Monday, March 31, 2008

Habitat for Humanity Dedication

Click for Larger Image of Escapee's HouseThe houses that had their beginnings here were dedicated on March 30, and two of the three are ready for their new owners to move in! The third (our house, of course) has a few remaining items to be completed. The outside is done, even though it doesn't look it -- the sod was laid in alternating squares as a money saver, and it will fill in before long. The kitchen cabinets are being delivered within a day, and then the final interior work can be completed.

Click for Larger Image of DedicationDedication day began just like the first day of construction did -- rain, wind, and the threat of damaging thunderstorms. But the rain had pushed off to the north just in time for the 3:00 o'clock ceremony, and the dedication proceeded as planned. Onlookers crowded the street outside the homes, a film crew set up in a "cherry picker," and the recipient families and their guests excitedly moved from house to crowd until the ceremony began. After thanks, prayers, and songs, the families accepted the keys to their new homes, and then they each planted a symbolic tree on their new property.

Click for Larger Image of Motorcycle Association houseThere are three houses side-by-side that were built concurrently, and all were dedicated together. One house was built by a Methodist group, one by the Christian Motorcycle Association, and the middle house by Escapees. The tract of land donated to Habitat is large enough for as many as forty houses. The slab for the next one will be poured soon, and it will sit directly across Wood Road (soon to be renamed Miracle Drive) from these three. It should be done in the summer.

I bookended this project -- I was here for the first day of the build, and also the dedication. I saw how a little bit of sweat and effort can turn a bare piece of land into a home, and how compassion and caring can make someone's dream come true. I'm glad I was able to be a part of this.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

I Heart Wally World

"Wally World" is the unofficial nickname for the largest public corporation by revenue, the largest private employer in the world, the largest toy retailer, and the largest grocery retailer. Officially known Wal-Mart, it is fast becoming America's Everything Store. You can love or hate them, but ignoring them is not an option.

RVers tend to fall on the "love them" side -- most Wal-Marts generously let us park in their lots overnight (for which we try to repay them by shopping), and they are dependably nearby when we need some consistency in our purchases (prescriptions, for example).

Click for Larger Image of Shiner BockWhile I do understand, and sometimes agree with the arguments against Wal-Mart, today I found another reason to love them -- I was buying a six pack of Shiner Bock, (brewed in Shiner, Texas, population 2,070, and the "passion of the original brewmeister, Kosmos Spoetzl"), when something happened that has not happened for approximately 30 years. I don't know exactly when it last happened -- it's hard for me to recall the last time an event took place if I didn't reserve the necessary brain cells for remembering it -- and, not knowing it was the last time, I foolishly squandered those brain cells for some other purpose (probably flirting with this guy named Rich or struggling to solve a Rubiks Cube, both of which ultimately resulted in the same degree of satisfaction). But 30 years sounds about right for the last time I was carded.

Yes, I was asked for ID to purchase an alcoholic beverage! Now, Wal-Mart's policy is to card anyone who is 40 or under, but I am 3 days from my 56th birthday! I told the clerk who was carding me that she is now my "new best friend," and I plan to visit her line every time I am purchasing alcohol! For some reason, I didn't seem to make her day even though she made mine.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Texas Friends

Location: Livingston, Texas

Here are some of my Escapee friends in Texas. I'm not going to post their names -- I try to get permission from people before I show their names on the Internet, and I don't have that for these images. The first photo was Easter dinner at Rainbow's End (the Escapee park in Livingston). The next two were dinner get-togethers, and these were taken by Kind Passerbys (which is why I managed to get in the photos!). And if you get the feeling that food is central theme of life here, you would be right!
Click for Larger Image of Dinner Group
Click for Larger Image of Dinner Group
Click for Larger Image of Dinner Group

