Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Plumber Next Door

The plumbing truck has been parked next door since we got here. I had never met Jeff, but I had seen him leave promptly for work at 6.30 AM. I had seen him return from work at 9 PM. And I certainly noticed his classic Air Stream International.

I thought about striking up a conversation with Jeff because we were experiencing a small leak around the kitchen faucet. But I thought, gosh, he already works long hours. I shouldn’t bother him.

This small leak was easy for me to procrastinate about. Not so, Judi. It did bother her. Judi didn’t want to wait until it was a crisis. I thought we had time, and when I hit VA, where I’d be settled for at least a month, I could shop for a replacement faucet, and perhaps have a plumber out to install it.

Judi noticed Jeff was home this afternoon. He had gone home to MO for the weekend. We heard him rearranging stuff in the plumbing truck, and then was standing outside talking to neighbors. Judi thought I should go speak with him. I always try to do the next right thing.

Jeff was happy to look at the faucet. He quickly did a complete rebuild with all new gaskets, springs and everything not housing. All the while Jeff expounded on his farm back home, training rookie plumbers, and the hardship of working away from home since the Fall of 2005.

Gee, he has been living in his trailer basically full time, first FL then TN, for the same 2 and a half years as I have lived in mine. That makes my Montana (and its faucet) 2.5 years old, and his Airstream 40 years old. It had been his parents. Very cool.

I paid Jeff fairly (even Judi thought so) and he seemed happy. The pending repair is done, and I had the pleasure of meeting a skilled tradesman. Life is good in an RV.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Blessings of Family

Mother and I had a wonderful weekend with my brother, his two boys and their wives and of course the new baby. We get together as a whole family, usually at my parents home, sometime during the winter holiday season. That was the last time I had seen any of these family members and, as always, it was a joy to be with them again. Now we have the baby born 5 weeks ago.
My nephew, Ben, making bottles

My brother came over to Ben’s on Friday evening to help us eat the gallon of Shrimp Creole. He surely is the proud granddad. But he can’t hold a light to the proud great grandma. This is the second time she has been down to see him and occasionally she makes a comment about renting an apartment in Georgia.
Dealing with the refrigerator crisis

There was one crisis on Friday. (Anywhere from major to minor depending on you personal crisis gauge.) Late in the afternoon, Ben and I heard a crackling sound from the kitchen and then came the distinctive electrical motor burn smell. We felt sure it was the refrigerator, but it seemed to be working fine. We kept our eye on the ice maker which we suspected may have shorted out. It wasn’t until late in the evening when Ben got the ice cream out of the freezer that he realized the refrigerator wasn’t working so fine after all. We had all hands on deck moving the not so frozen food to the freezer in the garage, running to the local market to fetch ice and emptying the contents of the refrigerator into coolers. Of course, chief among the concerns was keeping the baby formula cold. By Saturday morning, another family member had brought over a used refrigerator, on loan until a more permanent solution could be achieved.
Chef of the day

Saturday evening, Ben’s brother, Eric, and his wife, Leigh Ann, were able to join us for dinner and a great cookout was underway. At some point during the day between all the commotion of a new baby, house guests, neighbors coming to visit, and the refrigerator crisis, new mom Amber managed to make a chocolate pie that was to die for. We all ate too much, laughed a lot, and thoroughly enjoyed each other.

No matter how nice our home may be, how fine a car we have, or how much stuff we possess, the true treasures in life are our families. Is there anything that can make us prouder than the successes of our children or more joyous than the birth of a grandchild? Thank you, Lord, for these treasures that are more precious than all others.

Monday, April 28, 2008

A New Generation

Our family has a new generation. I just got back last night from a weekend visit with my nephew, his wife, and their new baby boy. That makes me a great aunt. How can this be? I’m not nearly old enough to be a great anything. He is a precious little thing and truly a blessing to our family.

The whole weekend was pretty special. We left our men folks at home and my mother and I struck out for Georgia. Our plan was to stay at my brother’s house in Macon and commute to Perry (a little farther south on I-75) to visit with my nephew. We wanted to get an early start on Friday morning, so Gene dropped me off at my parent’s house at 7 AM. We were going in her car and she was loaded and ready to go when we got there. Gene opened the trunk to put my little overnight bag in and found no room. Her trunk was full and that is saying something since hers is the largest trunk of any car manufactured in the free world. My mother has a reputation of taking more than she needs on any trip. We still tease her about those 27 pairs of shoes she took on a trip some 40 years ago. It’s just her way. Her philosophy is to be prepared for any circumstance and there is no such thing as “too much”. But what turned out to be in her trunk was not clothes and shoes, but food.

We planned to take some food because we knew the new mom wouldn’t have time to fool with meal planning, grocery shopping, and cooking for a gang of people. Mother had called the new dad, Ben, to see what he would like for her to bring. He thought he would enjoy a little shrimp Creole. We never go down there without taking cookies so I had baked a big batch. Even though we had planned to take food, I was still shocked to see 2 large coolers in her trunk. Besides the gallon of Creole, there was a smoked turkey breast, 2 pounds of Whitt’s barbeque, a couple packages of deli ham, a loaf of apricot bread and a tub of cream cheese. Then she felt bad taking all that food to one grandson and not the other, so she made a double batch of homemade spaghetti sauce for her son and the other grandson. I put my little bag and camera in the back seat, my dad stuck the GPS on the windshield and we pulled out of the driveway very near 7 AM. According to my brother, Mike, that in itself is pretty much a miracle.

