Monday, December 28, 2009

The Latest In Eyewear Accessories

No caption is really necessary, is it?

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Park Model Tango

Location: Alamo, TX

A few days ago we got to watch a park model delivery. Park models are somewhere between RVs and mobile homes -- they don't have holding tanks or dual-fuel source appliances like an RV does so they have to be placed on a somewhat permanent site. They are smaller than mobile homes and are meant to be vacation residences so in some places taxes, permits and fees may be lower or non-existent.

Here is the setup: the park model is on a wheeled frame with a ball hitch. The truck pulling the home must come up Hibiscus and make a left on Gardenia, then back the park model into the corner site (circled in red). We are directly across the street in the blue-circled site, facing towards the lot. We have a front row seat!

We didn't know it was coming, but all of a sudden there was a park model in front of our rig, waiting to be backed into the site (on its left rear) by a huge yellow truck. John asked the driver if we should move our toad (the gray car), but he said no.

The driver started the turn.

It became immediately obvious that moving the car would have been the best for all concerned, but now we were blocked in. As the driver inched backwards, workers put boards under the tires to protect the grass.

It also became obvious that the truck could not make the turn. We moved the car up, towards the rig, until there was about 1 inch in between them. The truck kept inching on. Workers hovered over the car, ready to tell the driver to stop the turn. He made it -- the truck missed the car's bumper by the narrowest of margins.

Now that it was past the car's bumper, the truck needed to straighten out, because the rear of the park model was way too far to the right and was about to take out the car port of the next-door neighbor.

The driver pulled forward, hugging the car.

Then he began the straightening turn...

And got the park model into its site.

And here it is, perfectly placed on its concrete pad. Workers came by later and removed the tires, connected the utilities and installed a skirting around the outside.

Want a job driving a park model delivery truck?

Friday, December 25, 2009


It started with a kind-of pressure feeling in my lower tummy. The right side got better; the left did not. Pretty soon I make a late evening trip to the Emergency Room, where I'm X-Rayed, CT Scanned, blood-tested and probed until the doctor tells me I have inflamed pockets in my colon that need to be treated so they don't burst. And treatment is IV antibiotics.

When the clock reaches 4:30 A.M., I'm finally taken to my room.

Flash forward 2 and a half days, and I'm let loose with an additional 10 days of oral antibiotics to take and the promise that I will go for a colonoscopy within 2 weeks. I have had my vitals taken every few hours, and my intravenous drip changed four times a day. The first day I was on a total liquid diet, and three servings of broth, juice, and jello was enough to make me want to jump out the window. Later I got a modified diet which tasted like bland on toast, but it was so much better than broth, juice and jello! (And, yes, I know what I'm in store for on the day before the colonoscopy!)

This hospital was just barely on the US side of the US/Mexican border. The care was good, and everyone spoke English (except the folks who emptied the waste baskets), but the facility was in need of general maintenance and comfy beds. And better food. Oddly, for me anyway, the majority of the nurses were men.

I'm glad to be home, and hope I don't have a recurrence -- it can be a dangerous disease, requiring surgery to remove portions of the bowel. But for now, I'm happy to be sipping a glass of non-alcoholic wine, watching a football game, and looking at the holiday decorations and lights in the park.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Keet Antics

We've been letting Baja and Newfie out of the cage for a bit each day. Their wings were clipped in the pet store, but they can fly well enough to flutter slowly to the ground. Once there, however, they can't quite get the lift to make it back to the grill work on the cage where they are able to get around using their feet and beak.

John to the rescue!!!

He hung a soft rope from the cage to the floor, and the keets quickly discovered they could use it to climb up to the cage. Now they can come and go as they please.


We caught Ivy and Candy, the older and supposedly wiser keets, blocking Newfie's way back in. They perched on the edge of the door, slightly leaning over and staring down at the climbing Newfie -- resembling really mad and vengeful little green and yellow vultures. When Newfie tried to enter the cage, they pecked her back outside repeatedly. Finally I had to stand outside and give them my best "prison matron" glare, and they backed down and let her in.

Two against one just isn't fair.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

RGV Weather

Location: Rio Grande Valley, TX

Two nights ago the weather was warm, people ran around in shorts, and the sleeping was comfortable with just a sheet for covering. We had a beautiful sunset that nicely silhouetted the palm trees, but it seemed to usher in a nasty cold front.