Sunday, March 23, 2008

More Spring Flowers

Click for Larger Image of Bluebonnets and False Garlic
Bluebonnets (Lupinus texensis), the State Flower of Texas, and False Garlic (Nothoscordum bivalve), a member of the lily family -- also called Cowpoison.
Note: it is not illegal to pick bluebonnets in Texas!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Texas Bluebonnets, The First Day of Spring, and a Full Moon Rising

Location: Livingston, Texas

Click for Larger Image of Family Taking Photos in BlueBonnetsIn 1840, a four-year-old boy was buried in the town of Springfield, then a part of Mexico, by his parents Ursula and Moses Livingston Choate. In 1846, Mr. Choate donated 100 acres of nearby land to serve as the county seat of the newly created Polk County -- and Springfield was renamed Livingston in his honor. The site of his young son's grave became the Livingston Cemetery. Although the last burial took place in this cemetery in 1940, it is still active -- especially in spring when the bluebonnets cover huge areas of the old cemetery. I was visiting the cemetery to photograph the Texas State Flower, and saw several families taking pictures of their children in the midst of the blooms.

The families and children were not the only visitors to the bluebonnets. Bees, small flies, and a damselfly also were flitting around. This bee was especially cooperative as he visited flower after flower:

Click for Larger Image of Bee and Bluebonnets  Click for Larger Image of Bee and Bluebonnets

Spring is here! The vernal equinox is today, March 20. This is the date that the sun is directly over the equator, resulting in an approximately equal day and night. Spring begins now in the northern hemisphere, and autumn in the southern. Just as you can't more easily balance an egg on end on the Solstice, you can't do it at the Equinox either. Historically, many cultures have marked the position of the sun on this day - the Sphinx and Stonehenge are examples of structures that point towards the rising equinox sun. Many cultures have also equated the "return" of the sun with fertility or rebirth. Easter eggs, anyone?

Click for Larger Image of Equinox Full MoonThis year, the moon will be full just one day later, on March 21st. The belief that odd things happen more often during a full moon are just not supported when examined scientifically. More crimes are not committed, dogs are not biting indiscriminately, birthrates do not change, more of the mentally challenged are not sitting in the nation's emergency rooms, our hormones are not out of whack because the full moon is increasing "positive ions" in the air, and werewolves are not suddenly emerging from the mists of the moors.

The full moon does rise just as the sun is setting, so find a quiet place in the spring wildflowers and watch the sun set to the west as the moon rises in the east -- and enjoy the feelings of rebirth that the beginning of spring brings.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Monday Just Wasn't My Day

Last Sunday, I was on track to leave Livingston for New Mexico on Tuesday (March 18), spend March 20-25 in the Guadalupe Mountains, March 26-31 in Fort Davis State Park (TX), and April 1-7 at Big Bend. Just a few things to take care of on Monday before I left -- some miscellaneous shopping, an oil change, and a dental checkup. The day's good news: the shopping and the oil change went well.

About that dental checkup -- 27/28 of my teeth are in fine shape. The one that wasn't, way in the back, had a cavity which was near a nerve and next to a huge, old, about-to-crack filling. A time bomb, in other words, and one that would need a crown to fix it -- there just wouldn't be much tooth left after the old filling was gone. Now I once had a very bad toothache, and I know that there is nothing more painful. It was so bad I welcomed the eventual root canal -- the pain was so bad I couldn't sleep, eat, think, or do much of anything but cry and wonder if chopping off my head would help. So I take care of dental problems right away in the hope that I will never have to go through that again.

If you've ever had a crown, you know the drill (sorry, pun intended!). During the first visit the decay and any old fillings are removed, and the rest of the tooth shaped into a pointy fang. Next, impressions of your mouth are made over and over, as you sit there with jaws welded shut by gobs of goopy stuff that gradually hardens in your mouth. A temporary cap is put in place, and the impressions are sent away for a lab to make your permanent one. The cap is received by your dentist in about three weeks. The problem -- I had planned to be 600 miles away when that permanent cap was due to come in. To return here to have the permanent cap put in would mean a 12-hour day of driving to get here, and the same back -- if I left the rig in western Texas and only took the truck. It would take even longer with the RV. Gas, without the RV, would be $240 (and I would have the added cost of staying in a motel) or $480 with the RV. I didn't know what I'd be doing, but I knew it didn't involve leaving on Tuesday.

Then on the way home from the dentist on Monday, the Universe decided to add another reason why I couldn't leave right away -- a big brown truck with bright cheery yellow letters kicked up a big rock that crashed into my windshield, causing a 3/8 inch crater with a couple little spidery cracks pushing out from the sides. Guess what my second word was -- the one right after "Oh..."

When I got back to the campground, I thought, "If I could just find a dog to pee on my foot my day would be complete."

I got the temporary cap put in today, and the earliest the permanent one can be returned from the lab is April 3rd. The windshield is supposed to be fixed tomorrow. So it seems now that I will not make it to the Guadalupe Mountains, and I will not make it to Fort Davis. If I drive as far as San Antonio before the 3rd, and make the 400 mile round trip to Houston for the dentist appointment on the 3rd, I could make it to Big Bend on the 4th. Is all that rushing worth it for 2 days in Big Bend? I don't know. Right now I'm going to sit here and contemplate my options for a while. The good part of all of this is that the weather was rainy and very windy on Tuesday and it would have been dangerous to be on the road. And the dog didn't find me.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

This Blog Entry is X-Rated

When the little bluebird

Who has never said a word

Starts to sing Spring

When the little bluebell

At the bottom of the dell

Starts to ring Ding dong Ding dong...

It is nature that is all

Simply telling us to fall in love

And that's why birds do it, bees do it

Even educated fleas do it

Let's do it, let's fall in love

-- Cole Porter

Click for Larger Image of Crane FliesAh, spring! While I don't have any images of bees doing "it" -- or educated fleas, for that matter -- I was able to capture a pair of crane flies and two red-shouldered hawks. The crane flies are out in droves here in Texas now, flying low to the ground near early spring wildflowers (you may need to enlarge this image to see both flies clearly). The photos of the hawks were taken in Florida in early March.

The flies were taking their time, but the hawk encounter was over in about 1 minute, 15 seconds.

Click for Larger Image of Red Shouldered Hawks  Click for Larger Image of Red Shouldered Hawks  Click for Larger Image of Red Shouldered Hawks  Click for Larger Image of Red Shouldered Hawks  Click for Larger Image of Red Shouldered Hawks  Click for Larger Image of Red Shouldered Hawks

Saturday, March 15, 2008

3 Months Later...

Location: Livingston, TX

Click for Larger Image of Habitat HouseThree months ago to the day, I participated in the first day of a Livingston Habitat for Humanity build. At that time, all that was there was a slab, onto which we put bright pink boards after they had been nailed together to form the skeleton of the walls. Work has progressed while I was in Florida, and look what it looks like now! But there is still finishing to be done -- so I showed up for another day of work (at 7:30, which is now almost the middle of the night to me!).

Click for Larger Image of DoorsThe floor is still the same slab, but all the inner walls are up and covered with wallboard. What looked like a tiny slab has now been transformed into a three bedroom house. The rooms are small, but not overly so. Somehow, the total space seems much bigger now than it did when it was just a slab. Today we touched up the paint on the outside, hung inside doors, caulked joints and installed molding.

Click for Larger Image of CabinetsOf the three Habitat houses in a row that are being built simultaneously, the one to our left (the Methodists') is finished and we are about even with the one to our right (the Christian Motorcyclists'). The motorcyclists' house already has the kitchen cabinets installed, so I snuck over and took a picture. They are very nice indeed.