We didn’t program our destination into the GPS at the start of our trip. We knew how to get where we were going until we turned off the interstate in Macon. Well, I know how to get to my brother’s house as well as both my nephew’s homes. Gene and I don’t have a GPS and rely on MapQuest for directions. I had those directions on the seat beside me. When we got through Atlanta, mother decided it was time to let the GPS guide our way. I was flying down the highway at 70 mph, trying my best to make some headway on this trip. We were, by this time, way behind schedule so I left her to the programming of the new technology. Her hands shake pretty badly these days and her fingers are gnarled with arthritis so she touched every command on the little screen until she got to a point of no return. At least not one she could figure out. I was no help since I am unfamiliar with the device plus I had to have my eyes on the road. The best way to solve this problem is to turn the thing off and start all over. In the end, she got the GPS to display the map correctly and there were written directions on the screen, but no Ms GPS telling us where to go. She pressed a few more buttons to no avail, so she decided to call my dad. He didn’t answer the phone (when the cats away... and all that, I guess). When we were getting pretty close to Macon, she called again. This time he answered and she tried to explain the problem of the mute GPS. This was a difficult conversation. As with all of us, sometimes she can’t think of the word she wants to use. Most of the time, she can carry on an intelligent conversation, but this was one of those times when the words, particularly nouns, just wouldn’t come. It was probably partly due to the fact that she is 83 and unfamiliar with the GPS technology. On the other end of the line, my dad is very hard of hearing. He apparently instructed her to restart the GPS in order to get back to the main menu. Then he was asking her what was displayed on the screen. She would say what she saw, he wouldn’t be able to hear what she said, she would accidentally touch something, the screen would change and she would tell him something else which he couldn’t hear. This went on for some time until they finally gave up. She sat with the GPS in her lap for a while just pushing and touching. All of a sudden, Ms GPS began to speak.

That’s all for now. More on this trip tomorrow.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Other Stuff To Do In Nashville

There are many things to see and do in Nashville. I have run out of time, and have only glimpsed a few of “tourist attractions”. I feel compelled to at least mention a few of the other things you might be interested in when you visit the city.
Chaffin's Barn Dinner Theater

As I mentioned before, this is the capital of Tennessee and the Capitol Building is open for touring. The American Volkssport Association has a walk which includes the area around the capitol building.
Christ's Church Episcopal Cathedral

Tennessee Performing Arts Center has a full schedule of performances, some of which are major productions. One of the most memorable things I have ever done was see Yul Brenner in The King of Siam performed at TPAC. The Nashville Symphony also performs regularly at Schermerhorn Symphony Center. For a more casual live performance, check out what’s playing at Chaffin’s Barn Dinner Theater.
Sommet Center where the Preds play

For all you sports fans, Nashville has three professional teams. For the football fans there are the Tennessee Titans, for baseball fans we have the minor league team--the Nashville Sounds, and for hockey fans there are the Nashville Predators.
Union Station

For history buffs, there are countless historical sites in Nashville and the surrounding area. A fair number of Civil War battles were fought in the area. The battle of Nashville is well documented with historical markers. There are regular re-enactments at Stones River National Battlefield in Murfreesboro, as well as in the communities of Springhill and Franklin, TN. The Heritage, home Andrew Jackson, the 7th president of the United States is located on the outskirts of town.

Customs House
For state history, the Tennessee State Museum is located in downtown. It is a nice facility, but a state museum never the less. What can I say? I call these places “state attics”—a place to put all that stuff you don’t use anymore. However, our state museum does have an area for traveling exhibits and has had some very interesting shows. One of my favorites was the Anne Frank Exhibit.

For visual arts Nashville has Frist Center of the Visual Arts as well as Cheekwood Botanical Gardens.

The train station has been renovated and is now a Grand Hotel. The old Customs House on Broadway is still occupied by federal judges and a courtroom just as it was in 1882. There are many churches located in the downtown area. Christ’s Church Episcopal Cathedral built in 1894 is a great example of Victorian Gothic architecture.
Bat Building

Just driving along the streets, particularly in the downtown area, offers the visitor plenty to see. If you look carefully you may see a catfish, a guitar, or even a horse. And don’t forget to look up. Perhaps the most distinctive building on the Nashville Skyline is the Bell South tower, lovingly referred to as the “bat building”.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Athens of the South

Hume-Fogg High School

Besides “Music City”, Nashville has often been referred to as the “Athens of the South”. The city got this name in the late 1800s because it was the home of several institutes of higher education. It was also the first southern city to have a public school system. Hume-Fogg High School (originally Hume School) opened in 1855 and was the first public school in Nashville. Today, there are dozens of colleges and universities in the greater Nashville area including Vanderbilt University, Belmont University, David Lipscomb University, Tennessee State University, Trevecca Nazarene University, Fisk University, Draughons Junior College, Nashville Tech, Watkins College of Art and Design, Aquinas College, and the Nashville Auto Diesel College.
The Parthenon at Centennial Park

As a result of the name “Athens of the South”, for the state centennial celebration in 1896, a replica of the Parthenon was constructed at what is now Centennial Park. Originally built as a temporary exhibit hall, the Parthenon has since gone through several renovations to become a permanent landmark of the city. Being an exact replica, the Parthenon is a fantastic resource for any student of ancient Greece.
A bench by the lake
Ducks looking for a hand out
Rock bridge.  Lots of wedding photos are taken here.

Centennial Park is nestled between Vanderbilt University, Centennial Hospital, and Hospital Corporation of America. As an urban park it gets a lot of use from the area residents, primarily Vanderbilt and Belmont University students, as well as the hundreds of employees of nearby businesses. The walking paths are popular with walkers and joggers. Lunch time brings out the brown baggers from HCA and Centennial Hospital. Fishing is allowed in the small, man-made lake and children love to feed the ducks and geese. With numerous flower gardens, park benches and swings, it is an ideal place to just sit, relax, and enjoy the beauty

In my opinion, this park and the Parthenon should be on the “must see” list of visitors to Nashville.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Slide Maintenance

Gene takes care of most of the maintenance on the Montana. He gives this bit of advice.
Primary tool for this task was a straw

My unit is two and a half years old. The slide out rooms on my unit operate on a hydraulic system. The slides had begun to react a little sluggishly. It dawned on me perhaps the fluid level was low. Sure enough, it was.

I read the Keystone manual and glanced at the Lippart owner’s manual. It said to buy type A Automatic Transmission Fluid ATF and fill the reservoir to within 1 inch of the top. I took the unit to a dealer to have the bearings repacked. While that was being done, I bought the fluid and filled the tank to within 1 inch while the slides were in.

Back at the campground after set up, I found the partial bottle of transmission fluid, and checked the level in the tank. It was down a little. What the heck, I put in more fluid.

At 3.30 AM the next morning my eyes flew open. I bet I overfilled the tank with ATF fluid! Bet the fluid was out in the lines somewhere since the slides were now extended. I read in more detail the Lippart manual. I called Keystone later (during normal business hours) and confirmed my fears. I was advised nothing would break, but I'd have a mess if the tank overflowed when I brought the slides in. To avoid the mess, I decided to remove some of the fluid from the reservoir.

Putting the fluid in was a whole lot easier than taking it out. The reservoir is located in the battery storage compartment under the front end cap. There is only about 6 inches of space to work in and the opening on the tank is small. Judi suggested a turkey baster might work to suck out the fluid. I didn’t have one. What I had was a plastic drinking straw. That worked, but it took just about forever. Any type of siphon that is small enough for the space would work, but be sure it is clean. You don’t want to contaminate the fluid.

By the way, the fluid I bought didn't say “Type A” anywhere. In fact, no ATF at Wal-Mart had that designation. It did say for multi vehicle use. Keystone advised that Type A was an old standard, and what I bought was fine.

And the Lippart manual clearly says to check the fluid level only when the slides are retracted.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Lebanon, Tennessee

We had an appointment Monday to get the trailer serviced at an RV dealership in Lebanon, TN. We went out on Sunday afternoon to Timberline RV Resort which is across the street from the RV dealership in order to be able to get in for service when they opened Monday morning. Since that is our home they are repacking the wheel bearings and checking the brakes on, we needed it back to sleep in that night. We had the better part of Monday to explore Lebanon.
Along the "Square" in Lebanon, TN

Lebanon is the county seat of Wilson County. The population is growing pretty steady here, but it once was typical of the small towns around Tennessee with a “square” that marked the “downtown” area. For the county seats, usually the courthouse was erected in the center of the “square” with the road circling around. Merchants had their shops across the road. This small shopping district with the courthouse in the center was the hub of the small community. There were three, four, or maybe even five roads branching off of the hub like the spokes of a wheel which led to the outlying residential community and beyond to the next town. Lebanon’s courthouse has been moved to a new location and there is a small park in the center of the “square” today. The old merchant buildings are still there, but the apothecary, grocer, and hardware that may have occupied these structures have given way to antique dealers.
Cedar Glade

We went for a short walk at Cedars of Lebanon State Park. This area was once covered by cedar glades. For the most part, the glades have disappeared as “progress” has invaded the land. Under government protection in the State Forest and State Park, the few remaining glades give us a glimpse of this rare geological feature with its Eastern Red Cedar (technically Junipers) and glade flowers.
Hoary Puccoon
There are several varieties of flowers which grow on the cedar glades which are not seen in other areas of Middle Tennessee.
Lime Stonecrop
Nashville Mustard
Rose Verbena

The park is typical for state parks in Tennessee. It has a meeting facility, picnic areas, a swimming pool, play ground, a few hiking trails, and a campground. The campground has had some improvements made since we were last here. The sites have been leveled and crushed stone laid down. In one campground, most of the sites are pull-thrus and are paved. They would easily accommodate our 37 feet. The have 30 or 50 amps and water at every site, but no sewer. Pretty good for a state park. We’re making progress.

We were able to pick up the Montana by mid afternoon and we are back in the OK Campground for a couple more weeks.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Nashville Outdoors

We love to be outside. Nashville has a lot to offer for the outdoor enthusiast. There are two large lakes, Old Hickory Lake and Percy Priest Lake, and the Cumberland River for boating and fishing. The Harpeth River is a popular place for fishing and canoeing.

In recent years the city has made a concerted effort to complete a greenway system which is accessible from many areas around town. When completed within Davidson County, this would create 57 miles of paved trail for biking, walking, and jogging. It is my understanding that they eventually intend for the Clarksville/Ashland City Greenway, Nashville Greenway and the Murfreesboro Greenway to all be connected. That may be many years in coming.
Jack in the Pulpit

We are interested in the hiking, of course, and there are many miles of maintained hiking trails in several City and State Parks. Perhaps our favorite is the Percy Warner/Edwin Warner Parks (2 parks which sit side-by-side). By connecting 3 different loop trails a hiker can get a 12 mile hike on a moderately difficult trail. It is a fantastic resource within city limits. Another very popular place for hiking is Radnor Lake State Park. There are about 4 short trails in this park, but by far the most popular is the trail around the lake. Beaman Park is the newest of Nashville parks. We went there yesterday to hike the Ridgetop trail.

For runners and bicyclists, these parks offer many miles of paved road. Of course, most of the road system is open to motorized vehicles, however there is a loop in Edwin Warner Park which is closed to traffic. Percy Warner Park also offers several miles of horse riding trails separate from the hiking trail.
The bell towers at Bicentennial Mall State Park

The Bicentennial Mall State Park is located downtown at the foot of the State Capitol. It was built to commemorate Tennessee’s 200th birthday. The park is a history lesson with a timeline of major events which have occurred over centuries and its memorials to Tennessee’s military. The park is landscaped with plants, shrubs, and trees native to Tennessee. At one end there are bell towers which play The Tennessee Waltz on the hour. The walkways within the park offer a wonderful oasis in the heart of downtown for walkers and joggers.
WWII Memorial

Other parks in the area include Shelby Bottoms, Long Hunter State Park, Montgomery Bell State Park, Bledsoe Creek State Park, Cedars of Lebanon State Park, and Centennial Park.

Monday, April 21, 2008

What A Deal

I use my crock pot a lot. When I worked, it was really nice to have dinner almost on the table when I got home in the evening. I often have a crock pot meal on days when we plan to be out sightseeing or hiking until late in the afternoon. Since we have been living in the RV, anytime I want a roast, I use the crock pot instead of the oven. The pot I have now is old, maybe 15, (I’m surprised it is still working), one of the handles is cracked and coming loose, and the crock is chipped. Plus, it is really too large just for the two of us. So Thursday as I was putting it back in the cabinet, I told Gene I was thinking of getting a new one and cited all the above reasons why this one wasn’t good enough any longer.

Friday morning, I put a couple slices of bread in the toaster for breakfast. I like Friday mornings—it’s toast bar day. That’s toast with your choice of toppings. I always put out the butter, cinnamon sugar, cream cheese, jelly, or jam, but what I always put on my toast is peanut butter and honey. I love it. Anyway, I pressed the lever down on the toaster and it didn’t catch. It took several tries to make it work. So I told Gene I guessed I’d get a new toaster instead of a crock pot.

After breakfast, I got in the shower. As I was drying off, I heard a loud crash and the shattering of glass. Peanut, my darling cat, had pushed the coffee pot off onto the floor. I told Gene I guessed I’ll buy a coffee pot instead of a toaster.

I can’t see much point in getting up in the mornings if I can’t have coffee right away, so it was pretty important to get onto the business of getting a new coffee pot. Since this campground is not located in the heart of a shopping district, Gene and I discussed at length our schedules for the day trying to figure out the best time and place to get a coffee pot. We didn’t want to spend more in fuel than the price of the pot. The decision was made for me to pick up a pot while out for lunch with my mother and aunt.

Target was the closest “discount” store. I might just say here that I hate to shop. I hate to shop for groceries, clothes, household appliances. I hate to shop. About the only way I can deal with it is to decide what I want, go in and get it, then get out. I was running into Target to get a coffee pot with about 12 minutes to spare before meeting my mother for lunch.

I was looking for a coffee pot, not a robot. I didn’t need buttons, dials, buzzers, lights, or control panels. Just a coffee pot. So I didn’t even stop to examine those coffee “makers” with price tags of $79. I didn’t even look at the ones for $29. Way down at the end of the shelf was a red tag marked $7. That’s the one for me. Well, that was easy and really cheap (Gene will love it). I could get a toaster, too. I refused to even look at the toasters that were larger than my kitchen counter, but down at the end was a red tag marked $7. Wow, what a bargain. I could get a crock pot, too. I am sorry to say the crock pot that was $7. was just too small. I had to pay $18. but still feel like I got a great deal.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Diesel Prices

From Gene following a recent fill-up:

I hold these truths to be self evident, but your mileage may vary.

In January I paid 3.15 per gallon for diesel in Spartanburg, SC. It is 3.94 at Wal-Mart in Springfield, TN now, and I have seen it as high as 4.19 in Springfield.

In 1999 crude oil (and at the current price crude is the correct term) dropped to a low of 8.00 a barrel (42 USA gallons). At the end of 2006 it was around 60.00. It just hit 115. What is going on?

My friend Google attempted to shed some light on the mystery. There are a number of partial explanations for the rise of prices. The weight on how important each is, and which is in control at the moment, is a matter of opinion. I certainly have my share of those.

Among the reasons for the increasing prices are: limited production, limited refining capacity, increasing global demand especially in the growing south Asia economies, and fear of supply disruptions due to political instability in many oil producing regions. Any one of these may be cited on the evening news for today’s surprising increase.

Another major reason for the “run up” (you have to run, you can’t afford to drive) is the speculation factor. This is a Gordian Knot for me. Since the stock market is off, and interest rates are low, the big players need a place to park money in something that has intrinsic value and commodities are the answer…gold, copper, corn, wheat and OIL. With a commodity if the value of the currency the futures contract is measured in changes, it matters less because you still have a fixed number of ounces, barrels or bushels. Wait, there’s more.

One irony here is commodities are used this way in inflation situations, but we have a declining dollar. The declining dollar is creating inflation as it takes more of those dollars to buy products (read: oil) from overseas. So Daddy Warbucks would rather hold oil futures than dollars since oil has inherent value, US interest rates are ridiculously low (but the US population being all debtors rather than savers doesn’t mind), and it is one of the few investments he can make that has a good prospect for a short term (read: bubble like) gain. That short term investment speculation band wagon is what appears to be the reason oil is over, pick a number, 75 a barrel.

The mother of all ironies is that the low dollar value is brought to us by our own government. The drastic lowering of interest rates does not increase the world’s desire to hold US dollars. Deficit spending decreases the value of the dollar as the national debt rises. It appears the government has determined it is in the county’s best interest overall to lower interest rates and cheapen our currency. We have certainly heard the Federal Reserve say they are willing to risk igniting another inflation cycle to mitigate the current problems in the economy.

So when might oil prices decline to a level that reflects their global value? Who knows? Watch for interest rates to rise and the value of the dollar to increase in value from1.60 to 1 Euro to maybe 1.25. Watch for the Dow to rise and stay above 13,000. And keep watching the marquee at the Murphy Oil station at Wal-Mart

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Opryland Hotel

The official name now is Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center. Now this is a nice hotel with almost 3,000 rooms. I would venture to guess that most Nashvillians have been to Opryland Hotel at some point in time. We don’t go to stay there overnight (though I’m sure some have to celebrate a special occasion); we go there just to look around. One of the most popular times to go is during December when the hotel and grounds are elaborately decorated for the holiday season. I’ve been going there during the holidays almost from the time the first tree was lit.
The Delta at Opryland Hotel

Things have changed over the years, of course, like everything else changes. Now they charge to park, and it is a hefty price, too. If you don’t mind a little walk, you can park at Opry Mills (where the Opryland Theme Park used to be) and walk across the parking lot, down a short walkway and in the Delta River entrance. Easy. That is what I did yesterday, along with several dozen others. Several new additions have been made to a hotel that was massive to start with. The newest Delta area offers visitors rides on small flat boats up the river, and shops along a short “street” like one you might find in New Orleans. Spanish moss even hangs from the trees.
Shops in the Delta Area

Walkway to the rooms
The hotel has created a special place in the 9 acres of well manicured grounds outside and “greenhouse” inside. Many people, including myself, like to stroll along the walkways lined with trees, shrubs, and flowers. And water is everywhere—fountains, waterfalls, small pools and the “river” in the Delta River area.

Most upscale hotels will have a restaurant and gift shop. At Opryland there are many, many eating establishments—everything from a small kiosk offering soft drinks and snacks, to restaurants great for a light lunch, to formal dinner seating at water’s edge. An abundance of shopping can be done, as well. Handbags, children’s clothing, leather goods, kitchen gadgets, you name it and it can be yours for a price.

I don’t think I could recommend staying there overnight. The rates are somewhere in the $200. range. I heard someone say once that “you should never pay very much for a motel room. Once you turn out the lights and close you eyes, all rooms look the same.” However, it is free to go in the hotel (park at Opry Mills) and it is definitely worth a visit.

Friday, April 18, 2008

"Music City, USA"

“Music City, USA”. That is a name Nashville rightfully deserves as it is the second largest music recording/production center in the US, second only to New York. It is the home of Country Music with the Country Music Hall of Fame, the Grand Ole Opry, and the Ryman Auditorium.
Grand Ole Opry House

The Grand Ole Opry got its start in 1925 on WSM radio. Country music fans have over the years been able to watch the show from several different locations, but perhaps the most famous is the Ryman Auditorium. The Ryman still hosts a few shows annually, usually in the winter. The primary location for the Grand Ole Opry is at the new Opry House near the Opryland Hotel.
Ryman Auditorium

I’ll have to admit I’m not a “dyed in the wool” true blue country music fan and I have never been in the new Opry House. However, I did have the privilege of seeing the Grand Ole Opry in the Ryman Auditorium. The particular night we went was way back in the 70s and it was pouring down rain. I don’t remember much about the show, but I can almost still feel the drops of water landing on me from the balcony above. The Ryman has been remodeled and is now a wonderful place which hosts a variety of shows.

Country Music Hall of Fame
For country music fans, the Country Music Hall of Fame is a must see. Originally, it was located on what is called Music Row—a street near downtown where many of the recording studios are located. Now the Country Music Hall of Fame resides in a new structure in the downtown area.
Bradley Park at Music Row

The Opry and the Hall of Fame are not the only way to get your country music fix in this town. Along both sides of the street along lower Broadway, there are numerous honky tonks offering up live music nightly. In the summer months, you may even catch a few star wantabes strumming on the street corners as the city is home to thousands of not so famous, but nevertheless, talented folks.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Nashville, Tennessee

We are in our home city, Nashville. Both Gene and I claim to be Nashvillians by virtue of the fact that we have lived here most of our lives, he more than I.

Gene came to Nashville with his parents in 1959. They bought a house in the Donelson area and his mother lived in that home until her death in 2005. Until we started traveling, Gene had lived in Nashville all these nearly 50 years with the exception of the time he was in college at MTSU in Murfreesboro, a mere 30 miles away.

I came to Nashville in 1957 and also lived in Donelson. However, I left the area after high school, not to return until the early 80s. Almost 30 years should qualify me as a native plus my parents and most of my mother’s family lives here.

Gene and I met several years ago on a hike with our local hiking club, Tennessee Trails. We discovered that we had grown up living only about a mile apart. He, as a child, used to ride his bike along my street, we were no doubt at the local movie theater at the same time for the Saturday matinee, and I’m sure he was among the gang at the skating rink on Friday nights. What a small world.

We will be in town for 3 weeks doing what I suspect most fulltime RVers do when they come home—doctor’s appointments, take the cat to the Vet for shots, visit with family and friends, and have the annual service done on the RV. Because I know there are some of you who are not from around here, I am also going to visit some of the places around town that are popular destinations for tourists and post pictures and commentary as though I were a first time visitor.

Nashville is a large city with an area population of over a million. It is the capital of Tennessee. As such it has many things to do and see—Country Music Hall of Fame and the Grand Ole Opry, Centennial Park with its replica of the Parthenon, the Hermitage, home of Andrew Jackson, Cheekwood Botanical Gardens, and the Frist Center for the Visual Arts. I am looking forward to my tour of my home town and I hope you will enjoy it, as well.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

What Time Is It?

I get a little disoriented with regards to time when we change time zones. I’m easily confused, I guess. But I don’t get nearly as confused as the cat does. Peanut has a pretty regular schedule for his meal and I can count on him to let me know when it is feeding time. That includes the morning meal which he likes at 5 AM Eastern time. I’m a morning person so it is really not a problem. I get up, feed him, put on coffee, and post this blog. I am finished with my posting about the time the coffee is ready. I get a cup and stumbled to the recliner. I prop up my feet, throw the afghan over my legs, and attend to my daily Bible reading and sudoku puzzles. Peanut eats what little he is inclined to eat, plays with his mouse for a bit, then climbs up into my lap for his nap.

Knowing that we would be moving to the Central time zone, I have been gradually trying to adjust Peanut’s schedule. 5 AM is good for me, but not 4 AM. We have been working on this for a couple weeks and things are pretty good with him now. But boy am I confused. I have been living my schedule by Eastern time and the cat’s by Central time. When we arrived in Nashville yesterday, I set the microwave clock and bedside clock on what I thought was Central time. Of course, I was wrong, but my loving husband reset them for me. The wall clock is much more difficult to change, so, if we are not staying long in Central time, we don’t change it at all. And I also leave my computer on Eastern time. I have been swiveling my head back and forth today trying to figure out what time it is.

It reminded me of a trip we made last fall from Knoxville to Crossville, TN for our annual hiking club meeting. When we got there I was a bit confused about what time zone we were in. I did not recall seeing the time zone sign along the interstate, but my cell phone had switched to Central time. However, Gene's cell phone remained on Eastern time. My mother called wanting to know where I was (they were also on their way to the annual meeting) and during the course of our conversation I asked her what time zone were we in, Eastern or Central. Her reply--"local time". I guess she gets a little confused, too.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

One of Those Days

This was one of those days. We got up just like any other day, the coffee was good, and things seemed to be rocking along just fine. We got hitched up and pulled away from our campsite about 9:15. That was good because the worst of the Knoxville morning rush hour traffic was over. We zipped through town with no problem and were headed west on I-40 expecting an easy 200 mile drive.

About the time we got to Crossville we noticed the wind. We had heard the weather on the local news this morning. They said something about wind and we were also expecting to see some rain sometime during the day. The wind got our attention. I noticed our trailer steps were down. That is very unusual. As far as I can remember it has only happened once and that was on a very bad, bumpy road. Luck was with us and the next rest area was just about 2 miles ahead. We pull in and I grab a snack from the pantry and put the step up and we are off again in about 10 minutes. It wasn’t 5 minutes and I noticed the steps were down again. What’s going on here? Gene suggested it was the wind. This time we are only a short distance from a Pilot truck stop so we whip in there. Gene secures the steps with bungies and we are off again.

By the time we get off the plateau, the wind has intensified. I take some consolation in the fact that there are truckers and other RVers still on the road. Surely, this can’t be as bad as it feels. A couple hours of this has taken its toll and my nerves are a little frayed. Stopping at the next rest area for lunch helped.

Back on the road with the wind, we head on into Nashville. Now the sky is darkening and rain is imminent. About the time we crossed the Davidson County line, the rain came down with a vengeance. Traffic in Nashville is pretty bad, well not bad like New York or Chicago, but bad by my standards. We have been away from Nashville for almost a year and have just spent the past month in a community of 5,000. We’ve gotten out of the habit of traffic. I am leaning forward in my seat, wringing my hands trying to see 5 lanes (or is it 6) of bumper to bumper traffic through a deluge in high winds. This trip has lost its appeal.

At least all the other drivers were having difficulty seeing as well, so had slowed to a more reasonable speed for the driving conditions. We escaped the I-40 traffic to Briley Parkway on which, miraculously, the construction is now completed after perhaps 20 years. By the time we passed Opryland Hotel, the rain had ceased and blue skies graced us from above.

We hopped on I-24 and come up a couple exits to Joelton and our campground. Gene went in to get us registered and discovered that they had failed to puts us down as arriving today even though he spoke with them 3 different times on the phone. They have space available, so it is not a problem. We have never stayed at this campground so were unfamiliar with the layout. Gene thought he would walk around and select a campsite before pulling the trailer in. He finds a site he likes and in we go. Yes, there is a huge puddle, not just in our site, but all sites have been treated equally. Everything looks great so we unhitch. At least we discovered we did not have enough clearance for the slide before we knocked the electrical post over with it. Hitch up again, back up about 1 foot, and unhitch. This has also lost its appeal.

I put the slides out and to my horror find that envelopes from the cabinet over the desk have flown out during travel and are now jammed up under the slide. Bring the slides back in, clear the jam, and put the slides out again. Wonder how often I can raise and lower the landing gear and push the slides in and out before the house batteries are dead?

The best I can do by this time is just sit down. But I need a glass of tea or lemonade, or something. When I opened the cabinet I didn’t even have to reach for my glass. It came flying out of there and hit me in the head.

