day that we were not hungry for dinner.  I hate to miss one meal in this city of wonder food.  We walked through the French Market which had become a bit shabby and touristy, as has Bourbon Street.  As our Swamp Tour guide mentioned,  “the locals don’t go there”.  We found that one pass was enough and thoroughly enjoyed the street music. 

The evening found us back at City Park….1200 acres of wonderful beauty.  It is slightly larger than Central Park in New York.  It is home to many many activities.  We stopped in at a concert with local Jazz and happened upon the night lights of a temporary exhibit call China Lights….you can guess what Doug was doing.  We had hoped to do an earlier bike ride, but we were exhausted and needed a nap.

Day #3  Swamp Tour

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Doug holding a one year old alligator

New Orleans -4150548This can only by described in a picture show.  We did choose a swamp barge instead of a ride on an air boat.  It was peaceful, warm, out of the rain, quiet, and fun to watch the kids fascination with the alligators and other reptiles available for “petting”.  A great suggestion by Lori Goyne.  One of the people selling tours sort of suggested that Doug and I were too old for an air boat.

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12 foot alligator checking out our boat. Lunch?

Doug and I have made a big mistake by eating lunch late….we are not hungry at dinner time.  We did it again at a small diner called Pier 51.  I had crawfish chowder.  We asked the waitress “how do you eat crawfish?”   A patron at a table near us gave us a few of his and instructed us on how to twist the little body and pull it apart, suck on the head, and maneuver the itty bitty body out…tasty, but I think I would rather eat a raw oyster.

Final thoughts on New Orleans…….there is so much more to see.  As always, the more we see, the more we want to see.  The weather has been oppressive with what feels like 100% humidity and we have not seen much of the sun.  One of the last things our Swamp Boat captain said was Louisiana wants to be remembered as “friendly” by its travelers.  The folks of New Orleans love their city and it shows.  New Orleans is far, far more than the side show that is the French Quarter.

Last bit of information….30% of the residents have never returned after Katrina.

On to Natchez, Mississippi!

Houston – Two Reunions!

One goal Bonny and I created for this trip was to seek out friends now scattered across the U.S. and set up “reunions”. Unfortunately, our lives do not come with a “rewind button” so you can’t wait too long. We decided to be proactive and go see friends. We, of course, assumed they wanted to “see” us but that may just be our egos speaking. We haven’t been turned down yet!

There were two reunions in Houston. The first, was with Jim Livesay and his lovely wife, Robin. Jim and I were about two years apart in our UCLA residency days. Jim is from Texas and has that laid back, gregarious personality so common of Texans (Jim, that is a compliment!). We became friends and shared a few adventures together in our younger residency years. I am referring to an attempted flight from Santa Monica to Mammoth for a weekend of skiing. We were in a Cessna 172 and I was flying. After being tossed and pushed through the sky as we started up the long valley from Mojave we decided that the turbulence was too much for us and landed in a small town and rented a car. We enjoyed the skiing and the smoooooth flight home 2 days later. Jim and Robin were married toward the end of our residency. They moved to Houston, where Jim has established himself with Dr. Denton Cooley as a premier cardiac surgeon. He is wrestling with retirement decisions as I know only too well. It was great to share a meal with them both – Sunday we went to church together for a special morning. Good friends make good memories. Thanks, Jim and Robin.

Jim Livesay
Jim Livesay


The second reunion is difficult to describe so I will ask the reader to bear with me.  As a surgeon from 1971 until my “retirement” in 2014, I have operated on many patients and dealt with many, many families during difficult and anxious times.

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This is a story of one of those patients and her family. In 1971 I was a senior medical student at UCLA and taking an elective rotation in Pediatric Surgery. A beautiful, little, two year old girl named Felice Pampolina was admitted to our service at  UCLA. She had been diagnosed with a neuroblastoma with probable lung involvement.  This particular tumor is  a very aggressive childhood solid tumor of primitive neurological tissue. She was a delightful, beautiful little girl accompanied by very similar parents and grandparents. They were a strong Italian family focused on this brave, small little girl

I have NEVER, EVER forgotten Felice and her parents and all that happened so long ago. This little angel died of her tumor after two or three weeks of surgical biopsies, attempted resection and other frustrating treatment attempts. The great medical center, and the great practitioners were powerless to stop her disease or to help her. We were all humbled and frustrated. This little girl and her family became so special to the nurses, medical students and the residents that we all were devastated when the inevitable came. I knew that dreaded moment would come. In my heart I remember saying something like, “No, God not her, not now, not ever.” Her death was very hard to deal with for us all on that Pediatric service on that dark day. Her passing challenged all our faith beliefs and we all asked “Why?”

The other loss that sad day was that the wonderful family, the kind grandparents, the gentle beautiful mother, the gregarious ever present father were all gone – gone from our lives forever! It was done.

Over the many years I have always wondered –  how are they? Did they stay married after the loss of their first child? If so, did they go on to have other children? Are they happy? What has transpired over the 45 years after this devastating death so long ago?

Fast forward to December 2015. After telling her about Felice, Bonny encouraged me to try and find the Pampolina family.  With the help of Google I found Felice’s mother, Ginger, as a real estate agent in Houston Texas. I will jump past all the phone calls and emotion and excitement and say that we all agreed to meet at their home for a real Italian Sunday Family Pasta Dinner and celebrate Felice! After those phone calls, Bonny and I added Houston to our cross country trip.

Last Sunday was the day. It was a healing and wonderful day for me beyond descriptive words. I found the same special, warm, life loving family that I remembered from UCLA! YES they are married and happy, YES they had two more children who both came to dinner. It was wonderful to meet Phil, Ginger, Carla (Queen Bee), Damon (the Entertainer) and his lovely wife, Jennifer. The real entertainment for the evening was provided by Damon and Jennifer’s energetic son, Roman.

Phil Pampolina
Phil Pampolina
Phil and Ginger Pampolina with their two children Damon and Carla. Thanks for having us to your home!

We talked about those dark days and how Phil and Ginger adjusted. We had conversations about the grandparents (now deceased). We talked about their eventual move back to their beloved home state of Texas. And we talked about Felice for a long time. Bonny and I were shown family pictures of Felice as an infant. We simply enjoyed being reunited and being in a home so filled with love. Finally, my  questions from 45 years ago have been answered – all except “Why?”.

To this day, the family regularly visits a small little grave on a hillside in Rose Hills Cemetery just off the 605 freeway. There they honor their little angel with birthday flowers. Felice is still very much alive in their hearts and memories – and now ours. Thank you, Felice, for bringing us all back together in 2016. Bonny and I will be visiting Rose Hills soon – you are still very much loved and remembered. Someday, I may understand the answer to my question, “Why?”

San Antonio and Houston

San Antonio, Texas 4/6-4/8/2016

(Texas Picture Gallery – click here!)

The Alamo at night
The Alamo at night

Today we travelled the short distance from Austin to San Antonio……  just a short travel day.  I decided to get a pedicure upon arrival…my feet have gotten way too far from my eyes (Presbyopia is setting in, Bonny ).  I felt right at home at a Vietnamese salon. For dinner we went across the street from our RV park to a little Mexican restaurant where no one spoke English – except for us.

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Mission San Juan
Mission San Juan

I was a little under the weather yesterday and didn’t do my “due diligence” readying the coach for departure for San Antonio.  While we were driving we heard a crash, but couldn’t determine the source….until we tried to put our slide out.  On investigation we found a block with knives had fallen off the counter and 2 knives got wedged in the mechanism of the slide out.  This had a potential catastrophic outcome.  We could live with the slide in the “in position”, but you cannot drive with it protruding even an inch.  This could have resulted in hauling the coach to  a Freight Liner yard and being some what dismantled to retrieve the errant knives.  Fortunately with some maneuvering, Doug was able to recover the knives.  Lesson learned. ……follow your preflight check off list…always.