Click for Larger Image of LunchLunch was provided by a local church, and was a welcome break. The next two days will see dirt and sod for the lawn delivered, and then all that will be left is the plumbing and final touches inside. The deadline is March 30 -- all three houses will be dedicated then, and the happy homeowners can start to move in.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Ball of Confusion

"Ball of Confusion... that's what the world is today"

-- The Temptations

Today was the beginning of daylight savings time (DST). Last week, I traveled from Florida to Alabama, crossing from the Eastern Time Zone to the Central Time Zone. I knew the switch to DST was coming, so I didn't change my watch or car clock to match my new time zone. Now that DST has arrived, my watch and car clock are again correct with no action on my part. My computer, which I also did not change, was wrong -- it needed to have the time zone updated. When the first weekend of April comes, things that think DST still starts then will "spring ahead," and I'll have to change them back. Unless, of course, I've moved another time zone. In that case, maybe I'll be an hour ahead, maybe I'll be an hour behind, or maybe it will all be a draw -- I'll figure it out then, because now it just makes my head hurt thinking about it. Good thing I don't have too many things to do that require being on time!

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Two Friends, Two Toads, Too Totalled

Here are a few miscellaneous images from Florida:

I met two RV friends, Valerie and Allaine, and we lunched at Disney where they both work -- and had a marvelous and fun afternoon. This photo was taken by one of the Disney photographers. Valerie is on my right, and Allaine on my left:

Click for Larger Image of Valerie, ZoAnn, Allaine

In the RV world, cars that are towed behind another vehicle are often called "toads." Here are two toads and the signs their owners put on their spare tire covers:

Click for Larger Image of Car In Tow  Click for Larger Image of I Go Where I'm Towed

And finally, this truck hauling totalled vehicles pulled up at a truck stop where I had stopped for the night. There was a car on a carrier the cab, one in back on a dolly, and this truck on the flatbed. If you can't read the logo on the door, it says, "Highway Safety Devices." I hope they worked!

Click for Larger Image of Highway Safety Devices Truck

Friday, March 07, 2008

Sittin' On The Dock of the Bay

Location: Summerdale, Alabama

Click for Larger Image of FishermanI have stopped for a few days in southern Alabama, partly to see the Gulf Coast and partly to break up the long trip between Florida and Texas. I am now in Summerdale, which is about 15 miles north of Gulf Shores, and 15 miles west of Mobile Bay. I drove over to Mobile Bay yesterday -- good timing, because our weather turned rainy and cold today. Snow is even forecast for more northern parts of Alabama!

Click for Larger Image of Laughing GullsMobile Bay is a tidal estuary, where the fresh water from the rivers that drain into the Gulf mingles with salt water. The fresh water brings nutrients, and the tidal action mixes them, creating a rich environment for the entire food chain. The dock in the town Fairhope was damaged in both Hurricane Ivan (2004) and Hurricane Katrina (2006), but has now been repaired and is open for fishing, boating or strolling. The fisherman in the picture above told me he hadn't caught anything yet today, but didn't really care -- he was just in love with the Bay and enjoyed being on the dock, breathing the sea air, and watching the gulls. Laughing Gulls were everywhere. Every so often another type of gull would fly by or an occasional pelican could be seen perched on a piling, but the Laughing Gulls were dominant. The city had erected several purple martin houses on poles in the water, but they appeared to be empty.

Click for Larger Image of Sneaky CraneAnd then there was the crane. He had staked out his territory at the very end of the pier, hoping for a fish hand out. The Human wasn't paying him any attention, so he took the opportunity to check out the gear stashed against the wall. He'd move a little closer, and wait until he was sure the Human wasn't looking. Then a little closer. Another wait. A little closer. Drat. No fish in the cart! All that stealth wasted! But maybe if he hung around a little longer the Human might catch a fish and share...

Click for Larger Image of Laughing Gull: One Second of Flight
Laughing Gull:One Second of Flight

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Spring is Coming!

I know a lot of you are still shivering and shoveling, and it must seem like this winter will never end. But Spring is coming! Here are some photos from Florida to get you in the mood:

Click for larger image of Zebra Swallowtail

Zebra Swallowtail

Click for Larger Image of Violet Wood Sorrel
Violet Wood Sorrel

Click for Larger Image of Giant Swallowtail
Giant Swallowtail