This day has lost its fun factor. Tomorrow will be better.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Backpacking in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

One of our favorite places to go backpacking is the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I suppose the primary reason for this is that it is our home state park, the one close at hand. But it does have some big drawing points of its own. Perhaps its biggest drawing point is the fact that the world famous Appalachian Trail runs longitudinally right through the middle of the Smokies. Beginning at Fontana Dam at the southern end of the Park, the AT extends 70 miles northward along the Tennessee-North Carolina border to exit the Park at Davenport Gap. In addition to the Appalachian Trail there are some 800 miles of maintained hiking trails in the Park. Another big draw, especially for me, is the Eastern temperate forest. At low elevations hardwoods thrive in the damp climate of east Tennessee. Spring is a wonderful time to experience nature’s magnificent beauty. Redbud and dogwood give the soft new green spots of radiant color. Wildflowers abound on the forest floor. As summer approaches, the mountains seem to explode with rhododendron, mountain laurel, and flame azalea. Fall brings the vibrant reds and yellows that signal the onset of winter. As the leaves fall, hikers are rewarded with spectacular views of range after range for as far as the eye can see. As awe-inspiring as the hardwood forest is, my personal favorite is the fur forest at high elevation. It is a lush place covered with moss and pine needles and there is a constant drip of water from tree limbs and rocks. I love the smell of evergreens and the cool feel of dampness in the air.

Within this magnificent setting, the Park Service offers two types of backpacking opportunities for hikers, equestrians, and fishermen. There are 88 backcountry camp sites and 15 backcountry shelters. Backcountry camping is free of charge but requires a backcountry permit.
A typical backcountry camp site
The pulley system for hanging food bags.

Backcountry campsites are typical of campsites in many other parks around the country. They consist of a water source, a fire ring, and a relatively flat place to pitch a tent. If you are lucky, there may be a log and a flat rock near the fire ring to facilitate cooking. At every backcountry campsite and shelter, there has been the installation of the backpackers most appreciated apparatus—the pulley system from which to hang your food bag. Few places offer this convenience. Our hats go off and our hearts go out to the ones responsible. No more hunting for the perfect tree limb and no more shoulder injuries trying to throw a rope.
Derrick Knob Shelter

The backcountry shelters are primarily located along the Appalachian Trail, with a few others scattered about the Park at popular destination sites. In the past, these structures were damp, dark, dreary places. Many of the shelters were built by CCC workers in the 30s and 40s. They consisted of either a stone or log three-sided structure with a sleeping platform and stone fireplace. Due to an increasing bear problem, the park service attached chain link fencing across the open side of the shelter. In recent years the park service with the help of the Smoky Mountain Hiking Club and other volunteers, has begun renovating the shelters. Leaking roofs have been replaced with skylights, general repairs made to the exterior structures and fireplaces, sleeping platforms have been redone, porches have been extended giving more “living” space inside the shelter, and cooking shelves and benches have been installed. These once dark, dreary places are now light, comfortable, and cozy places to enjoy a night in the backcountry.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Knoxville, Tennessee

The Knoxville area has an abundance of attractions for every traveler. This is sort of like a second home for us and we have spent quite a lot of time here. We are only passing through this time, but there are a couple things I wanted to share just in case you find yourself here in the future.
Rachmaninoff statue in World's Fair Park

Knoxville is a large city, the third largest in Tennessee. Being that size it offers many attractions and services—almost everything from museums to a zoo. The World’s Fair was held here in 1983, drawing visitors from around the world. Today, the area where the fair was held has become a very nice city park. Do I need to mention that this is the home of the University of Tennessee. This is “Big Orange” country and in the fall that is about the only color to be seen around here. One good way to see the city is by doing the Volksmarch which begins at the James White Fort, meanders through the historic downtown area, World’s Fair Park, across the UT campus, and back along the Tennessee River.

There are also fabulous attractions nearby. Although we haven’t been, the Museum of Science and Energy in Oak Ridge is highly acclaimed as well as The Museum of Appalachia in Norris. Knoxville is just a short drive from the gateway communities for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park—Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge and Townsend. Shopping abounds in Pigeon Forge with its numerous outlet stores. Gatlinburg has a more tourist feel with its craft stores, T-shirt shops, and fudge factory. If crowds aren’t your thing, then Townsend might be a better choice for a place to stay for a visit to the National Park.
Cade's Cove Missionary Baptist Church

The National Park has usually been our destination when coming to the area. Other folks seem to like it, too, as it is the most visited National Park in the country. Fall is a very popular time to come and leaf peepers are out in full force. One of the most popular places in the Park is Cades Cove located 7 miles from the Townsend entrance. This was a thriving pioneer community in the 1850s with a population of nearly 700. Today, the Park Service maintains several pioneer cabins, a water-powered grist mill, churches and cemeteries. Many visitors come for the wildlife. It is a rare visit to the cove that you wouldn’t see white tailed deer and wild turkey and some say this is the best place in the park to see a black bear. The 11 mile paved Loop road allows visitors to enjoy the cove from the comfort of their car. However, for the more adventuresome, bicycling is a fantastic way to get a little exercise while exploring the history of this early East Tennessee community. During summer months the Loop road is closed on Wednesday and Saturday mornings to motorized traffic, making a bicycle tour more pleasant. Guided horseback riding tours are also available from April through October. If you want your feet on the ground, there are several hiking trails in the Cove. One of the more popular is a relatively easy 2 ½ mile hike to Abrams Falls.

More on the Great Smoky Mountains National Park tomorrow.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Look Out, I'm Driving

We are back in the Knoxville area on our way to Nashville staying at the Raccoon Valley Escapee Campground were we were for a couple nights before going to South Carolina. Thankfully, we had a very uneventful 125 mile drive yesterday.

Gene had spent some considerable time worrying about how he was going to get out of the site we were in at Woodsmoke Campground. It had taken a lot of effort to get in there and it was the same S-curve to get out. Apparently, the campground road had originally made a loop. The road is still there that goes on up the hill and turns to go down toward the entrance, but it is now blocked off. All the campsites are back-ins angled toward the road that is now out of service. Out of our campsite and onto the road that angle was about 45 degrees and with trees all around. The campground owner came up to help us get out and he and Gene were mightily surprised to see me behind the wheel. The only way out was to pull as far up into the site across the road as possible then back out up the hill. That all went very smoothly except for a rock about the size of a basketball, half covered by leaves, that I, nor my guides, ever saw. It was not a problem, however, since I was barely creeping along trying to get as close as I could to the outside of that angle. I simply rolled square against the rock and stopped. I couldn’t figure out why I couldn't move forward any more. Then we discovered the rock. No damage done, plus I got the extra backing up practice to get around it.

There were 5 interstates to use to drive that short 125 miles--I-26, I-81, I-40, I-640, and I-75. None of those interstates had much traffic yesterday, for which I am eternally grateful. All of the interstate exchange ramps were to the right, for which I am also grateful. One thing that we noticed (and commented on) was how slowly everybody seemed to be driving, especially the truckers. Our trailer tires are rated for 65 mph so we stay pretty steady about 63. That is mighty slow for the interstate drivers and we are usually passed like we are standing still. There was one trucker and only a handful of cars that zoomed past; most were just poking along like us. It certainly made for a pleasant drive and I felt much more comfortable driving today than in the past. Practice is good.

The highlight of my day was the redbud. It must be in full bloom in this area.

We will be here 2 nights. Gene has a meeting in the Knoxville office this morning and I will be catching up on the laundry I saved because I knew this campground had a good laundry facility. Then, on to Nashville Friday.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Preparing to Move

Our time in Erwin is up. We’re moving on today. It is our habit to stay at a location for about a month, seeing and doing what there is to see and do in the area. So we go through this little routine about once a month, or whenever we are moving.

Gene likes to be absolutely sure we have the proper air pressure in all tires. We typically get on the road in the morning, so the morning before we are to leave he will check the air pressure in the trailer and truck tires. We have our own little air compressor if air is needed, which it usually is.

The bicycles are next. These bicycles have been a thorn in our flesh since we started traveling. We don’t ride much, but when there is a nice bike trail, we want to have them. Carrying them has always been troublesome. When we had the pop-up camper, we put them on a rack on the back of the van. This was not an ideal place because every time we needed anything from the back we had to take them off. We had ordered the van with the bars on the roof so that we could install a rack if needed, but the van was so tall it made lifting the bikes up there undesirable. We had also ordered the pop-up with bars on the roof so that a rack could be installed up there. That wasn’t over our heads, but the bikes had to be removed before the roof could be raised. Not so good, either. With the Montana, we are still wrestling with the bicycles. We often see RVs of all types with bicycles hanging from their rear ladders. You can even buy racks made to hold bicycles to ladders. The ladder is made to hold an adult, so the weight of a couple bicycles would not be excessive. However, that weight is essentially magnified with every bump you hit in the road. We have also seen bicycles literally swaying in the breeze hanging on a ladder. We saw a ladder on a class C that I thought was going to fall off on the road with its load of bicycles. We are reluctant to hang our bicycles on our ladder. Another option is to have a hitch to receive a bike rack. Our Montana Owner’s Manual clearly states that anything attached to the frame will void the frame warranty. Not going there. Our current practice is to put them in the bed of the truck. There is not enough room for them to stand up and still have room for the trailer to turn on the pin. They have to lay flat in the bed and, of course, they are too long to do that without taking the front tire off. They have to be situated just right so as not to bang against the trailer light plug. We have stopped numerous times to plug in the trailer lights after a few bounces on a bad road. Other options are under consideration; one being a hood rack for the truck to carry them in front and another being a rack to mount on the king pin.

Also the day before the walkie talkies are charged, The Next Exit gets in the truck, a route is planned, and Gene fills up the truck (ouch). I always get a little lazy being in one place for a month so I have to be sure the food and dishes are once again arranged to travel safely down the nation’s interstate system. I use that no-skid shelf liner in the drawers and between dishes and like it very well. Most of the things sitting on counters or tables are held down with museum putty (poster putty) and they stay put. They are safe even from the cat. I use mounting tape or velcro for the things on the walls and have found that works well, too.

On the day of departure, if we are planning to be on the road during lunch time, I will make sandwiches or salad—something easy to take out of the refrigerator and eat off of a paper plate. Gene unhooks the utilities and dumps the tanks and together we hitch up. We’re on our way to our next adventure.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

A Prayer at Springtime

I think spring is my favorite time of year. I’m a four seasons kind of gal, but somehow spring is more special. The green of the new leaves seems so fresh. The grass is thick and lush. This year in particular, the flowering trees and shrubs seem to have outdone themselves. We have had a lot of rain this spring; perhaps that is the reason for such a tremendous display of Bradford pear, weeping cherry, redbud, and forsythia. We saw a serviceberry bush on the trail yesterday that was almost breathtaking.
Blood Root

I am particularly fond of wildflowers. Several years ago, Gene and I decided we would learn the wildflowers. We bought a wildflower book and set out to learn wildflowers. We soon limited our learning to five, or maybe seven, flowers that first year. After that, each year we added another five or seven. We are still not very knowledgeable in the realm of wildflowers, but we can each spring eventually come up with the 25 or 30 flowers we’ve learned. There are even a few that we can recognize from just the leaf without the flower. How good is that?

I know spring is near when I see daffodils (I call them buttercups). They seem to always be the first thing to pop up at the end of winter. This campground has several large areas of buttercups and they have been just gorgeous. Buttercups have a special place in my heart because there were so many in my grandmother’s yard. The Easter eggs were always hidden in the buttercups. Except on rainy Easters. Then you might find them in the sewing machine drawers. Ah, such good memories.

Maybe that is the reason I like spring best—memories of special times, in special places, with special people.

Thank you, Lord, for the beauty of spring.