The front brought cold, horizontal rain during the day yesterday, and last night the temperatures hovered right around freezing. There was even a possibility of snow!

We didn't get any of the fluffy white stuff, but if we had it would have been a really big deal. It has only snowed here once in memory, and that was on December 25, 2005. The local kids were all hoping! But we woke this morning to green grass and a bright sun. Temps will stay relatively cool today (high 50s) and then start back up to the more normal 70's and 80's.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Keets X Four

This is Ivy and Candy, the two parakeets we've had for a long time:

We bought them a new cage:

And realized that there is lots of room for a couple more!

So this is Baja (the yellow one) and Newfie (the blue one), named for the furthest reaches of our trips this year, Baja California, and Newfoundland and Labrador.

Pecking orders have been determined and are strictly enforced, except when Baja and Newfie -- at the bottom of the list -- rebel and push their way to the feeder. Ivy often gets upset with the newbies and perches above them, glaring down just like a vulture patiently waiting for some chubby little cottontail to finally kick the Bunny Bucket. She tries to intimidate and push them around -- sometimes it works, but sometimes they just push right back. Baja is better at standing up to her, but sometimes the feathers literally fly as they flap and peck at each other.

As our four "girls" adjust to their new family situation, their squabbles just give us a bit of avian intrigue and scheming to watch!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Truth in Begging

Location: Rio Grande Valley, TX

I haven't posted recently because... well, not much has been happening! We've settled into our spot in the Rio Grande Valley, having run as fast as we could from Olde Man Winter who was fast on our heels. This time of year is catch up time -- time to clean out cupboards, sort email, beat John at a pool game every so often (and he beats me the rest of the time!) and read those books that have been gathering dust -- electronic dust as it turns out, because most of my reading these days is on a Kindle.

But I did happen to catch this guy panhandling near the highway the other day. They say truth is the best strategy -- guess it's working for him!

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Would YOU Have Signed This?

Location: Waco North KOA, West, Texas

After a long day on the road, we pulled into the Waco North KOA (Kampgrounds Of America) in West, Texas. The check-in procedure was standard, and we gave them a credit card for the night's payment.

When the clerk handed us the signature slip, she showed us two lines where a signature was needed. The first was the regular signature authorizing the night's charge. She vaguely said that the second was our agreement that we'd pay for anything that we damaged.

But here is the full text of that second statement:

"I understand that I am responsible for damages to property and/or facilities at Waco North KOA caused by me or members of my party, and I authorize Waco North KOA to charge my credit card for the cost to repair or replace the damaged property or facility. I further agree that I will not dispute charges to my credit card made by Waco North KOA, and I will not initiate a chargeback for any reason whatsoever."

... EXCUSE ME??? They wanted us to sign a statement that authorized them to charge ANY amount for ANY perceived damage, and we would not dispute it? While I doubt this type of statement is even legal, I flatly said we would NOT sign it, and was ready to walk out.

They backed down and did not require the statement to be signed.

My guess is this is a local attempt to put that seminar on Management Through Intimidation and Quasi-Legal Procedures to good use, but if it is a new KOA policy they have seen the last of my money.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

April 19, 1995

Location: Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building
Oklahoma City, OK

I knew Michael George Thompson. Now his name is on one of 168 empty chairs that face a reflecting pool, a reflecting pool that once was a city road where a Ryder truck filled with explosives parked briefly on a lovely spring morning 14 years ago. The pool is flanked by The Gates of Time, two imposing stone monuments, one imprinted with "9:01" and one with "9:03." The Gates mark the last minute of our innocence, and the first minute of a nation forever changed. The pool between them marks the moment home-grown terrorist Timothy McVeigh detonated 4,800 pounds of explosives that he had concealed in the truck - April 19, 1995 at 9:02 a.m.

I met Michael when he reported for a short-term detail in Social Security's Headquarters in Baltimore. When his detail ended, he returned to his permanent duty station in Oklahoma City. While in Baltimore, he was so quiet and studious that people an aisle or two away could not recall his face when we found out he had been working at his desk in the Social Security office in the Murrah Building that morning and perished along with so many others.