All over Dallas there were enormous pictures of photos claiming to be taken with an I Phone 6S. …they are stunning.   About 4 years ago Doug decided to guide me into the 20th century. I was hell bent not to give up my flip phone….who cared about texting?  I was having some minor knee surgery…this meant I couldn’t escape.  He decided it was the perfect time to introduce some new technology.  Our household was converted entirely to Mac.  He gave me an I Phone and an I Pad and the iPad book for “Dummies”.  He has always been dismayed that I never read an operations manual. I did learn  to functionally use all these devices.  Then two  years later he decides to get a Samsung Galaxy???  I couldn’t even figure out how to answer it , let alone use GPS.  Again a lot of grousing….he purchased an IPhone 6-S yesterday and has been in heaven reading the manual and adding apps….we are again on the same page.  Upon reflection, I am seeing a pattern in my life (taken 69 years)….  I don’t change with ease.  I have had only 2 jobs, with both lasting 20-25 years each.  We still own the same house in Long Beach that was purchased in the 1970’s.  I was born and raised and lived in Long Beach for 63 years.  Where was I going with this???…..the pictures and video from the phone are amazing.  Many of our future pictures will be from this phone.  I wonder if this means I don’t have to schlep Doug’s camera bag and tripod any more…..nice. (Doug here – don’t get too excited yet Bonny)

April 7, 2016 San Antonio, Texas

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Dinner on the River Walk

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Doug picked the RV park in San Antonio, Traveler’s World, specifically because it was on the River Walk Bike and Hiking Trail.  This is a recent addition in the city and is 12 miles of paved and beautifully landscaped grounds that run along the San Antonio River is in the downtown surrounded by hotels and restaurants was where we had Texas BBQ….it wasn’t exactly gourmet, but after 2 margaritas, it all tasted good.  I don’t think Doug or I have had a loaded baked potato in over 3 years.   With Texas BBQ there seems to be little offering of vegetables….Doug loves it when there is no green on his plate.  It had been 85 degrees during the day which made for a balmy beautiful evening. 

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Doug met these school kids on a field trip at the mission. They thought it was “cool” we were from California

April 8, 2016…To the Alamo and beyond

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Our new friend, Ray. Thanks for the help, Ray

Today we headed towards town on our bikes.  We met Ray on the bike trail, asked directions to the Alamo, and he personally escorted us to the front door.  Ray is the first person we have met in San Antonio that is a resident….every single other person was a tourist, like us.  He took a “short cut” and showed  us through the King William  section of town where the big old original homes were built.  Then we wove our way through down town traffic, turning from left hand lanes into traffic……….it was scary.

As nice as the River Walk Trail was, there were some bugs…..I accidentally opened my mouth and got some unwanted protein….I am not a bat, so it wasn’t particularly enjoyable.

The Alamo is smack dab in the middle of downtown San Antonio and actually seems dwarfed by its surroundings.  I think I finally have some understanding of how Texas came to be its own country( for a while )  and the huge Mexican influence of the area.  Did you know that people from the US were encouraged to move to Mexico with large land grants….you had to become a Mexican citizen, convert to Catholicism and learn to speak Spanish! These American were referred to as “Texians”.  That is an immigration policy advanced by the Mexican government! There are parts of that I could support today.

While we were riding on the trail, we met a couple from Great Britain.  They said they were “SKI-ing”.  Odd……Spending Kid’s Inheritance.  They took every opportunity when school was on holiday to visit the USA.  They have visited all but 3 of our states.  They are going to Hawaii for her 50th birthday.  Of course the topic came up of how the US is perceived in Europe.  Seems they too have much the same trouble we do in getting unbiased news.  She said rather sheepishly that the way Donald Trump is portrayed to the European audience makes the USA seem rather laughable. 

As I mentioned before, our new favorite Mexican restaurant is across the street from our RV Park.  Our waitress and the owner spoke very little English and had a hard time explaining the ingredients of mole sauce…something I have never before tasted.  Last night, by the time we left, the place was full and we were the only Gringos to be seen.  Dinner $22 & that included 2 beers. 

Our New Best Mexican Restaurant
Our New Best Mexican Restaurant

Doug and I have both experienced first hand how illegal immigration has affected the economy of California.  There is a very different feel here in San Antonio, a positive vibe, if you will.  The Texas and American Flag can be seen everywhere.  Driving into Huston, at one point, I saw 5 Texas and USA flags at one time.  Texans are proud of their state and proud of the USA and proud of the Mexican roots of the Texan culture. Today’s Texas culture descends from the Texians and the Tejanos.

4/9/2016  Driving to Huston

Doug is fascinated sighting a single young blonde, thin 18 wheel truck driver.  Not the typical female truck diver at all. I believe he is planning a scientific study. So far he has found one!

This is how Texans apparently deal with a traffic jam.  I saw this once  in Redding also.

Don’t like this road just head across the grass and join THAT road!

We had dinner with a fellow surgical resident of Doug’s from UCLA, Jim Livesay and his lovely wife, Robin.  He is a cardiac surgeon at the Texas Heart Institute and is nearing retirement.  We also attended their church, Christ the King Presbyterian Church….a relative traditional Presbyterian Church minus the robed choir.  It is a new church that has grown quite fast and had predominantly young families. Doug and Jim enjoyed reliving their exciting times at UCLA as  co-residents.

Jim Livesay
Jim Livesay
The Great Houston Cardiac Surgical Standoff
The Great Houston Cardiac Surgical Standoff

I have read Travels with Charley twice and loved the fact that John Steinbeck attended church where ever he was on Sunday……too bad we won’t be in New Orleans next Sunday.

Our time in Huston has not been spent sightseeing, it has been “people seeing”.  Doug will explain the Sunday afternoon we spent with the Pampolina’s  This reunion was very emotional.  We all found ourselves getting teary eyed at times.  I was very touched at how interested their two adult children were in learning about the sister they never knew,  little Felice.

Reunion with the Pampolina’s after 45 years!
Phil Pampolina
Phil Pampolina

Here are some homes in their beautiful neighborhood.  Theses homes  with pools are available for a fraction of the cost of southern California homes – and no state income tax!! They do have property taxes that are somewhat above California.   I did mention No State Income Taxes!

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On To Austin April 4-6

A few last thoughts about Dallas

Doug and I have been on the go from dawn to dusk for the last 3 days and I am pooped.  With Matt’s help and driving skills, I think we got a good introduction to the city.  What I did not see in Dallas was an RV traveling through the city, graffiti, or an abandoned grocery cart.

Before we left Redding you could say I was grouching about missing Spring there.  Guess what???……Spring happens in other states too!!! The highways around Dallas are green with beautiful pink, orange, and purple wildflowers.  We just learned that Lady Bird Johnson actually had wildflower seeds spread along the state’s highways. Interesting.  Dallas and Redding temperatures seem similar.  As Matt says “when it snows in Dallas the entire city shuts down”.  He is pretty sure the state only owns one snow plow.  Sounds like Redding.  Also the temperatures are in the triple digits during the summer months.  We both really loved Dallas.

4/04/2016 On to Austin

Today we traveled a short three hours to Austin.  Monday night our neighbor from Long Beach, Caity Peters, went on to win yet another round on The Voice.  Caity, you are an amazing young lady.  Next week the audience…the TV audience….gets to vote.  You might want to tune in to ABC next Tuesday and cast your vote.

About 9 pm, we decided to drive into Austin for a quick peek. We ended up at the Capital Building and guess what………it was open to the public until 10 pm.  It is a replica of the US Capitol except, typical of Texas, it is 14 feet taller.  Also the State Troopers that were manning the metal detectors were carrying M-16s.  It was kind of weird seeing such big firearms….but then it is Texas. 

The Texas Dome


4/05/2016  One day in Austin

Today is the Wisconsin Primary.  As of this writing, we don’t know who prevailed Cruse or Trump……Hilary or Bernie.

Because we only have one full day here, we took a minivan tour of the city and Hill Country.  After fortification in a charming beer garden on 6th Street call Easy Tiger, we did a 9 mile bike ride around Lady Bird Lake (which is really a river).  The sun was out and the trail was well traveled.  There were folks out in kayaks, paddle boards, and crew boats.  The Texas state crew finals will be held here in a couple of weeks. 

Doug makes friends with everyone.
Enjoying Spring weather
Biking on the Colorado river in Austin

Austin is a much older appearing city than Dallas with much road work and building going on.  The population continues to grow and reached 2 million this year.  It is considered the Silicon Valley of the Southern US.  There would be so much to explore here, we regret having only one day.  Again our RV park is beautiful with sites under big oaks….hence the name Oak Forrest.  Full hookups, with Doug’s military discount, only $30 a night.  The drive into Austin is about 7 miles.  We were advised to stay off I 35 because it is a parking lot much of the time…true.  The campus of the University of Texas at Austin is in town.  It employs 25,000 and enrolls 50,000 students.  It has the 8th largest football stadium in the US.  It has an enormous endowment but the money can only be used for buildings not tuition or scholarships.  There is a brand new Medical School and hospital being build on the campus.

View at lunch – Austin, TX
Austin bike ride – beautiful day!


Dallas March 30 – April 4

We arrived in Arlington, a suburb of Dallas and part of what they call the MetroPlex.  The sky was cloudy and becoming more threatening. Just as we were heading out to meet my friend Irene Benjamin for dinner, the heavens opened and we were treated to a thunder and lightning storm with the treat of hail.  Doug was fearful of what hail could possibly do to our rig.  Just a few weeks prior there was a hail storm that did considerable damage in this very RV park.  One neighbor had 400 dents in the body of his truck.  Apparently mobile dent repair is very big business in this area in the spring. The RV has vulnerable antennas and skylights on the roof.

Irene is a good friend of ours from Long Beach.  She was one of the first tenants Paul and I had when we bought our first apartment building. Irene selected us to be her daughter’s God parents. Irene eventually helped us care for both our parents in their later years.  She lives her faith and we love her for it….a great inspiration.  She introduced us that night to Texas BBQ…Yummmmmmmmmmmmm.


Every where we have gone out of California, gas is around $2 a gallon – even under $2.00 here in Texas.  Our last 100 gallon diesel purchase was at $1.88 a gallon!

A little about Texas….the Metroplex of Dallas has a population of just under 7 million, same as as LA county.  There is no state income tax, but the property tax for Dallas County is 2.53% of assessed value..  That seems high, but we are told you can buy a 4-5 bedroom house in the suburbs with a pool for $320,000.  That is not so bad either.  Matt said that most of the people he has met were not born here. Everywhere we traveled in the city (exhibits, museums, restaurants) people asked us to “come to Texas!”.

RV Parks are not equal.  Some have every amenity with absolutely no charm.  Here in the Tree Top RV Park there are over 300 sites and it is charming.  This park has mature oaks everywhere.

Dallas-3310339My guess is it was built many many years ago out far far in the country.  Today it is less than a mile from one of the most beautiful and extensive shopping areas I have every seen.  I did read that there are more shopping malls in Texas per capita than any other place in the US.  This proved to be true as we explored.


Today we ventured into Dallas to meet Doug’s son, Matt, and his partners in his impressive office in North Dallas.  Wow look at this view. Matt is a Major League Baseball agent and attorney in Dallas. This is his dream job. He loves his job, his associates and boss. He loves and lives baseball!

Dallas-3310343We also found out that despite Google Maps, Dallas 5 pm traffic is just as bad as LA.  With all the construction, a driver, and a navigator (me), we found it hard to navigate the city.  Matt came to the rescue as our tour guide and driver.

Proud MaMa

Speaking of happy sons, if it weren’t for my recent Face Book membership, I probably would have missed this picture.  This is a picture of my oldest son, Sean, at his promotion ceremony to Batallion Cheif for the City of Orange.  He is flanked by my other two sons, Christopher and Andy.  How they all ended up in the Fire Service beats me.  Christopher is an engineer for LA County and Andy is a fireman in the Long Beach Fire Department.  I am so proud of them but, most of all, I am happy that they are happy in their chosen profession.  There is a certain camaraderie  in the fire service that you often don’t find in other professions

Sean deMO Promotion

April Fool’s Day

We started the day in the Historical District called West End at a restaurant  called Ellen’s….breakfast served all day.  I was adventuresome and tried a fried tomato salad and side of cheesy grits.   Loved it.  I don’t think I could find either dish in Redding!

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This Texas breakfast looked good but he was the ham!

The day started at Dealey Plaza, the famous site where John F. Kennedy was shot.  We all remember where we were on that morning in November 1963.  I was a senior in high  school and practicing for Poly’s homecoming game.  Doug was helping build a huge bonfire for Big Game at Stanford. Dealy Plaza is smaller than I imagined.

Dealy Plaza from the railroad bridge
Dealy Plaza from the railroad bridge

A few days later we spent an afternoon on an audio tour of the 6th Floor Book Depository where Lee Harvey Oswald supposedly fired the fatal shot.  It is a beautifully done museum detailing the history and events of that sad time.  Doug was surprised that, as detailed as this tour was, nothing (nanda, zip, zero) mentioned about what happened at the hospital nor were the observations of the trauma surgeons that cared for him presented.  Doug remains very skeptical because the the attending surgeons’s observations of the original wounds do NOT support the Warren Commission conclusions of a single assassin. (Click Here for Doug’s thoughts) Did you know that a Congressional Commission on Assassinations (published in 1979) found that there is high probability the president was killed as the result of a conspiracy and that there were probably two gunmen?  Interestingly these newer conclusions have never made it into school history books.  

I was surprised at how emotional this trip back in history was for me. I found myself tearing up at many of the familiar photos. (See Doug’s attached notes)

The Perot Museum was our next stop… four floors of fabulous exhibits from skeletons of enormous prehistoric mammals, to longitudinal slices of the human body, MRI’s of the brain, gems stones, to displays of oil excavation.  We wished we had allowed more time.

At 6:30 pm we met Matt at DBU (Dallas Baptist University) for a baseball game.  He and his partners were watching a couple of future MLB prospects.  This is the most beautiful college campus I have ever seen.  It was like a movie set….rolling hills near a beautiful lake.  The church is the center of the campus.  It is a school of 5,500 students.  The baseball stadium was consistent with the rest of the architecture  of the campus….red brick.  Guess what…..no beer was served at the concession stand!

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Dallas Baptist University – what a field!


I love Dallas.  We spent the afternoon at the George Bush Presidential Library on the campus of SMU (Southwest Methodists University).  This library is in downtown Dallas and is bordered by a residential area called Highland Park. This is an area of large trees surrounding  beautiful old homes – sort of like Tierra Oaks or Virgina Country Club  on steroids. The Library is actually on the campus of Southern Methodist University – yet another beautiful college campus.

This beautifully done museum/library details President Bush’s contributions to our history.  He is a man of faith and led this county based on the principles of that faith.  His presidency encompassed 9/11, the Iraq war and the removal of Saddam Hussein, the Iraq occupation, hurricane Katrina, the “surge” and the financial crisis.


Again I found myself very emotional at the 9/11 exhibition.  As with the Kennedy assassination, we all remember where we were when our nation was attacked.  Two of my favorites exhibits were the life size replica of the Oval Office decorated exactly as it was when he was in office.  We got our picture taken there.  This may be the closest Doug or Matt comes to being President – well Matt is still thinking about it!

Dallas-7407The second is a little hard to describe….it was an enormous square video screen with a 7 minute video about Texas and The People.

Matt lives in a area call Uptown.  A Yuppie neighborhood (can I still say that?) that reminds me much of Westwood CA,…very alive.  He treated us to a beautiful evening at a restaurant on the edge of Klyde Warren ParkPark.  This is a 3 block long park in the heart of downtown Dallas.  According to Matt, a rich Dallas man bought this park for his youngest son.  He didn’t feel this particular son had enough sense of responsibility so he told him he needed to keep the park clean.  Concerts are held on the grass.  Our pictures can’t show the smells, or wind, or the sounds of kids on the playground.  It was simply alive and this beautiful balmy afternoon that turned into the night sky line of Dallas.


4/3/2016 Sunday

We were up early to drive back into Dallas.  Because of the location of our RV park we had a 30 minute drive in and out of Dallas….things are actually starting to look familiar.  We decided to attend a church that is located the center of the downtown.  It is a “mega” church called First Baptist of Dallas.  The pastor is Robert Jeffers is  familiar to us as a Fox News contributor. The original church is very traditional with brick, leaded glass windows and steeples. The newer church literally “encompasses” the old church as part of its inner structure.  It has approximately 10,000 members and has a worship hall that holds 3,000. There was a 160 member choir and a full orchestra.  Doug was in seventh heaven with the music like Amazing Grace. He spotted a large pipe organ and said “Now I’m in a real church” – he loves organ music.


Upon arrival we were met in the parking structure and escorted by a greeter assigned to new guests. He introduced us to another greeter that showed us the diversity in age and ethnicity of those attending the service.  At least half of the men were in suits and ties and half the women wore dresses and high heels.  Refreshing!

Tomorrow, Monday, we pack up our RV house and “move on down the road” to Austin the state capital. More to follow…

The Kennedy Assassination – Doug’s Thoughts

It is hard to go to Dallas and not recall the Kennedy assassination. Everyone my age remembers where they were and what they were doing when they first heard the sad news.

I am going to take a surgeon’s approach to the wounds as reported by the treating surgeons. There were three faculty (senior)trauma surgeons present in the ER treating Kennedy. To this day, all three have identified the small ANTERIOR neck wound (pencil diameter) as a probable ENTRY wound. In addition, these experienced trauma surgeons identified the POSTERIOR right sided skull wound as an exit wound. Importantly, these three men were the ONLY trauma experienced physicians to examine the President – ever. Their direct observations totally undermine the Warren Commission’s (desired) conclusions of a single shooter from BEHIND the president . The surgeons observations of probably two frontal entrance wounds mean there were at least TWO assassins. It also means that the Warren Commission ignored evidence of a conspiracy knowingly. The Who? and Why? thus remains unexplored and unexplained to this day.

The autopsy on President Kennedy was performed by Navy pathologists at Bethesda Naval Medical center who were NOT forensic pathologists and were not experienced in evaluating gunshot wounds. The surgeons from Parkland hospital were extremely experienced in evaluating  gun shot wounds treating several hundred a year! These three experienced surgeons have testified and presented their observations but have largely been ignored. In fact investigators went to great effort to challenge their opinions and try and bend them into compliance with the convoluted “magic bullet” theory advanced by the Commission.

Suffice it to say, if a high velocity rifle round exited the neck near the trachea there would not have been a trachea to evaluate much less operate on. Remember this is supposedly the same weapon and bullet type that destroyed Kennedy’s head but somehow left a pencil sized exit hole??? Not likely at all.  I believe the Parkland Trauma Surgeons.