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The Great Squirrel Hunt of 2017

March 31- April 2,  2017

The Great Hunters of 2017
Beware Squirrels of Modoc

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The adventure begins as the hunters gather at the the Verhoog’s to caravan into the wilds of Surprise Valley and to Cedarville, California.  This is the 2017 hunt organized by Kelly and Norm Verhoog. Many of these folks have been participating in the “hunt” for over 17 years. We had among us an orthopedic surgeon, a cardiac surgeon, law enforcement folks, a couple of Lieutenant Colonels, two nurses, two musicians and entertainers, a botanist, and a social worker.  Although there were several stops along the way, the general directions from Redding were “stay on 299 east until it turns into a dirt road…then you are there”.

First stop was for the boys to eat lunch at a little hole in the wall in Fall River.  There we met another customer who also stopped at the Foster Freeze to get her Cockapoo an ice cream cone…sweet.  Shortly after that, the boys headed in different directions to find the “perfect field full of ground squirrels”.  The girls headed into the very fashionable town of Alturas for lunch.

The wife car swap!
Cuties are back in season!
Here are some of the cuties

We first visited some cute shops where we bought such things as sling shots, squirrel nuts and reindeer farts. Oh yes…we all needed to pee and the only public restroom open was at the local hospital, where we again gathered.  Are you getting the picture?

Now let me explain…these targeted squirrels are ground squirrels, much like a gopher.  They are responsible for destroying 1/4 of the alfalfa crop and their burrows wreak havoc on the live stock that graze in those fields.  The farmers love the squirrel hunters. It is a win-win situation, except, of course, for the squirrels.  On Friday night, as we were saying grace, the final line was “may the squirrels rest in…pieces”.

Our hotel complete with geo-thermal steam vents
Kelly enjoying the beautiful sunset

The place we stayed was called Surprise Valley Hot Springs…built on top of bubbling hot springs…out in the middle of nowhere.  Each unit had its own private hot tub filled with hot mineral water from the springs.  The heat for the unit was also from the hot springs and even though it was in the 20-30s at night, we had to use the a/c to cool down our unit from the 80’s to make sleeping possible.

Girls have to have camoflage
Our workshop!
Squirrels beware

Saturday was spent spread out on the valley floor at various farms where permission to shoot was granted.  I asked Norm how they knew the farm owners and established a relationship that allowed us to use their property? He answered that they were all patients of his…he had replaced a hip or a knee or a shoulder. Lunch was enjoyed at a home built in 1873.

Our intrepid group of hunters after lunch in a home built in 1873!

Because we were real novices at this and Doug had not killed a squirrel yet, we were gratefully assigned to Patrick who spent his whole day teaching us the art of squirrel hunting (and to keep us from shooting anyone else).  Thank you Patrick.  He was so patient with me and kept at it until I shot a squirrel.  I was pretty happy just shooting at the mounds…they didn’t run away!   

At dinner that night we tallied our “kill” and came up with 999 + my 1…I was impressed.  A couple of the guys actually had counters attached to their camos.

The girls did some shopping  “in town”.  I got my friend Carole a spice called “Chicken Shit”….looking forward to trying it.  I also found a large array of pine coffins  that could be purchased to your exact dimensions.

Bonny testing a coffin?
No I’m OK!

Sunday, Doug and I enjoyed an hour or two so hunting for Indian arrowheads. We found a lot of chips of obsidian and portions of tools used to grind seeds into flour.  Norm and Sherry both found arrowheads. These may be 2000 years old according to Norm.

We found these! 2000 years old!
THIS is mine!

We drove just east up the road to where 299 becomes gravel at the Nevada boarder and found a herd of Antelope.  We also saw about six wild Mustangs…amazing.

Nevada looking into California
Leaving Nevada heading west into California

  

The drive back to Redding was delightful…the spring colors have to be appreciated because many of these lush green hills will turn brown as summer approaches.

A good time was had by all-except for the 1000 squirrels!

July 19-20 Heading for Sun River Oregon

July 20, 2016…

The Demotropolis and McConnell Clans are converging on SunRiver, Oregon today.  On our drive north from Long Beach yesterday, Doug and I had made a brief stop in Redding with our granddaughter, Madison.  Madison wanted to spend  a day of “shadowing” at Shasta Regional Medical Center.  She is going to be a high school senior next year and is considering a healthcare path.  She is focused on the role of a Physician Assistant (PA).  With Papa Doug around, she may have gotten a lot more than she bargained for.  Since no heart cases were going on, she settled for a colon resection in the OR, rounds in the CCU, review of an angiogram in the heart cath lab, followed by lunch in the famous SRMC cafeteria.  The rest of the day ended with the Emergency Room where Melanie works as a PA. We dragged Madison out around 1030 that night…..the ER was her favorite. She loved the excitement, drama, and variety!

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Our newest granddaughter, Paige, is now 5 days old (born July 15th).  Our other daughter-in-love, Janice (a labor nurse) orchestrated a most perfect and timely delivery……Lindsay (the mom) did a great job too.  Paige is thriving at 7-10 0z. & 19 inches in height.  She seems so small to us.

Paige deMetropolis
Paige deMetropolis

The heavy rainfall in Northern, Ca this winter has resulted in a beautiful drive from Redding to Bend, Oregon.  Shasta Lake is almost full, the fields are green, and there are wild flowers in the mountains.  Our car is packed to the brim with everything from food to pink fishing poles and a wet suit for Regan… we looked like the Clampets.

Having the whole family together was the original intent  and proved to be an impossible task.   We missed Andy, Lindsay, Dylan, Malia, and Paige but, having a baby is a good excuse in my book.  We are delighted to add Paige to our family of grandchildren.

I want to give a special “shout out” to my daughter-in-law, Janice.  I have known her since she was a senior in high school and cannot even remember our life without her.  She and Sean took so much “off my plate” that my anxiety about being in two places at once completely went away. Thank you, Janice.

The family
The family

 

Melanie & Mike (Doug’s daughter and son-in-law) & Matt & Marianna (Doug’s son and his fiancé) were able to join us for a couple of days.  The kids managed to do a float down the Deschutes  River, horseback ride, do  white water rafting, bicycling, swimming, soaking in the hot tub & fishing.  Papa Doug and I weren’t always able to keep up with their incessant energy.

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Silver Pines Lodge is a 5 bedroom gathering place with a fabulous kitchen and great room in SunRiver, Oregon…..we spent every night on the patio for dinner.  I would love to be here when the snow falls.  The other night while Rosie and I were star gazing, some star dust fell in my eye.  I found that a corneal abrasion can really take you out.

We had a caterer, Susan Zimmerman, come in for 2 dinners….what a treat.  She was so generous with her time that we got a private cooking lesson as well.  She said she was a little intimidated making fish tacos for all these “Southern Californians”.

 

 

Thanks Susan for some great meals!
Thanks Susan for some great meals!
Susan teaching her craft
Susan teaching her craft

As all good trips go……the time went by in a flash.  The Demo’s left for the airport at 3:30 am of the 8th day.   Morgan and Madi and Fran (the 4th Demo daughter) were leaving for Hume Lake Church Camp then returning for a week of beach camping……oh to be a kid again when mom and dad do all the planning and you just show up!  My grandma called this “living the bread and butter life”.   Madi will be saying goodbye to her best of friends as Fran leaves for college in the midwest in two weeks.

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This trip was just toooo….much

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Before I could even change the sheets, my three BFFs from Long Beach arrived with their husbands in tow.  We celebrated Carole’s  birthday in style with another fabulous dinner prepared by Susan….this time ribeye roast, arugula pasta, carrot souffle, and peach cobbler. 

Dinner with our Long Beach friends
Dinner with our Long Beach friends

I have known Carole since junior high school when she was nicknamed “barrel tits”.  My nick name was “cheese buns”. Connie & Leslie & I have known each other since kindergarten.  We have been friends through the “coming of age”, learning to drive (with or without a license ), marriages, childbirth, raising our children, divorce,  loss of a spouse, remarriage and everything in between. 

The frosting on the cake was discovering a former sorority sister and class mate from Poly…Sandy Small.  She reminded me that we haven’t seen each other for 51 years…imagine! She has lived in Bend for 22 years.  Her home is on the banks of the Deschutes River and is truly  heaven on earth. We celebrated our reunion with an Oregon only Yumm Bowl.  Sandy, will you be my FB friend?

 A reunion after 51 years!
A reunion after 51 years!

Michigan to Wonderful Wahoo, Nebraska

Grand Rapids, Michigan

Did you know that Michigan has more shoreline than California? We didn’t either-until we visited Michigan.

I have spent the last two days with one of my good friends from Long Beach Memorial….Bev Vanderwal.  She is one of our most beloved nurses.  She moved to Grand Rapids 5 years ago to be close to her daughter and grandchildren.  It seems that every town I visit on this trip is my favorite…..same with Grand Rapids.  Almost everyone in this area has a lake cottage.  Bev’s “cottage” is only an hour from where she lives.  The drive out was beautiful going through farm lands with Amish red barns and white homes.  We stopped and picked up fresh eggs, strawberries, and cookies from an Amish farm.  It is all done on the honor system,  you select what you want, you write your own receipt and put the $ in a box.  Nobody was there!  Can you imagine doing that in LA?

Her home is modest and decorated in a sweet cottage style and the view of the lake is spectacular.   The windows in the back of the house all open on to a beautiful lawn and lake.  It was so restful and wonderful there.  She thinks it is even more beautiful in the winter.  Winter brings ice fishing and snowmobiling on the lake. 

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Bev’s Lake Cottage View

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I also got to see the home that they completed in February with “grandma quarters”.  They live in a forrest complete with dirt road.  Being a California girl, Bev had some great stories about learning to navigate in the snow…..maybe I should getting lost!