The Field of Empty Chairs occupies the space where the Alfred P. Murrah building stood, each chair silently looking out over the reflecting pond. They are etched with the name of a person who died in the blast, and are placed in the row - 1 through 9 - that corresponds to the floor where that victim was when the bomb exploded. A 10th row contains 5 chairs representing those who died outside the building. Gaps can be seen in the pattern of the chairs where the blast's indiscriminate randomness claimed fewer lives.

The chairs representing the day-car children who were killed are smaller and indescribably heartbreaking.

The memorial is a significant, poignant, and powerful remembrance of the victims of home-grown terrorism. May we never need to have another.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009


I have always enjoyed Meredith Willson's "The Music Man". You know
. If I could just memorize that "We got trouble right here in River City", I'd be the hit of every party. I'd probably get invited to parties JUST to do that bit! "The Music Man" is about Iowa, my home state. It's supposedly about its people. With this I disagree totally! He portrays Iowans as folks who keep to themselves, mind their own business and expect you to do the same, and only say as much as necessary. That couldn't be further from the truth! After graduating from college too many years ago, my son did Europe on the "hostel program". When he returned I asked him which city he liked best. The young man who grew up in Colorado and visited me in Iowa semi-annually, answered that he liked Prague best. Why? "Because everyone was so friendly, just like in Iowa!"

Yesterday had a worst case scenario lunch/dinner at Bennigan's right off I-35 in Clear Lake. Don't go there!! Drove out to crash site just to see if you could get to it through the mud and to see if the beans were in. Stopped to talk to a truck driver hauling grain somewhere. Ain't much being hauled anywhere this fall. "Did you come to see the Crash Site?" "Nope. Just wanted to see if you got your beans in. I was here in June and everything was real wet. This is your farm, isn't it?" "No, I just work for him. He owns this farm and the Surf Ballroom in town." Obviously had noticed the Texas plate on Mr. Towed. "15 to 20 cars come out here every day." I just couldn't keep it in. "You tell your boss I think he's a true American hero!" "How come?" "If he wanted to, he could turn this into a gold mine, but he doesn't. You gotta work to find this place. You gotta investigate, you gotta ask questions just to get within half a mile of the shrine. Then you gotta walk/slog through soft, clingy Iowa loam, detour around small ponds, and wonder if your body will ever be found. You REALLY ARE on a Pilgrimage. You are going to where The Music Died!!

Well, we had driven out there to kill a little time before meandering over to Mason City, just a few miles to the east. It was time to move from Where the Music Died to Where the Music Man Lived. We had made a day trip on Monday because I knew M
eredith Willson was from there and that River City in "The Music Man" was based on Mason City. I had no idea what we'd find, but that's the fun of it. What we did find was the beautifully restored home that Willson grew up in and a wonderful new $10.2 million building known as The Music Man Square. As Zoe was shooting pictures of the house, the square, and the statue of Meredith, a lady walked up and apologized that everything is closed on Mondays, but please come back tomorrow. That might have been the end of it, but she seemed to want to visit, beginning with the usual "Where're you from" and building to a crescendo introduction of "My name is Zoe".Pandemonium broke out! "Oh, my gosh, I'm Zoe, too." After trading a few Zoe stories, Mason City Zoe turned to me. "I'm just plain ol' John." "My husband's name is John!" Egads! Well, MC Zoe was on her way to a board meeting in the restoration where she was to take minutes, so she dragged us along. She wanted her friends to meet the "other" Zoe and John. As a result, we got to meet some very nice people and get a glimpse of the inside of the house. After we left we agreed to come back tomorrow and visit the house, museum and all.

Now, let's recap. We had just met one of these "keep to yourself" Iowans, visited briefly, found we had names in common, exchanged cards, and said good bye. End of story? I think not! Late that afternoon Zoe got an e-mail from Zoe, asking if we would like to come to their home
for supper the next evening. Next day we spent all afternoon at the restoration and the square. By the way, as we walked in the doors of the square a handsome young man (relative term, Dick) walked up and said "You're Zoe and John!" Talk about your basic celebrity status! Anyway, we spent 4 hours there and had a wonderful time. Then we drove to Zoe and John's home, had a wonderful supper of chicken soup, a great visit, and managed to leave before they wished we were gone.

Now, let's recap. When's the last time you met someone in a completely casual situation, found only one thing in common, and gotton invited to their home for supper next evening? Huh? Huh?

Monday, November 02, 2009


It's been a tough week and a half, but then it was "my bad" that put us here. After all, I beat up my house for no apparent reason other than it had been a little while since I had done something really stupid, and I wanted to get that ol' feelin' back!

We're retired, and
retirement, once you get the hang of it, means living a "spontaneous" life. You know. No alarm clocks, no meetings, no rush hour traffic, no Mondays, no Fridays, no weekends or holidays. Just fall out of bed when you're rested and go create some new photographs and memories. Sieze the carp. Be surprised.

So today is November 2, and we have been in beautiful Forest City, Iowa for 8 days with 3 to go. Now I love Iowa. After all, I was born and raised in Iowa. But my house has wheels! "I'm goin' where the sun keeps shinin' through the pourin' rain, goin' where the weather suits my clothes." Not only am I in northern Iowa, nearly into Minnesota, watching the weather forecasts for the "s" word, but I'm back on the old 7-3:30, 5 days a week schedule. Seems Ol' John got a little careless earlier this year and tried to turn his home into a bulldozer, moving boulders and repositioning street signs. Seems Ol' John modified the rear end of his home to the tune of over $20,000.

Seems Ol' John gets to enjoy the sche
dule of those who have not yet lived to a ripe old retirement age.

Forest City, Iowa is the home of Winnebago Industries. T
hey are the parents of my Itasca Suncruiser. When I had my little run-in with the terrain in Maine, I knew I was Forest City bound. They were the only folks I would trust with a repair job this big.

There are 2 ways
to get service at Winnebago. If you have time, you make an appointment at least 2 months ahead. This is best because they can sort of get ready for you, AND your extended warranty will apply where appropriate. But if you have an emergency, you show up and take your chances as a "walk-in". Most folks, scheduled or not, tend to show up in the Customer Service parking lot on Sunday. This sets up a phenomenon I call the "Monday Morning Mob", dozens of RVers hovering outside the Customer Service doors waiting to rush in when the locks get twisted at 7:00 sharp. From that morning until they bring your home out and pronounce it cured, you ARE on their schedule.

I can't say enough about the great attitude and competence of the employees here, but I wonder if they don't all have Sunday ulcers thinking about the "Monday Morning Mob".

Thanks, guys and gals, but I'm looking forward to going back into retirement in a few days.


Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween!

Location: Forest City, IA

This is a time of forced relaxation for us. The rig is getting some work done at Winnebago Industries, so we are parked in a courtesy site at night for what will be at least 10 days. A time for catching up on reading, cleaning, and internet-surfing.

It's hard to relax here in Iowa, because winter is chasing and rapidly catching up with us -- a huge snowstorm that hit Colorado just missed us, and the night temperatures are only a few degrees above freezing. I'm trying to make this my first winter without seeing a snow flake, and I'd hate to loose the chance this early in the winter ! 2007-08 was ruined by snows in May at the Grand Canyon, and 2008-09 fell when I took a winter trip from Yuma to Prescott with my friend, Cookie, and we hit a blizzard at the higher elevation.

Once we leave here, it will be an almost straight trip south to the Rio Grande Valley in Texas. Not only is the weather a good reason to hit the road, but a lot of northern campgrounds are closing on November 1st. So another few nights, and we'll be on our way south.

Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

It Must Have Seemed Like A Good Idea at the Time

We had a small problem with our hot water a couple of days ago -- we had none. Technically we had lots of the stuff -- our water tank was full of hot water, but it was useless because none of it came out of the faucets (the problem is fixed now -- the bypass valve had jiggled itself into the closed position). Since cold showers are not particularly attractive to me, I packed up my shampoo, towel, shower shoes and other assorted items of personal hygiene and set off to use the campground's shower.

The shower room consisted of a sink, a couple of toilets, two shower stalls, and various and sundry "science experiments" that were creeping up the walls and doing the mold-and-mildew-naughty in the drains. But it was still better than a freezing shower -- and, besides, this is why I pack shower shoes and have learned to dress and undress in a way that nothing ever touches the floor or walls!