Bonny and Bev
Bonny and Bev
Bev's Home
Grandma’s Quarters

She fixed my “need to shop” by taking me to a couple of great gift and antique stores.  The best was a “junk” store where my total bill was $12 and I got 4 treasures……a candle holder, bookends, a lamp, and a lamb. (Doug here:well done, Bev)

Grand Rapids seems to be a mix of old and new.  Fortunately the city has not demolished many of the old building….you will find them right next to  brand new construction. Having been involved selling Amway at one time, it was fun to see the Amway headquarters in Grand Rapids employs 13,000 people. I am not a salesperson and my career as an Amway “what ever I was” was dismal.  If you have ever used their products…they are great.

Summer Solstice June 21, 2016

One of my “forever” favorite books is Simple Abundance: A Day Book of Comfort and Joy by Sarah Ban Breathnach.  I have read it many times.  It is sort of like the Bible…the message has a different meaning every time you read it.  She calls the summer solstice “midsummer eve” and her simple message is….take joy.

We celebrated the longest day of the year at our RV site located on a little lake with a bonfire & BBQ…..you just had to block out the noise from the expressway…..a couple of glasses of wine usually take care of that.  It wasn’t twilight until 1015.  I think Doug has mastered fire making – finally. A large fire was well established by the time Bev and I returned around 7:30.   Doug has cherished these two days to himself as I spent time with Bev.  We served our usual mainstay of steak and salad.  Summer was officially declared on a beautiful balmy night with a good friend – and Doug.

June 22, 2016  Around Chicago and on to Wahoo

With severe storm warnings being broadcast, Doug was very motivated to out outrun the storms…..and we did.  However, the RV park we stayed in for the night in Davenport, Iowa made it very clear where we were to go if the tornado warning sirens alarmed…..to a shelter under the park office.  Now, we only had to evacuate if the sirens “stayed on”.  If they “go on and off” there was “nothing to worry about”. I have never seen a tornado except on TV.  I can’t say I was really scared.  Maybe this is the same way midwest folks feel about the possibility of an earthquake while visiting California.

Doug and I have a “go bag” in our RV (just in case the RV catches fire).  I guess we can add “tornado watch” to the reasons we have one.  It contains an extra set of Jeep keys, cash, meds, a pepper blaster, head lamps, emergency phone #’s (do you even know your own cell #?), copies of our passports and medical cards, and an outdated credit card.  It is not big enough for my hair drier and makeup……we would need a suitcase. I am the only one that would consider these items emergency necessities. 

“Thanks to the interstate highway system, it is now possible to travel from coast to coast without seeing anything.” – Charles Kuralt.

We circled Chicago and the Great Lakes and I never saw a single drop of Great Lakes water. 

Iowa is an incredibly beautiful state at this time of year…corn or soy beans as far as the eye can see.  Did you know that the farmers in these states actually carry hail insurance? It also contains the world’s largest truck stop.  I am beginning to think that I am more comfortable at a truck stop than a formal affair.

Wahoo, Nebraska June 23,2016

Photo Page on Wahoo Adventures

We arrived to a warm welcome (literally and figuratively) at Lake Wanahoo near Wahoo Nebraska greeted by Nick & Mary Kay. Lake Wanahoo is actually a watershed that was developed and turned into a recreational area.  The fishermen were on the lake by 5:30 am and the fireflies stayed up until midnight.

Sunrise Lake Wanahoo
Sunrise Lake Wanahoo

I went to high school with Nick at Long Beach Poly.  Nick and Mary Kay live “just over the hill and behind the trees”.  They were so gracious to even come out and select an RV site for us before we arrived.  We were treated to a wonderful Italian dinner and introduced to a Moscow Mule (drink) that evening.  We watched the sunset from their deck.  I think that deck is a source of much inspiration for Nick since many of his PostKards (his spelling) from Nebraska originate there.

We had the pleasure of meeting Mary Kay’s dad, Bob Shanahan.  At 91, he had spent the day mowing the lawn on their farm.  Family ties and this beautiful little town lured Mary Kay and Nick away from Huntington Beach, California.  Doug and I were struck by the love they show her dad.  The gift they are giving him by their presence is selfless and beautiful.

91 year old Bob Shanahan on his tractor
91 year old Bob Shanahan on his tractor

Nick and Mary Kay gave us such a wonderful look into life in Wahoo.  The day started with breakfast at The Stockyard Cafe.  This is a gathering place before the work day begins.  They even keep their patrons individual coffee cups ready and waiting.  Yes, the blueberry pancakes are to die for.

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Breakfast at the Stockyard Cafe

We were shown many country roads labeled with only numbers, a trip to the farm 20 miles away and a great look at Wahoo.  We washed the morning down with a tomato beer. Later in the afternoon we were headed to Lincoln’s Haystack District which is really the college town adjacent to the University of Nebraska and the famous Corn Huskers (formerly known…….you are not going to believe this…as the Bug Eaters!).  We got to peek at their world class football stadium. They said every square inch of the town is covered with tailgate parties on game day.  Nick let me in on a little secret…..the parties are too fun to miss, but they go home and watch the game on TV.  He said 9 degrees is a bit too cold for his bones.  It was a bit warm on our tour that day so we shared an ice cream with the cement.

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On to Omaha  June 25, 2016

Today we toured downtown Omaha, starting with Saturday Market & a great lunch with a childhood friend of Mary Kay’s.  Doug is normally is reluctant to eat Indian food.  Even he had to admit it was delicious.  The downtown seemed a bit crowded even for the 1st day of the Market.  The College Baseball World Series was being played only a few miles away and the town was busy. Our afternoon ended with stealing a tractor wheel from a local junk yard.  After my great finds at the last junk yard, I couldn’t pass one without wanting to stop.  The yard was closed as we headed to Omaha and was closed again on our return.  Nick suspects that the owner never opened that day.  Apparently businesses in Wahoo are loose with their schedules.  What else could we do?  We were leaving the next morning.

It is said that “envy rots the soul”.  I find I am envious of their life style in Wahoo.  They are surrounded by family and great folks that work hard and seem to take care of each other.  The fields of corn and soy beans as far as the eye can see, four seasons and fireflies.  Every cultural, dining, shopping & sports opportunity is 36 miles away.

PS. Nick went back to the junk yard on Monday and paid for the tractor wheel.

PSS New experiences in Wahoo…Russian Mule-a drink served only in a tin cup, tomato beer, Runza (well seasoned meat is a sort of pastry), and Kholrabi ( a green vegetable that looks like a small cabbage and the consistence of a very heavy jicama ).

Here is how you drink beer in Nebraska. Sizes regular, medium and MORON!
Here is how you drink tomato beer in Nebraska. Sizes  right to lef – regular, medium and MORON!

Last Legs

You thought I was going to comment on my legs again……no….we are on the last leg of our journey and heading west.  Now that we are pointed home, we seem to have lost interest in sightseeing other than what we see from the cab of the RV.  We are amazed at the vast changes in topography we have witnessed on the trek.

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Cornfields of Nebraska
Wyoming Red Rock
Wyoming Red Rock
Salt Flats of Utah
Salt Flats of Utah
The California Trail in Nevada. We are glad our Conestoga Wagon has 400 horses
The California Trail in Nevada. We are glad our Conestoga Wagon has 400 horses

Made it to Cheyenne, Wyoming – June 26, 2016

Got on the road early.  We are no longer surrounded by corn fields.  Kearney Nebraska is exactly half way between San Francisco and Central Park on the Lincoln Highway…a bit of trivia.  We explored downtown Cheyenne late Sunday night…it was still light after we pulled in.  Like so many cities, it is completely shut down on a Sunday evening…sort of like a ghost town.

Our stop in Cheyenne was to see Jim Harper and his wife Ingrid.  Jim was responsible for bringing Doug to practice at Long Beach Memorial.  Doug and Jim were part of a enthusiastic group of cardiac professionals that started the Heart Center at the hospital.  Jim was one of the founding members of the TCS Medical group.  At one time the group numbered 6 cardio-thoracic surgeons…..today, Doug is the “last man standing”.

Day 100….June 28, 2016

As we were leaving the state of “oil & gas” or “cattle & feed”, Jim, always generous, sent us on our way with a care package of his favorite foods.

Turning the bend from Park City, Utah we came upon Salt Lake City.  All I could think is that I have not seen smog for 3 months.  Next were the salt flats. I have never seen anything like this….snow except it is 93 degrees outside.

Today in the news Hilary is leading Trump in the poles, the UK has voted to leave the EU, and there was another terrorist attack in Istanbul’s airport.

As we arrived in Elko, Nevada, we realized that we are now back in the pacific time zone.  I love heading west…perhaps I will stay in the good habit of getting up at 6am instead of 9 am.

I usually feel depressed when a long awaited trip has come to an end.  For years my girlfriends and I have gone to Palm Desert for a long spring weekend.  When the kids were at home, getting away was a tremendous undertaking. Sometimes you wondered if all that preparation was really worth it…it always was.  To combat the inevitable feeling, I would stay until dark on Sunday (this literally gave us almost a whole other day) missing the traffic, get to bed by midnight, then get up and go to work at 7……avoiding any time to feel sorry for myself.  With that in mind, I wonder how I will feel at the conclusion of this 100 day adventure?……I may need an antidepressant.  Just kidding……I have not felt depressed since I met Doug.

Nothing chases away the “end of trip blues” like looking forward…and we are. A new precious grand child is due in mid July in Long Beach and a trip to Sun River, Oregon with family and friends will occupy the end of July.

Welcome to California

Concluding Statistics

Our Journey!
Our Journey!

Days on road: 101

Miles traveled: 9,167

Gallons of diesel consumed: 1345

States crossed: 27

Number of states “toured”….. 16     Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nebraska, Wyoming

Cost of trip……priceless.

McConnells Mills and Pittsburgh

McConnell’s Mill State Park, New Castle, and Pittsburgh Pennsylvania

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McConnell’s Mill on Slippery Rock Creek
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McConnell’s Mill and the covered bridge on Slippery Rock Creek

The day before Patti and Dick arrived, we took the Jeep over to Slippery Rock Creek gorge to see the famous McConnells Mill.  The mill and the adjacent covered bridge have achieved national fame and are listed as National Historical Landmarks. The mill is visited by over 500,000 people yearly.  It remains one of the few standing water powered functional (sort of) grist mills in all of the U.S. The nearby covered bridge spanning Slipper Rock Creek is a very popular spot for marriage proposals and many lovers paint their initials with hearts.  The Mill has even been a wedding venue. The river that runs by the mill is known for its great white water kayaking.  We had the opportunity to watch a couple of brave souls traverse the water way.  Doug and I love to kayak, but only on a quite lake like our beloved Whiskytown Lake. Initially we did not drive down into the deep gorge – our mistake! We parked at the top of the gorge and got quite a workout coming and going using the steep switch back pathway on the sheer gorge wall.  Laurie and my hiking gals from Redding would love this. The park and the mill have been beautifully maintained.

The mill was rebuilt at the site of a previous mill which was struck by lighting and burned. The “new” mill was opened in 1874 with state of the art water turbines and the covered bridge spanning the famous Slippery Rock Creek was built to enable the new mill to serve farmers on both sides of the gorge.

Captain Thomas McConnell
Captain Thomas McConnell

The man who built the new mill was Thomas McConnell a former captain in the U.S. Army. He was wounded PRIOR to the horrible Gettysburg confrontation and thus was NOT involved in that confrontation. Doug’s dad had often reflected that had Thomas McConnell been sent forward as an infantry field commander at Gettysburg he well may not have survived – thus that line of the McConnell clan including Doug’s father would not have existed. No descendants! So is this an example of a “good” wound? Direct descendants of Thomas McConnell and cousins from New Castle Thomas Hartman (a banker), and Malcolm McConnell (Doug’s grandad a U.S. Steel executive) arranged for the transfer of the mill, the bridge and the surrounding property to the State of Pennsylvania.  The transfer was completed after the death of the one remaining employee, Mose (Moses) around 1955.

Mose at McConnell's Mill
Mose at McConnell’s Mill

Mose himself is an interesting story that Doug has always talked about. It appears that Mose was born in the south prior to the Civil War and thus was a slave. After the civil war as a young free man he moved north with his mother. He soon took a job with Captain Thomas McConnell at the mill. We know Mose worked at the mill for over 74 years and he was a well respected community member. He always lived at the mill and never married. There were several cute stories about the man. One in particular…..whenever families came to visit the mill and they returned to their cars or wagon….Mose would leave an apple, an orange, and a piece of candy for each of the children.  People loved to come to the mill on errands.  It is said that Mrs. McConnell and later Mrs.Hartman (different from Doug’s grandmother) would always have a piece of pie or cookies waiting for customers or visitors.

Doug met Mose for the first time in 1950 when Doug was 5. It was his impression that Mose was then near 100 years old! He has a treasured picture of his grandfather, Mose, and Doug standing by the mill. It seems the McConnells and Hartmans would regularly bring supplies to Mose down in that gorge long after he ceased to be self sufficient.  By 1950 Mose was living in the owner’s home next to the mill.

Doug recalls that it had been decided by the extended family that Mose would live out his days in that home at the mill where he had been his whole adult life. On those summer trips Doug and his grandfather would bring supplies to Mose about every weekend. When Mose died the transfer of the property and mill to the state was soon completed – some time in the mid-1950’s.

Mose was truly loved and respected by the McConnell and Hartman families and all the visitors to the park. This is a touching, very human story of a family dedicated to “Ol’ Mose”. They kept him on the payroll and provided housing all his remaining days.  Mose is buried in a nearby church next to his mother. Doug said he learned a lot from his grandfather – including how the family treated Mose in those later years. 

Moraine State Park is really just across the road from McConnell’s Mill State Park and has a 32,000 acre lake with beaches, great camping facilities, miles of hiking trails, and a 7 miles biking trail.  We enjoyed a short 8 mile ride.  Unlike a rails to trails bikeway this one had hills…..after climbing out of the gorge earlier, my legs felt like jelly.

New Castle C.S.I.

Grandad's Home in New Castle
Grandad’s Home in New Castle

Our first day out with the Lanni’s was to New Castle.  Our first stop was Patti and Doug’s grandfather’s house.  This was the home he retired to after 40 years at US Steel.  It was empty.  There was no car in the drive, so we took to looking in the windows……we felt like the ultimate “peeping Tom’s” since there were 4 of us converging on the house and many windows.  Remember the letter I mentioned earlier that Doug wrote hoping for admission to the house?  Our investigative skills led us to the mail box which we unashamedly went through.  We found the letter delivered but not received.  Other mail produced the current owner’s phone number which we called.  As it turns out the house was purchased by the local mortician who is also a realtor.  That seemed to be quite a combination of professions…..any conflict of interest there?  This house was purchased about 7 years ago for $110,000.  This leads us to the “State of the City” of New Castle. 

It seems the city that Doug so fondly remembers has steadily declined since about the 1960’s.  As the steel industry moved to bigger cities the population slowly decreased from a high of about 48,000 to 23,000 today.  The downtown is erie with little traffic and many empty buildings.  This was really driven home in a conversation with a local gentleman about our age.  He said when he graduated from the local high school in 1967 there were 600-700 graduates.  This June that same school had a graduating class of around 100.  Growing up in Southern California where there has been nonstop growth since I as long as I can remember……it seemed almost surreal. 

The highlight of the day was visiting the country club were Doug’s grandpa was a member.  Doug remembers going there every Sunday for dinner.  His grandad let him drive in New Castle when he was only 14 years old!   Apparently the neighbors felt that Doug was probably safer than his grandad. Doug loved that. Despite not being members, we were graciously invited to look all around and have lunch there.  The golf course reminded me of Virginia Country Club. It was a wonderful afternoon!

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At trip to the cemetery ended the day.  Finding the McConnell grave site was another adventure.  First of all there are three cemeteries in New Castle.  To narrow the choice required a call to Doug’s other sister in Ventura for the exact cemetery.  Once we had the right place this old cemetery has no central office with a simple listing of grave site locations.  Finding grandad’s grave site required joining a local association, and searching the archives of the newspaper obituaries from the 1960’s in order to find the exact date of death. Apparently they had NO way to find a grave if you didn’t know the date of death. Well we did that. With that new information, an unhappy volunteer had to return to the office to locate the grave site in their records.  She also wanted to make sure a donation was made to the association.  Was it worth it?….ask Doug & Patti.  (Doug here: YES it was. We did feel a little like CSI New Castle!)

June 15, 2016  McConnell’s Mills – Again

Today we returned to the mill with Patti and Dick Lanni. We had a very informative tour by, Natalie, a ranger that has made the history of McConnell’s Mill her personal quest.  This was a grist mill which meant it was equipped to grind corn, wheat, and buck wheat.  If the wheat harvest went bad, buckwheat could be grown in a very short period of time and thus provide grain for a family for a season.   A bushel of raw wheat yielded only 44 lbs of white flour.  At that time, white flour was very desirable for the fluffy cakes and breads it produced.  This 1800’s mill was eventually so automated that wheat could be ground to flour in approximately 40 minutes – all from water power. Electric motors and the internal combustion motor had not been invented yet! The miller was paid a portion of the final product.

Fireflies!!!

Fireflies, fireflies, fireflies…….I finally saw fireflies…..how magical they are.  I wonder what God had in mind when he created them….perhaps, like the birds, purely for our delight.

June 16,2016  Pittsburgh

Doug’s grandad was eventually the superintendent of Homestead Steel Mill which was the most productive steel mill in the world and part of US Steel.  Our goal for the day was to find his grandfather’s house in a suburb of Pittsburgh called Munhall – “at the top of the hill”.   Doug’s father said he would walk to the Carnegie Library in Munhal to swim, which was “just down the street”.  As it turns out the house (or I should say mansion) was next door to the library, built on one entire square city block.  Unfortunately it was torn down in the 1960’s and a retirement facility was constructed on the grounds.  Always the detectives, Doug and Patti only learned this from one of the retirement home residents.  Doug’s dad had recalled as a child going with his dad(grandad McConnell) on Sundays to visit any employees that were sick.  It was to his grandad’s credit that during the years that he was the superintendent, there were no major labor conflicts.

Superintendent's Home in Munhal
Superintendent’s Home in Munhal

This place looks like it was “adequate” for entertaining.  We also have pictures of Doug’s grandfather escorting Albert Einstein around the steel mill during a visit.

As we were heading back to New Castle, we all got flood warnings on our phones.  I have never been in such a deluge in my life.  I was secretly hoping that we would just stop and wait it out…..but we were on a mission to get back.   

We had experienced several days of investigation and discovery of family roots with Patti and Dick. They were great company and we loved sharing the experience and some of the frustrations together.  Dick was a former Naval Officer and we were glad he was driving because as we left Pittsburgh it seemed we had become a submarine!  We were glad to have the three days together.

Friday June 17, 2016  Incredible Family

Incredible Family!
Incredible Family!

The people we meet have been half the fun on this journey.  Today is no exception.  As I was loading up the washing machine at our camp ground a gal came in with 4 loads of laundry to do.  I thought that was rather odd to be doing so much laundry on a Friday…..school is just getting out…..surly they just recently arrived.  I kid you not, it took  the machine 20 min just to fill with water.  She said to me “ya it is always like that”.  Hum???  With 20 minutes to wait she told me her story. 

Her husband is a contractor and currently is building a Nordstrom’s Rack in Pittsburg.  She and their 4 children travel with him.  The kids are 3, 7, 14 & 17.  They live in a large 5th wheel and, up until February, her dad was also with them.  They have a home in Tennessee, but decided that they were rather be together with their dad.  All the kids enthusiastically love this life style.  Dottie, a former teacher, home schools all the kids.  It seems they are in one location about 6 months at a time.  The kids get involved with sports where ever they happen to be.  Most of the past winters have been in warm climates.  This winter they will be in Chicago. This weekend they are all going to Washington, DC. They have his work truck to pull the 5th wheel and she drives behind in a  Suburban.  The two older kids, a boy and a girl, have been to 42 states. What an eye opening experience for them.  This is a gal that ‘does not shit the small stuff”.  The kids are delightful.  Both of the teenagers seem very outgoing and friendly, even to a stranger like me.  No grousing when I asked if I could take their picture.  The 3 year old even put her high heels on for the the occasion!

Doug and I finished the day with a couple of hours kayaking on the lake.

Lake Moraine, Pennsylvania
Lake Moraine, Pennsylvania

The US Open was being played near here at Oakmont Golf Course.  The deluge of Thursday had to affect the playability of the course. One of our fellow campers gets to be a marshall and is hoping to play a round if the Open concludes early.  The rain didn’t help that hope.  He is retired for the third time and has his PGA card.  He says he is going to play golf and mow his lawn.  Lawn mowing is an art form here….it can consume days, I think.

June 18, 2016

We just got on the Ohio Turnpike and are not seeing many trucks…..We may have made a mistake and have a hefty toll.

As it turns out, it is not as bad as we anticipated……..$27 for 120 miles.

Congratulation Madam President

A big congratulations to my “youngest” oldest granddaughter…….she was just elected president of the ASB at her school, Newcomb, in Long Beach.  She won with these two slogans. “Vote for me Regan D” & “Regan will go the extra mile to make you smile.”

Regan deMetropolis ASU President
Regan deMetropolis ASU President

Happy Father’s Dad to all my favorite fathers   June 19, 2016 Ann Arbor

We made a detour to Ann Arbor for a brief visit with a friend of Doug’s from his UCLA days as a resident.  Dave Bloom is chairman of urology at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.  We had a delightful brunch at their home which is nestled in a beautiful forest.  A few years ago they added on a huge screened porch…..it really is like sitting in a tree house.  We are so appreciative that we were able to squeeze into their very busy schedule.  Martha, Dave’s wife, had a wonderful brunch just waiting for us.  We did spend some hours as Dave and Doug relived their early days at UCLA. They met on the first day as brand new medical school grads with all their new responsibilities.  What an exciting time in their lives. Dave has as many stories to tell as does Doug! Hard to believe but true.

Dave and Martha Bloom's lovely screened porch
Dave and Martha Bloom’s lovely screened porch

Thank you Dave & Martha

  

Mystic Connecticut, Camping, and Cape Cod

Moving on to Mystic, Connecticut

We are going to Mystic for no particular reason except to hunker down for the Memorial Day Weekend. 

Last year on July 4th we were in Glacier National Park and our reservations had run out on the 3rd of July.  We just thought, at worst, we would stay in a Walmart Parking lot.  (Not a glamorous place to spend the 4th)  The KOA we had been in for a week was very accommodating and kept moving us to spots where reservations were not kept….on the 4th they let us dry camp on their property so that we could watch the fireworks.  Not wanting to be in that position again over a holiday weekend this year, Doug made reservations well in advance.  Why Mystic?  It is on the way to Cape Cod, it is on the coast, and the name sounded intriguing.

Mystic Psychic?????
Mystic Psychic?????

This is the first time we have been in a campground that is completely filled.  It is a bustling hive of kids….riding their bike, swimming, fishing.  The number one attraction seems to be this inflatable trampoline…sometimes there are 20 kids jumping.  Rosie would love it!!!!…….Dylan too.

Trampoline at Mystic KOA
Trampoline at Mystic KOA

There are 258 sites here.  Camping, especially tent camping, is a ton of work for moms and dads. Those of you that have ever done this are shaking your heads “yes” right now.  Paul and I did it ONCE.  Not being “campers”, we had to borrow almost everything we needed.  That was already too much work for a vacation!  Andy wasn’t even born, so it was just Sean & Christopher as toddlers.  We went to Tuolumne Meadows with our good friends the Parks.  Ron and Vicky were experienced from their backpacking days.  They had two little girls, also toddlers.  There were three events  that I clearly remember.  The first was trying to hike.  Getting 8 people ready to hike, 4 of them little people, got us going around noon….just in time for someones nap time.  You all know what a tired toddler can be like…….we didn’t get far before we abandoned that outing.  The second was that wonderful time after dinner, with the campfire blazing.  You just want to sit back and enjoy, maybe with a cup of coffee……this was not to be.  With the dinner dishes done, it was time for baths.  There are no showers in this camp ground.  Now we were to start heating water for bath time for the kids.  Boys don’t need baths when they camp, do they?  I believe that some dirt is good.  (I even let my boys eat dirt if they were that stupid)  The girls were bathed, put in clean PJs, and then not allowed to walk anywhere but in their tents.  The glow of the evening was lost.  The third was Ron’s doing and not approved by his wife.  He was always up to something.  He decided that we needed the experience of seeing a bear up close.  After we all called it a night and were snuggled up in our sleeping bags……Ron snuck out and strategically placed marsh mallows around our tent.  Yosemite has very strict rules about storing food as we all know.  Since I am here to tell the story……he fortunately was not successful.  That was the end of tent camping for our family.  That of course was not the end…we still had to come home and clean everything in order to return it is better condition that we borrowed it. 

The next try was an outing with our church to Newport Dunes.  Knowing that Paul would never tent camp  again, I borrowed a camper from one of my friends.  Remember when I said we liked to return things in better condition?…..Paul drove under a low lying branch in front of our house…..the camper was returned minus a roof. 

Seeing these families making memories this weekend makes me wish I had tried harder to take the boys camping…..

This KOA is a stark contrast from where we spent the previous night, at a state park in the Poconos, The Promised Land.   We were in a remote site several miles in with essentially no other campers. I seem to like solitude with people around.

Promised Land Lake
Promised Land Lake

Although there are a few very wealthy counties in Connecticut, this does not seem to be a wealthy thriving state.  Our camping neighbor, who lives here, said that he cannot even sell his home.  The little towns we drove through yesterday seemed generally unkept.  The freeway infrastructure is very old. The taxes have driven out several major companies like GE.  There are homes for sale everywhere. 

Memorial Day Weekend

My grandmother lived with us when I was young.  On Sundays she loved to “go for a drive in the country”….we used to drive way out in the country to Orange County….. when it was country….remember?

Today we drove in to Mystic River, a charming costal town with a draw bridge.  Our ride home along the river revealed beautiful homes with big lawns built in the New England style.  The next day was a drive to Newport, RI., about 40 miles from our camp site.  This is the town of the rich and famous of yesterday year….homes on the Atlantic cliffs of folks like the Astors & Vanderbilts.  We did The Cliff walk along will several hundred other tourists.  Dinner was the food of Connecticut, clam chowder.

Mystic, Connecticut Waterfront
Mystic, Connecticut Waterfront

 

It is Monday.  We are taking a vacation from vacationing.  It is pouring.  We are paying some much needed attention to the RV.  Doug takes better care of this rig than I take care of our home.  We watched Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, filmed in Savannah.  Since we had gone to Durham we thought we would watch Bull Durham.  It took 16 hours to download.  I thought it was supposed to be about baseball….smile.

Other random thoughts……

I have never seen a fire fly.

I know that it is not the building that make a church a church……..but some of these old churches just seem a beautiful place to worship.

Doug actually enjoys the problems that are inherent in RV’ing.  He loves nothing more that a challenge.  Also, always curious, he was experimenting with which brand of toilet paper disintegrates most rapidly.  Scott for septic tanks was the winner, if you are interested.  He also fixed our water heater.  The interesting thing about this was he was able to order this obscure part from Amazon and it was delivered then very next day to the RV Park we were staying in.  That is amazing.

I have found one thing in which he is a complete failure…….he cannot build a fire…not even with a blow torch.  We enjoy the paper starter burning and then it is just smoke and cussing. Where is Andy when you need him?  Doug actually consulted the web on fire building.  He will overcome.

Have you ever tried doing yoga in a moving RV?

May 31, 2016 on to Cape Cod

We are staying at a beautiful RV park call Sweet Water Forest.  We usually come to Cape Cod with a suitcase, not a house on wheels.  Doug’s good friends from his Palo Verdes days  live here in Chatham.  We usually stay with John and his wife Lona when we visit.  Their home is my most favorite ever.  Lona is a artist and just has that perfect eye for pulling everything together.

John and Lona Kissinger
John and Lona Kissinger

I have to say I love New England architecture.  I have decided my perfect house would look similar to New England structures, have a big front porch and off to the side a sun room that is screened in in the summer with glass windows in the winter.  The yard would not be fenced and it would take a sit down mower to keep the lawn cut.  The back of the house would have a forrest.  There would be several wood burning fireplaces and I would learn to start a fire.  I think I just described Lona and John’s house on Cap Cod.  Oh yes, and a view of the water that would be easy walking distance or up on a hill with a view.  Before I get too enamored …I must remember that we are visiting at the perfect time of year, spring.  I also love how all of the towns are separated from each other, usually by farm land or forrest….or so it would appear from the highway.

The beautiful patio
The beautiful patio
Kissinger's Cape Cod House
Kissinger’s Cape Cod House
Dining Room
Dining Room
Sunporch
Sunporch
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Patio with ocean view

We were going to do a BBQ at our camp site, but was informed by John and Lona that we are in the most tick infested area of the Cape.  They made us put on bug spray before we set out on a bike ride.  Also there are these little tiny caterpillars that just seem to fall out of the sky.  The pollen from the pine trees is really bad this year.  It makes your car look like it hasn’t been washed for a year, like green dust. Despite all of this, it still looks like heaven to me, but I don’t think the BBQ is going to happen.  Doug has enjoyed the challenge of making sure we are “tic free”.

Our Camp Site in the Forest
Our Camp Site in the Forest

Lawrence Littleton Mass-6041111

Our first day on the Cape was glorious.  There are miles and miles of paved biking trails called the Cape Cod Rails Trails.  The Cape is covered with many small towns from the Lower Cape through Mid Cape and Upper Cape, with such names as Brewster, Chatham, Dennis, Sandwich, Orleans, Provincetown.  These are all connected with these wonderful trials that run in tree covered forests along the many waterways.  You could spend a month or a summer here and it wouldn’t seem like enough.

PA and Cape Cod-8402 PA and Cape Cod-8397 untitled shoot-6011063 untitled shoot-6011062 untitled shoot-6011060

Oddly, cranberries are the number one food of Massachusetts.  They are grown in cranberry bogs and that is about all I know.  Perhaps I need to wait for fall for them to surface. Our RV camp had a “retired bog” – so designated by Massachusetts. Apparently even bogs can retire in this state.

We feel like we are eating our way through Cape Cod.  Lona and John have been such wonderful hosts.  Eating at their house is like being in a 5 star restaurant.  Weather permitting we can sit out by their fire pit or up on the balcony and watch the sunset over the water.  If it is cold we sit in their family room and have a real fire or if it is sunny we can gather in their sunroom.  They only arrived back in the Cape last week from wintering in Florida and the place is brimming with beautiful flowers.  This is one of my most favorite places on earth.

The fish is to die for….we have had Cod, Scallops, Clam Chowder, Fish Tacos, Oysters on the Half Shell, fried Soft Shell Crabs.

This morning I spent browsing through the Brewster General Store.  It is a charming way to spend a gloomy morning.  We are waiting in rain for another glorious day.

Brewster Store
Brewster Store

PA and Cape Cod-8397 PA and Cape Cod-8400

John and Doug kept themselves entertained for hours on end with computer challenges and preparation for the OBP board meeting next week.  It is fun to see two men enjoy each others company so much.

June 5, 2016

With some sadness we left Cape Cod.  We had planned 5 days there.  It is definitely an outdoors type of place.  Unfortunately it was gloomy or raining 3 of our 5 days.  We went out on their boat and by the picture, it looks like we should have gone skiing.  Oh well….we have spent many fun times here on the Cape.

Col Day on Cape Cod
Cool Day on Cape Cod

Today we are stopping at the Minuteman RV park out side of Boston.  Doug is busy for the next couple of days with meetings.  He is the medical director/board member of a company – OBP medical products. They make high quality disposable LED lighted surgical retractors and speculums.  It is a very inventive group and Doug contributes his medical perspective. Cape Cod John is the financial board member and the rest are engineers, attorneys, and business men – all with creative minds. Doug really enjoys the challenges of participating in a growing business making a valuable medical product.

OBP Board meets for lunch
OBP Board meets for lunch

It is pouring…….perhaps I should start doing rain dances in California….it seems to follow us.

June 6 & 7, 2016

I have spent 2 days at this RV park and have absolutely no clue where I am. Doug has taken the Jeep for these 2 days of meetings about 26 miles away.  Fortunately the surroundings are beautiful.  We are nestled in a forrest of tall trees.  Every site is roomy, private, & green.  I have gone to my UBER app a few times to see of some sort of transportation is available….none.  There is no taxi service either.  The office said I could have an Enterprise car dropped of here…..but where would I go since I don’t know where I am?  Actually I have enjoyed a couple of days of reading and walking.  I was able to join the OBP group for dinner.    

We had dinner at Philip’s Academy in Andover.  Apparently it is one of the most exclusive boarding schools on the East coast attended by some Kennedys and Bush, the elder.  It was a wonderful time to get to know the folks that Doug has his “every Monday morning” tele-conference call with.  Three of them are young men in their 30’s, all with new babies.  It was delightful hearing about these young families.  One of the boys said he never thought he would be the type of dad showing videos of his 2 month old daughter to strangers.  I love a proud papa.

Every 15 Minutes………

My granddaughter, Madison, participated in a project at school called EVERY 15 MINUTES.  I had never before heard of this….apparently it is a project done in many high schools all over the US.  This was the first time it was done at a Long Beach Unified School District high school and was the senior project of one of the girls there.  Madi had to apply to participate, as did the other students.  It is very graphic and is meant to make a serious impact on the students regarding drinking and driving.  The students that were “killed” were removed from school and their obituaries were left in their place.  My son and his wife, Madi’s two sisters, and their other grandmother all found themselves as participants.  It was chilling to watch.  The video was shown to an assembly of juniors and seniors along with speakers who had lost family member to drunk drivers….I am still shaken. Here is the link and please watch – particularly if you have family to whom this message is aimed.

Madi’s video

June 7th afternoon

Doug was out of his meetings by early afternoon….we took off to the town of Ayer that was only 3 miles away.  There is a Rails to Trails bike trail that we ended up walking for a while.  We couldn’t figure out why there were so many cars parked at the beginning of trail.  Well we found out when the train arrived and people were hightailing it to their autos.  Could you imagine taking a train to work everyday?  It actually sounds kind of appealing. The downtown of this quaint little town of 7,500 was charming.  When does charming become “old” and when does old become “charming”?

June 8, 2016

Today we did the Minuteman Bike Way Rails to Trails ride for about 18 miles….running between Bedford and Concord through Lexington.  I even saw my first Trader Joe’s in what seems like months.  We love the Rails to Trails rides because they are very predictable with no steep grades (it was a railroad after all) and essentially no automobile traffic.  This particular one is apparently the busiest  one in the US.  Many of the riders use it to get to the train station and on to Boston for work.  This trail also has signs for points of interest….like Trader Joe’s.  We stopped outside an old Mill House.  It was closed.  To our surprise the president of the Mill preservation board saw us and said since we came all the way for California, he would give us a tour.  The mill was founded by a German family in mid late 1800’s. Initially it ran on water power but then was converted to steam power. It was in active use until the 1970’s.  The mill today is part of a preservation plan but still has artisan woodworkers that are able to run all the belt driven machinery making wooden picture frames…including round and ovals frames. These shapes are very difficult if you think about it.

The President of the Schwamb Mill preservation project was kind enough to give us a tour. Thanks!
The President of the Schwamb Mill preservation project was kind enough to give us a tour. Thanks!
Lawrence Littleton Mass-6081138
Boston rail car at the station
Bonny at the station on the bike trail
Bonny at the station on the bike trail

June 10, 2016

Today was one of the best days ever.  We took our bikes and rode the Battle Ground Trail. This is a very famous dirt road that the the British used to march from Boston to Lexington and Concord in April 1775. It was at the North bridge over the Concord River, that the local militia stood their ground and an organized battle took place – the beginning of the American Revolution military action. The shocked British army of some 400 troops used this very road to retreat towards Lexington where they hoped to meet reinforcements coming from Boston. They took heavy casualties inflicted by the surrounding American militias. You could say the United States of America began RIGHT HERE!

The British soldiers were over 3,000 miles from their homes and family.  Although they had been trained, few of them had seen battle.  Other than loyalty to the King, they had no flesh in the game as did the colonialists.  The American colonialists were fighting for  their rights that were slowly being obstructed by the crown. The British had come to confiscate the colonialists arms and gun powder. (The Second Amendment battle between an armed citizen and a central government wishing to disarm the citizen started in Concord 1775! That tension and political battle continues to this day if you think about it.)

Back to the battle…..after crossing the river out of Boston and the long night of marching, the wet, tired, hungry British soldiers marching into Concord and found themselves essentially 20 miles behind enemy lines.   After the shooting confrontation at the Concord bridge,  they were now encircled by a growing number of militia on their retreat march back towards Lexington and Boston.  The Americaan militia started initially at 400+ but eventually became greater than 4000 men by the end of the day.  The militia also had the “hometown” advantage – they knew the topography and where to hide in ambush.

The British started off on an unknown mission that day (to the men) and without adequate supplies for what they were to face.  I sort of felt sorry for the British soldiers – they are buried all along the retreat route.  They did receive reinforcements of some 1000 troops near Lexington but they had to fight their way all the way back to Cambridge and the safety of Boston Harbor. That battle was over…but the war had just begun.

In the colonies, men between the ages of 16-60 participated in the militia and trained in their communities.  Out of this came the “Minute Men”.  They are what I would call the National Guard – Citizen Soldiers of today.  They pledged to be available on very short notice, hence “Minute Man.” They were defending their homes and their families.

As for the militia, I am not so sure that a couple of years of mandatory service to this country would be a bad thing.  Doug, while already a commissioned Army officer, was deferred from active duty while he was finishing his Cardio-thoracic residency.  When he was fully trained, he was obligated to 2 years of active duty and 4 years of Army reserve duty.  At 36 he was a fully trained surgeon.  He would have loved to get started with is career, but had a Vietnam obligation.  I believe it was 2 of the best years of his life.  He has a very healthy respect and understanding for our military. (Doug here – I fully support Bonny’s thoughts here. They were formative years of service to great Americans)

The trail is a 5 mile interpretive road with several restored or maintained building along the way.  Many of the areas remain as they would have been back in 1776.  Finishing the HBO series of John Adams,  I fell like my head is exploding again with information.

The trail has the still standing home of the captain of the militia – Abigail Adams brother!

The Minute Man Statue standing at the America line of battle at the bridge
The Minute Man Statue standing at the America line of battle at the bridge
The North Bridge over the Concord River
The North Bridge over the Concord River
The Battle Road
The Battle Road

Why all the rock fences throughout the area?   In order to clear a field for a crop, trees had to be removed as well as all the large boulders and rocks.  It was a huge job.  If you can imagine the effort it took to remove a large bolder…the farmers simply piled them up along the boarders of their fields.  This was not an attempt to separate land, but a more expedient way to clear it.  An interesting nano-fact.

As we returned to our camp site the evening warmed.  We had a wonderful bonfire and a delightful evening.  Dusk isn’t falling until 830-900 pm.  A perfect last evening.(Doug here – I BUILT that “wonderful fire” – so there)

June 11-12th, 2016

On the road through Massachusetts, New York, Connecticut & back to Pennsylvania

Being from California, it is hard to realized you can travel through 4 states in one day.  We drove until almost dark and hunkered down behind a Cracker Barrel Restaurant for the night.  Not wanting to look like we were camping, we let our slide out only enough to get around the bed.  Little did we know that this left the side unsealed and the mosquitoes found this a great way to get to us. (ONE mosquito only and he died quickly)

Sunset from the Cracker Barrel parking lot overlooking the Home Depot. Pretty nice!
Sunset from the Cracker Barrel parking lot overlooking the Home Depot. Pretty nice!

We had another “incident” as we were driving.  I knew I shouldn’t do it, but I brought glass nesting bowls.  Doug made a tight turn, the bowls flew out and the largest one broke into a thousand pieces.  In and of its self, not so bad……except shards of glass got under the slide.  It took several days to finally get them all out.  Every time we closed the slide you could hear glass grinding.  Again this could have resulted in not being able to close the slide, which meant we could not move, which meant we would have had to have the RV towed.  It seems all the lessons I have learned in this lifetime have been because I did it wrong a least once.

The Orlando, Florida Islamist attack occurred today.  We have no TV and very spotty satellite radio….we have sadly heard enough, however.

(Doug here – When are we going to deal directly with the obvious confrontation between our Constitution and Islamic Sharia law based fundamentalists? I see no middle ground between the two different belief and governmental value systems.)

Onto McConnell’s Mills State Park

Today will be a walk down memory land for Doug and his sister.  Doug’s sister, Patti, and her husband, Dick, will be joining us  to tour the area where Doug and Patti enjoyed  summer visits to their grandparents here in Pennsylvania.  Doug’s parents were both Pennsylvania residents prior to their marriage in 1944. Doug’s father was an Army Air Corps Major at the end of WW II and moved the family to Southern California when he left active duty in 1946. We are also going to tour the McConnell’s Mill and State Park. More info to follow.

  

Virginia, Gettysburg, and Lancaster Stops

Virginia is for Lovers

Today was a day of a very fortunate coincidence. It occurred to me that our former long time neighbors in Long Beach, John and Betty Loudermilk, had moved to Virginia.  Could they possibly be anywhere near where we were staying????  They just happen to live in the very same town in which we had parked the RV, Waynesboro!  With the aid of past emails we were able to locate them and, yes, they were in town and available….if we could join them Saturday night at their newly renovated theater for a Doo Wop concert.  Oh what a night it was.  We were able to join them for a pre performance gathering and meet many of their friends and supporters of the newly opened Waynesboro Theatre (they insist on the ‘re’ – its a Virginia thing).  The show itself was one you simply didn’t want to end.  The Doo Wop Project group had people dancing in the aisles. Every song was an “oldie but a goodie”!  Lucky us…..we got the last two tickets.

Bonny at the concert
Bonny at the concert
Betty and John Loudermilk in Waynesboro
Betty and John Loudermilk in Waynesboro
Loudermilk Lounge
Loudermilk Lounge

Their theater renovation was similar to what Redding’s Cascade Theatre (Theater?) went through. The theater was threatened with demolition but then tremendous community support came together to save the 1930’s structure.  John and Betty contributed greatly and even had a lounge named after them.  It is beautiful and will be a center of community activity for years to come.

John was raised in this little town of 20,000.  He and Betty moved back here in 2012.  They are busier than  ever. One of his activities is being a “trail angel”.  Waynesboro is one of the favorite stops for those traversing the Appalachian Trail which runs for 2,900  miles in the Blue Ridge Mountains.  He and the many other volunteers will drive in and pick up travelers wishing to resupply, sleep in a real bed, or get a shower or need to get off the trail for any reason.  Remember “Into The Woods” with Robert Redford and Nick Nolte? John said this movie has spurred an increase in trail travel.  The day we arrived, John had just transported two guys up to the trailhead….”they were so over packed…they will be off the trail in a couple of days”. He blames the movie for some very unrealistic “hikers”.

Shenandoah Valley
Shenandoah Valley

Perhaps we loved this little town because it reminds us of Redding.  The people are friendly and happy and do not take the beauty of their surroundings for granted.

Madi at the Los Alamitos Prom….. 

           

Madison and her Prom Friends
Madison and her Prom Friends

May 15, 2016  Monticello

The reason for camping in Waynesboro Virginia was so that we would be near the beloved home of Thomas Jefferson – Monticello.   After raining on and off yesterday, we woke up to clear cool skies. The temperature actually dipped into the 30’s and, best of all, no humidity…a great day for a tour of this beautiful plantation “on the hill”.

Thomas Jefferson was a self taught architect and Monticello is a good example with some very odd design features.  We took the “behind the scenes” tour which we would highly recommend….wonderful insights into this great man’s mind.  For example, the two stair wells which served 4 stories, were not grand staircases as you might expect in the great mansions of the south. They were not more than 2 feet wide and very, very steep!   Could you imagine going up and down the stairs holding a candle and a baby with a long nightgown?   Jefferson never used these stairs – only his guests and servants were upstairs. Not really a great design in our opinion.  All of HIS large rooms were on the well appointed first floor.  This is in marked contrast to the small rooms on the upper floors.  He also had an enormous dome built on the house (the first structure of this nature in the US).  The dome is closed off and does not seem to serve any interior purpose for the empty room on which it sits.  We did find one reference to this room as a possible ballroom BUT those stairs would have prevented any easy access to the third floor and this “ballroom”. This home was often crowded with as many as 30 people at a time.

Monticello on a beautiful spring day!
Monticello on a beautiful spring day!
Monticello Sideview
Monticello Sideview

Jefferson was not an inventor, but had a mind that was always inquisitive.  His scientific interests led to the commissioning of the Lewis & Clark expedition to explore the recent Louisiana Purchase which doubled the territory of the US. Monticello’s entry parlor is decorated with many of the animal skins, antlers and Native American gifts presented to the expedition (replicas). Jefferson, however, seemed to not consider this expedition one his great achievements – remarkable.

Jefferson was described as a “conflicted” man.  When writing the the Deceleration of Independence at age 33, he penned these words “…all men are created equal” but he was the owner of up to 600 slaves during his lifetime – conflict.  Monticello was built on a hill – conflict. The construction and management of a farm away from the water supply and on a hill would not have been possible without slave labor – conflict. He knew that slavery was an issue to be addressed in “another time”.

Monticello seemed to be an experiment of Jefferson’s.  He longed to be there but served 1/2 of his adult life in public service away from his beloved home.  I think that is the kind of leaders we need…those that serve out of a sense of duty, as he did.

Only 2 of his 6 children with his wife lived to adulthood.  I cannot imagine burying 4 children.

He died with over $1,000,000 (today’s dollars) of debt forcing the sale of Monticello after his death. Interestingly, the plantation and home was purchased by the first Jewish U.S. Naval Commodore in honor of Mr. Jefferson. Jefferson was a strong proponent of religious freedom and was supportive of the early Jewish community in the U.S. Commodore Levy appreciated that. He and his extended family worked to maintain and preserve the structure until it was turned over to the current foundation in the 1920’s.

Lesson learned….Many people of great accomplishment may struggle in other aspect of their lives.  These failures do not negate those achievements – it simply demonstrates their humanity.  Thomas Jefferson was a great man. 

Green Leaf Cafe in Waynesboro…..not to be missed if you are in the area.  The chef Chris came from the Commander’s Palace in New Orleans.  We got to meet him but didn’t get ask what brought him to Wayensboro.  Our meal was beyond good. 

KOA Gettysburg

I am seeing this RV park as I would imagine my grandson, Dylan, would see it……magical.   It is way off the highway with tall trees everywhere.  There is a playground with what looks like are real pirate ship on white sand with a brook running behind.  A forrest with a nature hike beckons you to just keep going…it is getting dark…is that poison Ivy???  You can see glowing campfires almost everywhere you look. The night has an ever so little nip to it.   Lots of tents with kids laughing and flashlights streaking about.  I love the sound of kids having fun….this is the kind of place I love.  The afternoon sun sparkling through the trees.  There is a swimming pool too and a gift shop brimming with goodies.  The light throughout the park are warm and glowing like lanterns in days of long ago.  I don’t want tonight to end and the fires to go out.

KOA Entrance with our RV in trees
KOA Entrance with our RV in trees
Ship ahoy!
Ship ahoy!
Koa Nature Trail
Koa Nature Trail

May 17, 2016

Today it rained….we never left the campsite.  Doug is always “organizing” our storage…I think he is finally finished!  My only contribution to the day…..I buzzed his hair.  He does think that looking like Delbert is not becoming.  He says I now have a new job. 

Gettysburg…the battle

Today was spent on the battlefields of Gettysburg….a documentary, a diorama, a tour of the battle fields and the museum…..ending with Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.  I found it a little difficult moving from Thomas Jefferson and the American Revolution to Abe Lincoln and the Civil War…..my eyes are starting to cross.  This area is so rich with history it would take many trips to absorb everything. I wonder if those that live here visit these great tributes to history.  I grew up in Souther California and still have never been to all of the California Missions or even Universal Studios for that matter.  It sort of makes me want to come back to California and revisit the missions and the gold rush country.  I am really not being flip…….just overwhelmed.  I will probably only remember a fraction of what I learned today.  One of the things that really touched me was the aftermath of this battle and what the people of this town faced after the soldiers left  There were 7000 dead soldiers and 3000 dead horses in the battle fields around the town.  In addition all the non transportable wounded from both sides were left in town with ongoing medical care.

Another lesson was the differing missions of both the Union and Confederate Armies.  The Union never took the stars representing the Confederate states off the flag, always hoping to reunite all states.   The Confederates wanted to spread slavery to all the new US territories and perhaps to Cuba and northern Mexico (extended Texas). 

This war was far more complicated that just the issue of slavery however. The strategies of the battle and the missteps that changed the course of this country were are detailed.  I didn’t realized that the war continued for almost 2 years after this horrific battle.   More Americans (> 620,000) died in our Civil War than in WW I, WW II, Korea, and Viet Nam combined! This Civil War death count does not include the injuries and maiming and late deaths attributable to infections etc.

Friend to Friend
Friend to Friend
Friend to Friend
Friend to Friend

Of all the statues and monuments here, this is one that Doug found particularly important.  It is called “Friend to Friend” demonstrating the complexities of this war and relives the actual moment a mortally wounded Confederate General is giving his watch and personal effects to a Union Captain to pass on to the captain’s General. The two Generals were good friends from their days at West Point.  The Confederate General died the next day. The Union Captain and General fulfilled their promise. All three men were Masons.

Friend to Friend Shadow
Friend to Friend Shadow

Gettysburg…..the town

Gettysburg - Lincoln Square
Gettysburg – Lincoln Square

Waynesboro Gettysburg Lancaster-5190881

In 1863 Gettysburg was a thriving commerce and farming center…..picture a wheel with 10 spokes (roads) and a railroad passing through the town. Because of  this access and  the potential need for resupply, Gettysburg was an attraction to the two armies roaming the Pennsylvania countryside in June – July 1863.  Both armies were surprised by the other.  No conflict was originally planned at this location.

Today many of the original buildings still stand.  The battles were fought in the hills and valleys surrounding Gettysburg.  Actually, despite this bloody battle, only one civilian life was lost…..thought to be a stray bullet. The town became the hospital for the dying and wounded of both sides and the burial ground for the rest.  Kitchens became operating rooms.

In touring the town today, I think what would those folks in 1863 think of all the cars, gift shops, & ice cream stores that line the streets of what once was their home.  However, many have gone to great lengths to preserve that time in our history.  We enjoyed the first day of the Farmer’s Market in Lincoln  Square.  The strawberries did not make it to the RV.  They were “first of the season” and the size of an apple and oh soooooooo sweet.  I did a little bit of window shopping……I know Doug hates this, so I really try to restrain myself.  After a wee bit of wine tasting and a pint of beer, I couldn’t wait to take a nap. We ran into the same problem here as in Canada, they cannot ship wine to California.  We did pick up a couple of bottles made from grapes that are not found in California….I doubt they will make it back home.

Mennonite Strawberries
Mennonite
Strawberries

Friday May 20, 2016

We are leaving today for Lancaster, Pa to explore the Amish country.  Before we left we took a little hike.  Being the disciplined hikers we are, we only took a cell phone as provisions.  I don’t think Doug thought we were going to make it back to civilization although you could hear the traffic on the road in the distance.  I don’t think he enjoys hiking much unless he has his camera and a great excuse to stop frequently.  As I get older, the stopping is fine with me.  Trying to listen to the birds, all I could hear was his chirping…..smile.

Please don’t think I pick on Doug or write things behind his back.  He has editorial oversight and corrects all my spelling and grammatical errors. (Yes, I do – Doug here!)

May 21, 2016……Today is 2 months on the road

I woke up this morning to an oral history of the Amish and Mennonite  cultures as seen through the eyes of Doug McConnell.  Apparently, children are raised in the church and in the ways of the Amish but as a teenager they are allowed to choose which path they will lead as adults and are baptized at that time.  85-90% of children choose to remain within the Amish community. 

Doug: The Amish and the Mennonites both descended from the original Anabaptist movement shortly after the protestant reformation in the early 1500’s. They believed in adult baptism and the entry of adults into the church. In the late 1600’s, Jacob Ammann separated from the group and choose to follow a more separated life from the surrounding world. Ultimately they came under heavy persecution in Europe. William Penn offered for them to emigrate to Pennsylvania and many did. The Mennonites also came to Pennsylvania for the same reason. To this day the Amish shun motorized tools, use buggy transportation, do not use buttons on their clothing and do not have electricity or phones in their homes. They are strong, polite, self educated largely and very respected by the community.  Bonny and I watched entire fields plowed by teams of horses and mules and insecticide (modern??) spread by a mule powered rig. They have beautiful markets for the “English” to come buy their superb agricultural products.

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Hershey Lancaster OLY-5240983

The view from our RV park
The view from our RV park
No washing machine or dryers here!
No washing machine or dryers here!

The religious persecution that forced our ancestors to flee Europe is unthinkable.  Thank you to the founders of this country for providing the religious freedom we we experience today – and take for granted.  I reread this sentence and it seems so obvious, but now finally understanding is life changing for me. 

What can we do in the rain??  My friend Chris Neal wrote that on their Spring road trip across the US, they spent their time out running tornadoes.  We seem to be following the rain. 

On Orange is a small restaurant “on Orange Street”.  We were ushered to a basement table and served oatmeal pancakes.  I have never had an oatmeal pancake.  Slathered in butter and syrup…..quite filling.  Then we visited the Saturday Market.  I wasn’t that excited since the last two in New Orleans and Charleston were mostly just touristy…….this one was fabulous with fresh picked produce, fresh baked bread, meats, fresh flowers and so much more.  Apparently it is greatly anticipated and  patronized      by the locals….we bought fudge. jam, chow-chow, and pork chops.

Lancaster Central Market
Lancaster Central Market

We were served by a gentleman name Dan who is Amish.  He was quite forthcoming and helpful. His whole family was there selling pastries in one area and an entire meet market refrigerator in another. We bought some home made jam from Dan and then met his daughter and niece over at the meat display case. They are wonderful people. We noticed on his card that there was neither a phone number nor a web site.  He also calculated our bill on a piece of paper and a pencil.  DUH … they don’t use electronic devices and that includes phones and computers. These folks are respected by the community for their sincerity, honesty, and commitment to family and faith and separateness from Western culture.  How is this for a concept…sitting down as a family together for all meals….that alone could change this world.  I am so curious about this Amish culture, but feel like I am being intrusive.

May 22, 2016

Hershey Lancaster OLY-5220910

What do you do on a rainy day in Lancaster?  My visions of bike riding in the Amish countryside is slowly dissolving.  We headed about 30 miles to the town of Hersey.  This is a small town of about 14,000 that was built by Milton Hersey.  It is the home to the Hersey Bar.  The streets have names such as Chocolate Street, Hersey, and Cocoa Avenue.  He chose this country side for his candy factory because there was lots of land for growth and it was in the middle of dairy country…..necessary for milk chocolate.   This is truly an American success story…..a success story for the entire town not just Mr. Hersey.  Around 1886, he introduced affordable chocolate.  Before that time, chocolate was a delicacy that only the very rich could afford.  Can you imagine a world without chocolate?  He took his wealth and build a town for the employees and families that he employed.  He owned the bank, provided mortgage  money and encouraged his employees to purchase their own homes.  He provided huge parks and many recreational facilities for the community.  We drove through the neighborhoods and I couldn’t find any place this town would not be proud of.  It sort of looked like a street in Disneyland…..perfect.

May 23, 2016….Rails to Trails

Raindrops keep falling on my head...
Raindrops keep falling on my head…

We were told by a couple of people when we inquired about what would be of interest in Lancaster…..”loose yourself in the countryside”.  That is exactly what we did.  We were looking for a particular bike trail that we really never found.  We did locate a Rails to Trails route that, despite the threatening clouds, we took.  It was beautiful with farmland and trees, and was flat.  Large rain drops and thunder made us halt our journey and head back to the car. 

Time to stop this ride and load up
Time to stop this ride and load up

Doug was telling me that this type of weather is quite common in the summer months.  He said as a kid when he would visit his granddad in Pennsylvania and that they would often spend the late afternoon rain storms on the screened in porch visiting with neighbors. Doug has looked up his granddad’s address and is going to try and contact the current residents and see if they would allow us to visit the house that holds so many memories for him.

Today also included at trip to Costco.  I love this picture.  Doug and I could hardly believe what we saw as we exited the parking lot.  Kudos to Costco for providing “parking spaces” for their Amish patrons. We also found out that Target also provides shaded carriage stalls for the horses. These carriages are also used all winter for shopping I suspect.

Costco Parking!
Costco Parking!

This Old Mill Stream RV park has proven to be a beautiful place when the sun is out.  Just across the “stream” is the farm land of an Amish farmer.  We have watched as he plows and readies his fields for planting using only horse drawn farm equipment.  We found a beautiful little park just the other side of the stream.  In the afternoons an Amish gentleman comes around selling fresh baked goods pulling his pastry cart with a horse of course.  We are waiting for him today.

Local Delivery - Faster than Amazon!
Local Delivery – Faster than Amazon!

May 24th…..Sampson at Sight & Sound Theater

This is touted as one of the “must see” attractions in Lancaster.  First of all, when we went to purchase tickets, there were few available….on a Tuesday afternoon!  The theater was enormous and full.  I had never heard of this venue and was surprised to hear that it has been presenting Bible stories for 40 years.  It was the story of Sampson.  At first I thought it was a little theatrical, but soon became absorbed by the presentation. If you are Christian and want to see a BIG stage production, here it is!  It had a very emotional ending. 

We are leaving Lancaster tomorrow……..Looking at the Pennsylvania countryside gives me a sense of peace I have not felt before.

Charleston, SC and Durham, NC

Friday May 6, 2016  More of Charleston

Click here to see a photo gallery of Savannah, Charleston, and Durham

Our friend’s Maryann & Scott treated us to a buggy ride through the streets of Historical Charleston today.  We were fortunate to get a route that took us to places we didn’t see yesterday.  We had a great lunch at a sea side cafe……I so wanted to order shrimp & grits but have got to STOP.  A stroll through the Market ended a wonderful day.

A little more about Maryann and & Scott……eventually all their children moved to other states and they found themselves retired in an enormous house in Knoxville and no family……they had the freedom to just explore and chose Charleston.  One of the sweetest things he told me when I asked him what his goal in retirement was……”to make Maryann happy”……and he is. 

Their community actually resembles the famous “rainbow row” houses in old Charleston with their pastel hues. They have a beautiful new home build much in Charleston fashion across the street from a lake where Scott can be found almost  daily kayaking or SUP…..An occasional alligator has been spotted in the lake, however. 

Charleston Durham-5080810

The ocean  surf  is actually good and there is a surfing community here, he says. He  goes to the web cams to check it out.

Saturday May 7, 2016

Because we didn’t want to repeat the congested mess of last Saturday,  we didn’t go in to Charleston but went to Mount Pleasant, Boone Hall Plantation, instead.  They are famous for The Avenue of the Oaks which is in one of the early scenes of Gone With The  Wind. There are 88 Live oaks that are on average 270 years old and laced with Spanish Moss.  Also many scenes from the movie The Notebook were filmed here.

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The Oaks

During our “Mr. Toad Ride” around the plantation, we met a lovely couple from Myrtle Beach, Brian and Anne. They are an adventurous RV and motorcycle team that we enjoyed. Brian actually drives tour buses professionally and loves his time off in an RV – get that! We took these photos as they left and we hope to meet up with them later on our “road through life”.

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Brian and Anne riding their beautiful BMW

There was a wonderful presentation of the Gullah culture.  This culture and term was new to us so we will pass on what we learned. Many of the slaves originated from West Africa and often were in the caribbean prior to coming to the British colonies. The Gullah culture – the language music and melodies reflect this diverse background of all the slaves that came to live in the colonies and eventually the U.S.

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The Gullah presentation

This trip has certainly presented me with many insights… As appalling as slavery was, I well might have accepted it as “normal” had I been born and raised in the South at that time.  I lived through the Civil Rights movement, but from a Southern Californian’s perspective.  We had always been an integrated society in California during my lifetime.  I have always said that in a few more generations we will all be the same color.  My grandchildren are color blind.

Charleston is a peninsula with rivers on both sides and the Charleston Harbor.  It is called “Low Country”  because it is at sea level and surrounded by marshes that you can actually see the tide ebb & flow twice a day….a mix of salt and fresh water.   The streets are narrow & traffic moderate as  people travel  bridges connecting the many islands like James, John, & Sullivan.  From the bridges you will see a completely flat landscape carpeted in green.  As I said before, there are no high rises…..the tallest building being maybe 8 stories.  You see only church steeples poking their heads above the trees. Tornadoes, hurricanes, and earthquakes have all left their mark on this city.

The population is 682,000 and growing.  Many big employers are moving here…Boeing, Volvo, & BMW to name a few. 

Happy Mother’s Day

Doug surprised me with a beautiful bouquet of spring flowers delivered to the Sandie’s house.  He has always felt like he took me away for from my kids and grandchildren when he accepted the position in Redding……he has tried to make it up ever since.

With all the churches in Charleston, it would take a month of Sunday’s to visit them all.  We joined the Sandie’s for services at their church.   The music got me to that perfect place of worship.

We joined their son and his wife for lunch.  Crab bisque put me in a fat induced coma for the afternoon.  The day was hot…..too hot to go for a bike ride until about 6:30.  We headed out to a great green way that ran through marshes and canopied trees…we barely made it back to the car before dark – good timing!

May 9, 2016  We see South Carolina in our rearview mirror – On to North Carolina

One of the nice things about traveling north is that we keep hitting springtime.  We are traveling north on Highway 95.  I never thought I would say this, but the green tree lined road actually gets boring.  Every shopping center, house, or thing of interest is hidden behind a forrest of trees. 

North Carolina is the “clean & green” state.  After visiting I can say it lives up to that quote very well. 

We arrived in time for dinner with Caring & Gary.  I call her Abby.  We worked together when we were both in our 20’s at Pacific Hospital.    Every nurse we worked with, it seems, was having babies at the time….Pam Rossetti, Jan Callaway, and Terry Furlow.   We have not seen each other for 40 years. She still has that same sweet smile and “can do” attitude I always remembered.  She was born in the Philippines the 3rd of 15 children…..no shoes, no electricity in their home.  Her nursing career allowed her to come to the US and eventually bring her parents and all but one of her siblings.  That alone is an accomplishment.  She has worked all her life with the exception of a couple of years when she had her 2nd child.  Never to let a moment go unused…she would take her son in his stroller and play 9 holes of golf, go home, eat lunch, nap, then go play another 9 holes (self taught of course).  This is just one of many cute stories.  She meet Gary playing tennis when she hit him with the ball.  They are a bundle of energy and we had a hard time keeping up.  Gary is quiet and delightful.  He is an  entomologist.   He just sent me the itinerary of their month long European trip….it is perfectly scheduled…to the minute.  That kind of attention to detail goes along with being a scientist.

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Caring and her husband Gary

The first night they had dinner ready…..Gary did a complete BBQ on his Trager….corn, yams, ribs….I couldn’t stop with the ribs and literally “rolled” out the front door.  The next night Caring taught me how to make pansit.  No Filipino nurse can come to a potluck without producing this dish.  I have tried making it from a recipe and it never tastes the same…..now, finally, I think I can.

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The Intrepid Durham Bicycle Foursome!

Durham is one city of “the triangle ” including Chapel Hill and Raleigh.  It is simply more beautiful that I expected.  The Tobacco Trail is a “rails to trails” that runs through the city….we spent an afternoon exploring it on our bikes.  

Doug and I were exhausted after 16 miles but Caring and Gary hadn’t even broken a sweat.  The next day Abby had an itinerary set and we started our “tour” at 10am…..Duke University Gardens and Chapel, DownTown Durham, and a tour of the Duke Lemur center. Duke University is one of the most beautiful universities I have ever seen.

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Duke University Campus
Durham-8561
Duke University Chapel

Downtown Durham has been rebuilt from the old American Tobacco Company warehouses and cigarette factories.  Now it is beautiful venue with restaurants, offices, breweries, the Durham Performing Arts Center (DPAC), and a baseball park for the famous Durham Bulls! There is a dual purpose area called “the cage” which is a basketball court by summer and an ice rink in the winter. The entire American Tobacco Company facility is now “Smoke Free” – progress!

Durham-8587

May 12, 2016

We need a rest!!!!!  We spent the day “recovering” and had Caring and Gary to dinner at our rig which was at Jone’s Station RV Park, about 30 minutes out in the country.  The day started sunny, we had a camp fire (in the fire pit this time), dinner was on the table and the skies turned black and a down pour started. We grabbed our food and returned to the RV for dinner indoors.  Little did we know but it would rain all night. 

We said goodbye to Caring and Gary that night.  Our goal had been to get to North Carolina before they left on their European trip……we now have about 2 weeks with no reservations and no plans.   So far we have traveled 4,800 miles on our adventure. 

May 13, 2016   Happy Birthday Madi……17 years

A memorable transition for a parent is when they realize their child is perfectly capable of taking care of themselves in the world around them.  I now am starting to see this growing self reliance in my granddaughters.  I guess that represents good parenting. They were quite young when I would notice that my ring tone or screen saver was changed or new apps would suddenly appear on my phone.   If it weren’t for Doug,  they would definitely be my “go to” girls for anything computer related.  I am supposed to take care of them in September when their mom and dad go on a much deserved get away…..I wonder who will really be taking care of whom?

Legs

Our shower is on the interior of our coach and has a skylight…..makes you feel like you are outside.  Today I am showering until the hot water runs out…I will also do the “biannual” shaving of my legs.  I look at them and think yuck….wrinkled, discolored, veined, and spotted.  Then I think how thankful I am for them.  They have supported me through 43 years of my nursing career.   They have bounced to the rhythm of the Poly High fight song,  chased 3 active little boys to adulthood, walked me down the aisle with two husbands and shown me the wonders of Mt Shasta.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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)

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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
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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

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

4/16/2016

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.

Natchez Trace-7928
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.