When I looked at the wall between the shower stalls, this is what I saw:

Four switches on the outside, in between the two stalls. The lights were out in the stall, so I took a gamble and moved the lower switch to the up position. The lights came on. So far so good. But what could the upper switch be for? More lights? A fan, maybe? Let's find out!

To my amazement, the upper switch turns on (and off) the water in the shower! Someone must have thought it was a good idea to replace the normal faucets that have served us all so well since indoor plumbing moved beyond an architectural indulgence, and install an electrical mechanism to start/stop the water flow.

Hmm... combining water and electricity needlessly. What could possibly go wrong?

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Rude, Rude, Rude!

Location: On the Road

For lunch we stopped at a typical Chinese buffet named Jumbo Buffet (20 Charlestown Plaza, Charlestown, WV). As we walked in the door, the hostess, who was on a cell phone, held up two fingers asking if we needed a table for two. We nodded, "Yes."

So far, so good. But then instead of doing what any good employee would do -- asking us to wait a moment if the call was business or asking the caller to wait if it was personal -- she picked up menus and silverware, kept the phone to her ear, and proceeded to show us to a table while yakking in Chinese the entire way.

She started to steer us towards a window booth, but they were all filled. So she had to reroute to a table because she wasn't paying attention -- at least, she wasn't paying attention to her job. She changed course and kept chatting. She got us to a table, and pointed to it -- still talking to her ostensibly More Important Person. She then held the phone on her shoulder with her chin, mouthpiece still open, and asked us for drink orders.

At this point John lost it. He said, "No. That's just rude. Not while you're on the phone." She looked surprised, and then proved she needs to practice her English sentence structures a bit more by saying, "there's nothing on my phone." so John clarified by saying, "I'M NOT IN YOUR PHONE." Suddenly, a very pleasant and capable waiter appeared and smoothly took over the rapidly disintegrating situation.

Since she doubled as the cashier, she had the perfect opportunity to apologize for her behavior when we paid the bill. Did she apologize? Of course not. Did she even know how rude she had been? Doubtful. She showed no sign of embarrassment or remorse -- actually, she didn't even show any sign she recognized us. She just looked bored and asked the question she has asked so many times she no longer cares if she gets an answer -- "Was everything all right?"

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Along The C and O Canal

Location: Brunswick, MD

We are currently in a small municipal RV park, our rig nestled between a remnant of the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal and facing the Potomac River.

Built between 1828 and 1850, the C & O Canal was originally meant to bypass the unnavigable sections of the Potomac and link the Chesapeake Bay with the Ohio River. But by 1850 it became obvious that the new railroad, constructed next to the canal, would win the transportation race so the push to the Ohio River was halted. The completed portions of the canal did operate until 1924, primarily hauling coal.

The canal became a National Historic Park in 1971, and today the 184.5 mile towpath -- where the mules walked as they pulled the canal boats -- is used by hikers and bikers. To get to our campsite, we had to drive on part of the towpath -- on what may be the only section where vehicles are allowed. Here is a different section of the towpath today, with what remains of one of the locks:

A lot of history has happened in cities and villages along the towpath. Here are a few places along this stretch:

Brunswick, MD, where we are parked, is home to the Brunswick Railroad Museum. In addition to railway artifacts, it houses an HO Model Railroad that recreates the stretch from Brunswick's 5-mile rail yard to Union Station in Washington D.C. Here is the HO-scale town of Brunswick -- if you could drive towards the bottom of the photo (through the town and past the railways), then make a left towards the photo's bottom right corner, you would soon be at our RV site:

When the canal builders reached a river or stream that flowed into the Potomac, they either built a culvert under the canal, or built an aqueduct over the river (if the river was too large for a culvert). The aqueduct was actually a bridge filled with water allowing the canal boat to float to the other side. The largest of the 11 aqueducts is over the Monocacy River. The last time I saw it, it was braced to prevent a collapse. It has now been restored:

The Civil War battlefield in Antietam, the site of the bloodiest single day in American history, lies near the canal. On September 17, 1862 the battle began. 12 hours and 23,000 casualties later, it, and the Confederate Army of Virginia's invasion of the North were over. Here is part of the Sunken Road, where 15,000 were killed or wounded:

Getting closer to Washington at Great Falls, the Potomac's water narrows through Mather Gorge where the rapids provide experienced kayakers with lots of adventure. The rapids here have been a navigation concern for a long time -- George Washington originally proposed constructing a canal to by-pass them:

Finally, at the terminus of the C & O Canal at Georgetown, the Canal is watered, and the Park Service offers canal boat rides which we of course took. The boat is drawn by mules, and passes through a lock, first locking from high water to low, and on the return trip reversing the locking from low to high. Here is a photo of a lock at Georgetown. The second photo shows a couple of sidewalk-based spectators watching as our boat floated up:

Everyone has heard of the terminus of the canal, even though they may not realize it. The lock system has many parts, such as weirs, feeder dams, wickets (tough to move when they get "sticky"!), sluice gates and upriver gates. The gates open and close to allow water into, and out of the locks. And sitting right at the end of the canal, is the namesake of these gates through which water flows: the Watergate Hotel.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

More Maryland Landmarks

We'll soon be leaving Maryland -- unfortunately, I had too little time here to visit with everyone I wanted to -- but I will be back!

In the last couple days, John and I visited a national historic site that I had always overlooked when I lived here: Hampton House. It turns out it is a huge, elegant, beautiful mansion that was the largest house in the U.S. when it was completed in 1790. It even had its own indoor greenhouse and an outdoor ice house so the owners could have chilled berries and citrus in the middle of winter!

Next, Fort McHenry, the birthplace of our National Anthem. While being held hostage on a British warship During the War of 1812, Francis Scott Key watched the attack of Fort McHenry as it lasted through a long, long night. After the attack was over, he remained unsure of the victor as the fort, now becoming visible in the dawn's light, was still shrouded in smoke from the battle. He finally caught a glimpse of the flag, still flying over the fort, and penned the poem that we now sing as the lyrics to the National Anthem.

The fort, the canons, the ramparts, and broad stripes and bright stars of the flag are still there for the viewing.

But John -- that end of the canon may not be the best place to look!

Finally, a trip to the Naval Academy in Annapolis.

I had previously been by the tall stone fence many times, and had been inside a couple times -- once even to attend a wedding at the Chapel. This time, though, I departed from just roaming around and took the tour, and it was fabulous. We got a lot of insider information from a very knowledgeable guide. We saw Bancroft Hall (dorm and dining hall), the athletics building with an Olympic size pool and diving boards (the cadets traditionally finish off their last parade by jumping in, fully clothed, from the 3-story high board), the Chapel, recently restored and looking spiffy (it boasts a stained glass window of a newly minted officer, and a crypt containing John Paul Jone's body), and a new museum with naval displays on the ground floor and an amazing collection of model ships upstairs.

We expect to move next to Harper's Ferry where a whole lot of history awaits.

Here in the northern part of Maryland, we have been nestled back in the woods where the night is noisy with crickets and the blue jays and cedar waxwings come around each morning. In the evening, we have had several fires, an especially nice way to end the day when the temperature is cool. Simple pleasures are the best.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

West Point

Location: Near Parkton, Maryland

We've made it as far as northern Maryland. I've been working hard cleaning out my storage unit -- most of it is now sorted into "keep," "donate," or "toss." It will be nice to have the storage unit gone, but disposing of some of the things I no longer need has proven to be an emotional endeavor! But if I've learned one thing as a full-time RVer, it's that keeping useless things is a useless pursuit. So I'm looking at each useless thing I find, contemplating it and touching it, and then saying good-bye and moving on.

On the way here, we stopped by West Point, the Army's military academy that sits on a beautiful campus overlooking the Hudson River in New York. West Point was founded in 1802, and has been graduating officers ever since -- the first graduates to go into battle were in the Mexican-American War.

When the Civil War broke out, the commanders on both sides were pulled primarily from the West Point officers. Although sometimes two siblings would take up arms against each other, one in the Union and one in the Confederacy, the phrase "brother against brother" actually refers to these officers who found they were fighting their former classmates, their friends, and the men who had just recently been their "brothers-in-arms" on the Mexican-American War's battlefield.

Here are some pictures from West Point: