Saturday, January 31, 2009

Ransom Road RV Park

It was a gorgeous day here, but with all our running around this week, we just wanted to stay at home.  I did a few loads of laundry this morning and Gene continued to rub on the Montana.  He declares now that the waxing is done.  It is mighty shiny.  As I was fixing lunch, I overheard snippets of conversation from the guys outside in regards to their washing and waxing—“it is amazing how something with only 340 sq. ft of living space can have so many sq yards of waxing area”, “I never washed and waxed my house, when I got tired of painting it, I had siding put on”, and from the guy doing his woodworking at the picnic table at the next site—“you guys need to get another hobby; this one is making me tired”.

After lunch we went to the grocery.  Around South Texas, the local chain supermarket is HEB.  It is a pretty nice store and I found almost everything I wanted.  I couldn’t find fresh cheese tortellini nor biscotti.  There is, however, plenty of Mexican choices.  You could also buy packs of ribs that looked like they would be able to feed the 101st Airborne.  Life is good; who needs Italian?

By the time we arrived home after the grocery adventure, we were both pretty pooped.  It is at times like these that a nice snack tastes so good.  I stirred up a great hot dip recipe from one of the ladies in Gene’s office.  It hit the spot and is so easy.  Stir together one and a half cups of grated cheddar cheese, 8 oz cream cheese, 1 cup mayo, and 1 chopped medium Vidalia onion.  Bake at 350 for 1 hour.  Yum, yum.  Thanks, Teresa, for a great recipe.  We always enjoy it.

This seems like a good time to post a few pictures of the campground.  This is a very nice place and we have enjoyed being here.  Folks are very friendly and the facilities are spotless.  There are even plenty washers and dryers.  They have several activities each week, exercise classes daily, and ice cream social on Sunday. We are just about a quarter mile from the water where there is a marina, a fishing pier, and a small playground. We will definitely put this place on our list to consider for a regular winter home.

It is raining now.  We are hoping it will pass on by so we can go over to Padre Island tomorrow.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Aransas National Wildlife Refuge

What a marvelous day.  We went early and stayed late at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge.  I’ll just have to say that this was the best thing we have seen in a long time.  We started at the Visitor Center with the film and a tour around the museum.  Then, in the truck we traveled the 16 mile loop road stopping at most of the walking trails to catch wildlife up close and personal.  There were very few people there today so we were able to stroll or roll along at a very leisurely pace.

The jewels of this refuge are the endangered whooping cranes that make Aransas their winter home.  The largest flock in North America (about 200 birds) migrates through here each year.  We saw 2 of these magnificent birds, but only with the aid of a telescope from the top of the 40-foot observation tower.  We never saw any close enough for a picture.  We saw several sandhill cranes, but they were also too far away for a good picture.  We could at least see them without a telescope.

The other big deal for us was the armadillo.  We saw several, and they seemed not to mind people.  Then there was that huge alligator sunning himself, thankfully on the bank across the water from where we were walking on the trail.  Perhaps the greatest surprise was seeing a wild boar.  We had no idea we would see them during the daylight hours.

We are not birders, so we really don’t know what all we saw.  If they were close enough and large enough, I made a picture.  There was a large number of birds high above which I wonder if were whooping cranes.  They were large birds, they were while with black wings, and they had some red on their heads.  However, they seemed to be circling high above the earth and the black on their wings was much more prominent than what I would have expected.

We had a wonderful day amongst the wonders of the creation.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Corpus Christi

Even though there was a brisk breeze which made the 45 degrees feel much colder, we headed to Corpus Christi for a 6K walk this morning. Dressed in layers with our rain jackets as the shell to stop the wind, we were comfortable.  I had to have my hood up most of the morning to keep the wind out of my ears.

Our walk was basically along Shoreline Drive for about 2 miles in each direction.  To make up the other couple miles we were lead over to Heritage Park and around the Convention Center and Science Museum.  Along Shoreline Drive we walked through the Corpus Christi Marina.  There were a few nice looking yachts there and a few that needed some work.  One of the highlights was seeing a replica of the Nina which has found a home here.  It was nice to look at, but I sure wouldn’t have wanted to sail from Spain aboard that little thing.
A replica of the Nina

Early in our walk we passed a really cool looking diner which we had to come back to for lunch.  Well, actually, only part of our lunch. I had packed a picnic, of course, so Gene just got a bowl of the tortellini soup (which someone in the parking lot had recommended) and I got a chocolate shake.  Now, really, who could pass up a shake at a diner?   Both were really good.

Courtyard at the Art Center of Corpus Christi

We were home by early afternoon.  When we pulled up our neighbors on both sides as well as the guy across the street were all washing their rigs.  Gene could hardly wait to get his brush and a pail of soap water.  It must be a guy thing—I was not likewise compelled.
One of the old homes in Heritage Park

I apologize for the poor quality of the pictures today.  The skies were just too overcast this morning for anything good.  I also have a spot on the upper right side of all photos which I noticed a few weeks ago.  I thought it was a spot on my computer monitor.  Since I don’t normally look at the website after it is posted, I didn’t realize until a few days ago that the spot was on the photo.  I cleaned my lens and lens cover then put the camera away until the next day.  The spot was still there, but I figured I had missed cleaning something.  I cleaned both lenses, the filters, and the lens covers then put the camera away until the next day.  Yesterday, I used both the 300mm lens as well as the 55mm lens and discovered the spot was on all photos.  Well, that helps narrow the problem down.  I used an air brush to blow around inside the camera body, but I was afraid to do much in there.  What I did didn’t help.  When we get to our next campground, where we plan to spend 2-3 weeks, I will take the camera to be cleaned.  Until then, we’ll be seeing spots.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Port Aransas

We awoke to cool temperatures and overcast skies this morning. At least the rain, which seemed to have been with us most of the night, had moved on.  Appropriately for a wintery day, we sipped coffee, ate hot cereal for breakfast, and piddled around the house until the sun broke through the clouds. Right after lunch, we got on to our exploring.
One of the ferries to Mustang Island
With the hard day on the road yesterday still fresh in our memories, we didn’t want to venture too far from home.  We chose Port Aransas, just across Rockfish Bay.  Port Aransas is at the northern tip of Mustang Island, one of several long, narrow barrier islands along the eastern coastline of Texas.  We followed highway 361 south over several bridges until we ran out of land.  Ferries scurry visitors (and residents) across to Mustang Island for free and run 24/7.   The ferry ride only takes about 5 minutes.  Waiting for the ferry can take many more minutes than that, depending on the season.  Today we waited about 10 minutes and while we waited, we watched to dolphins.  They were too far away for a picture, however.
Camping on the sand

Searching for lunch
Once in Port Aransas, we didn’t have any place in particular to go, so we just drove straight ahead from the ferry landing as far as we could drive.  We found ourselves at a city park on the beach.  There were several others there enjoying the sunny, but windy, day.  Most folks were like us—just stopping by for a little while.  There were others in their motor homes obviously planning to stay a day or two.  I have seen pictures in some of the RV magazines of travelers camped on beaches, but have never seen it in person.  Fantastic!!
These gulls found their lunch

A nice trail at the Marine Science Institute
We stopped by the Univ. of Texas Marine Science Institute which has a small display inside as well as a paved trail, complete with interpretative panels, outside.  It was on our walk along this trail that I found the great blue heron so close I could almost touch him.

And Grace
We drove on out highway 361 for a few miles toward Corpus Christi, but soon grew weary of being in the car and turned around.  Back on the mainland again, we stopped to pick up some fresh shrimp for dinner and got back to the Montana only a few minutes late for Peanut’s afternoon treat.

Tomorrow, we are currently planning to see what we can see in Corpus Christi.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Livingston to Aransas Pass

We got a pretty good start this morning.  We were ready to go at the stroke of 8:30.  We generally like to travel only about 200 miles a day; 250 is tops.  Today, our drive was over 300 miles and the consensus is (including Peanut’s vote) that is just too far.

We left Livingston heading south on US 59.  It is a 4-lane, divided highway with somewhat limited access.  Between Livingston and Houston, there is only one area of construction and, with fairly light traffic, we made good time.  We had decided to take the outer beltway around the city to connect on the other side with US 59 instead of towing the Montana through the big middle of the 4th largest city in the country.  Route 8, Sam Houston Parkway, was a fine highway, but we had to stop every few miles to pay tolls.  We stopped at 3 toll booths with a payment of $4 each time.  I guess they felt hitting you up for $12 all at once was too much for the average traveler.  We would have preferred to pay all at once.  This outer beltway, though fine, was a long way around the city and took much more time than we anticipated. (It was all that stopping at the toll booths)

Back on US 59, we sped along at our usual 60-65 in light traffic.  This is not an interstate and there are no rest areas.  The need for a pit stop soon became critical.  There were numerous exits that led to gas stations, but we were reluctant to go speeding down an exit ramp without knowing if there was sufficient clearance at the underpass or a parking lot large enough to turn around.  We finally resorted to pulling off onto the frontage road and parking on the shoulder.  We both ran into the bathroom and I made a quick sandwich which we took back to the truck and ate while driving.  It just so happened, that the particular exit we took did not immediately reenter the highway.  We (well, I was driving at that time) had to drive through the small town of El Campo before getting back on the highway.  The only rest area available on the 307 mile journey today was just north of Victoria.

We were in a pretty strong head wind all day causing us to burn more fuel than usual.  This required a fuel stop.  While I drove, Gene studied the “trucker’s atlas” to find available truck stops.  We got ice cream while there.  Ice cream always helps, especially double fudge.

South of Victoria, we picked up Route 77.  It too was a 4-lane, divided highway, but with more cross streets than 59 and even a couple traffic lights.  We finally wound our way around through a maze of streets, including one without a surface, to arrive at our campground in Aransas Pass, just across the bay from Corpus Christi.  As soon as we got unhitched and attached to life support, I collapsed on the bed for a few minutes to regain my sense of well-being after a stressful day.

It is a balmy 60 something outside—a beautiful evening.  This is a very nice campground, also.  I’ll have a few photos tomorrow.

For now.........I have to rest a little more before going to bed.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Ready to Roll Again

This has been another chore day and Gene continues to try to figure out what is wrong with the black tank flusher.  The water pressure here is very low.  That may be the only problem.  We are now anxious to get to another campground to check out that theory.

Gene was able to get a reservation for the campground we wanted in Corpus Christi.  We will head out early tomorrow morning in an attempt to beat the rain which is forecast for later in the day tomorrow.

I don’t want to bore you with the details of more and more chores, so I’m making this very short today.  Tomorrow—a travel day to hopefully warmer temperatures.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

A Chore Day

It seems like we have been working nonstop all day today.  There are a limited number of washers and dryers here, so I wanted to get an early start on the laundry this morning.  Right after breakfast, I gathered my stuff and Gene helped me get it to the laundry room.  I had four loads today and there are four washers, however, I don’t like to hog all the machines.  I put in two loads at a time, so it seemed to take forever.  There was a jigsaw puzzle set up in the laundry room which provided my entertainment for the couple hours I was there.  While I was doing that, Gene emptied and filled the black tank again and continued his rubbing on the Montana.

By the time I got home with the clean clothes and got them put away, there wasn’t enough time to go to the grocery before lunch.  I got a couple more chores done and checked email. I even dusted down the cob webs that seemed to be occupying every corner of my home. After lunch we headed to Wal-Mart for groceries.  That is always an adventure.  I found that McCormick makes rubs for almost anything you want to eat.  I got a chicken rub which I’ll try later in the week.  I have not seen this product anywhere else.

We have not participated in as much of the campground activities here as we did at Rainbow Plantation.  We have been busy with our sightseeing and have been pretty wasted at the end of the day.  So tonight we are going to the ice cream social.  No matter how tired you are from the day’s activity, you can’t be too tired for ice cream.

Tomorrow will be another stay at home and chore kind of a day.  Gene has some banking to tend to and we need to go to the post office to pick up our mail that Ansley sent last week.  I also think we need to get a propane tank refilled.  I have a few more household chores to do and we need to prepare for traveling.  If we can get in the campground we want, we will head to Corpus Christi Tuesday morning.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Walking in Houston

What a difference a day can make.  Yesterday was a beautiful, sunny day with temps in the 70s.  This morning we woke up to a temperature of about 57 and it has been falling ever since.  We put on coats and made the 75 mile drive to Houston anyway.
Getting registered at Hickory Hollow BBQ

Today was a walking event hosted by the AVA Club—Houston Happy Hikers.  There are basically two types of events sponsored by AVA.  The most common is the Year Round Event which anyone can do at any time.  You get a map and walking directions at the start point (listed on the internet at the AVA site by city) and do your own thing.  The other type events are done as a group and listed as One Day Events.  Our walk today was this type and the designated start place was Hickory Hollow Restaurant.  We did the 12K walk, although there was a 5K option.  Basically, we walked around Houston’s version of New York’s Central Park.   There is a large green expanse near the downtown area along both sides of the Buffalo Bayou with a paved trail for walkers, joggers, and bicyclists.  Along the bayou we saw some fishing going on and an egret (I guess he was fishing, too).  There were joggers aplenty and families on bicycles. Our walk passed a Frisbee golf course and skate park. The city apartment and condo dwellers were out with their dogs in the dog play park.  And after almost 7 miles, don’t you know that Texas BBQ at Hickory Hollow tasted mighty fine.  BBQ is on my priority list for this trip and this was my first.  I was not disappointed.

Even though it was overcast and the temps were only in the mid 50s, it turned out to be a great day for a walk.  I had thought we would be walking through the old market area, but I was mistaken.  We may or may not get back down there for the history stuff.  Houston is a big city—the fourth largest in the nation, so we don’t want to go during the week when the traffic would be just too special.
Yard art on one of the condos we passed

My first Texas BBQ

Tomorrow I have to stay home and get a few things done around the house.  I really can’t do any more sightseeing until I do a few loads of laundry.  We are also having an issue with the black tank flushing system which Gene is trying to get resolved.  There is a fresh water inlet from the outside of the trailer which distributes water to a number of jets inside the holding tank. After the tank has been emptied he turns this flushing system on to rinse out the tank thoroughly.  There is a problem with this system that will not allow fresh water in.  His best guess is that the check valve is either broken or stuck in the closed position.  Gene will occupy his time tomorrow with that little problem.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Big Thicket National Preserve

After breakfast and a few quick chores around the Montana, we drove east about 40 miles to Big Thicket National Preserve.  I am having a little trouble getting my head wrapped around what the “big thicket” really is.  We watched the film at the Visitor Center and I have read the park service brochure.  I think what they are preserving are the diverse plant and animal ecosystems which exist in this area.  Apparently, as the glaciers receded from this area, plants and animals which would not have necessarily been found here except from the effect of the ice, have remained and are doing quite nicely together.  So, what we now have are Eastern Blue birds inhabiting and area along with Roadrunners and white birch growing next to bold cypress.  That, however, does little to explain the name “Big Thicket”.  The area is a thicket, there is no doubt about that with lots of shrubs and vines.  I got tangled up in what we in Tennessee would call “saw briers” today and didn’t think I would ever get loose.

We spent some time at the Visitor Center.  I guess not many folks come by, because the two rangers on duty gave us their undivided attention for about 45 minutes.  They walked around the little museum with us talking a mile a minute.  We tore ourselves away and drove down to the Kirby Nature Trail.  This two and a half mile walk was very pleasant.  We strolled along stopping at each numbered post to read the corresponding description from the small guidebook the good rangers had sent with us.  Besides the numbered posts, there were markers identifying trees, shrubs, and other natural features along the trail.  Apparently, the area is teeming with wildflowers and wild critters, but it is January, after all, and we only saw a few purple violets and a yellow butterfly.
Hurricane Ike topped many trees

We had our picnic, of course, and we really did enjoy the relaxing walk even if we didn’t see alligators, coral snakes, or pitcher plants.  Tomorrow we are heading south to Houston for a walking tour of the historic commercial district.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Lone Star Hiking Trail

This has been a beautiful day in eastern Texas.  I especially enjoyed my early morning quiet devotional time with my cat in my lap while sipping my own coffee.  Quite a contrast to yesterday morning.
Me with Joe Patterson, founder of Escapees RV Club

We got the full Escapees Welcome Tour this morning.  It was very informative and we got to see what seemed like every inch of this place.  Gene was taking the pictures and from the number of photos of the mail room that must have been the most impressive to him.  It was quite a production.  Escapees has the largest mail forwarding service in the United States.  They have their own private zip code and the mail comes in a truck from Houston just like the post offices around this area.  As we toured the park, we stopped at Joe and Kay Peterson’s home, the founders of the club.  Joe came out to greet the group and Gene was right there with his camera.
One of several mail rooms at Rainbows End

After lunch we drove a little west of here to Sam Houston National Forest for a hike along the Lone Star Trail, a linier trail which runs form Cold Spring to Richards, Texas, a distance of 128 miles.   Boy, was I impressed.  The trail was very well maintained.  There were several blow downs, probably from Hurricane Ike, but they had been cleared from the trail.  Our hike went past one of the backcountry campsites.  It was clean and well maintained; even had a trash can.  There wasn’t a sleeping shelter, however there were about 4 camping pads large enough for 3, possibly 4, backpacking tents.  It was great.  Appalachian Trail Conference could learn from these folks.

We hiked for about 2 miles, then made the return trip to the truck.  We haven’t been out on a trail for several months and it felt good to stretch and enjoy the great outdoors.  With the tour this morning and the hike this afternoon we have over spent ourselves and tonight we are both pretty tired puppies.
Backcountry campsite
Would have loved a trash can along the AT

Tomorrow we are heading in the opposite direction to see what we can find in the Big Thicket National Preserve.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Rainbow Plantation to Rainbows End

We are finally in Texas and officially in southwest United States.

We got up this morning to find two other RVers boon docked at the Wal-Mart.  It was a pretty good night, but a little too cold to boon dock without a generator.  Since we had not done that in cold weather before, we had no idea what a drain on the house batteries the furnace blower was cause.  We turned the heat down very low and crawled into bed.  Even though the furnace ran often in the 33 degree temps, the battery indicator registered at two-thirds full this morning.  We were pleased with that, but felt that in cold weather, we would be more comfortable in a campground with electricity.
I-10 tunnel in Mobile

Since we hadn’t unhitched last night, our get away this morning came in record time.  Within 30 miles we had crossed the Texas State Line.  Of course, we stopped at the Welcome Center.  I made a few pictures and Gene went in to gather as many brochures as he could.  They even gave him a bag to put them in.  I thought he had been to a gift shop when he got back to the truck.  Several folks had mentioned the very bad condition of I-10.  There was one stretch of about 10 miles over which I thought I would be jerked to pieces. The highway is a concrete surface in that area and it was the typical jerk (or lurch) we experience on many concrete surfaces only about 10 times worse. I can’t remember if that was today or yesterday.  Today, from the state line westward for about 10 miles, was construction.  Traffic moved along without delays, but the lanes were narrow and that is always nerve wracking to me.

About noon, three days after we left Rainbow Plantation we arrived at the National Headquarters for the Escapees RV Club at Rainbow’s End Campground.  We got our site, which Gene backed into almost like a pro and with an audience to boot.  We got ourselves set up and organized, met the neighbors, and went over to the Activities Center for the 4 PM social hour.  There are two large campgrounds here—one in the sun; one in the trees.  We chose the one in the sun.  There are the sites which are leased for 5 year periods, and there are the deeded lots with small homes with RV ports or garages.  This is no different from Rainbow Plantation except it is much larger here.  Well, we’re in Texas, after all.  They have two large buildings. One is the activity center and the other is the club house.  These buildings are used for the meals, social hour, entertainment (they are showing a movie tonight), and crafters.  There is certainly plenty to do.  Additionally, there is a small area which they call the care center.  There are about 20 campsites in this area, as well as a larger building.  These sites are reserved for folks who need assistance.  There are several volunteers who tend to the needs of these folks by cooking meals, cleaning, running errands, or whatever is needed.

There are also the Escapees RV Club administrative buildings which house the mail forwarding service, insurance offices, publication office, Head Out Programs and Caravan Travel offices.  This is the mother ship and it is huge.  Tomorrow we are going on the trolley tour.  Check out their website to learn all about Escapees RV Club.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Overnight at Wal-Mart

In the three years we have been fulltime RVers, this is only the second time we have stayed at a Wal-Mart.  For those of you unfamiliar with the Wal-Mart policy for overnight parking, let me explain a little.  It is my understanding that several years ago, Wal-Mart opened their parking lots for truckers to use as a safe place to park overnight.  This was a generous public service to get sleepy truckers off the roads.  At some point, RVers were also extended that invitation and many have taken advantage of Wal-Mart’s hospitality.  No all Wal-Marts allow overnight parking.  In some cases there are city ordinances which prohibit overnight parking.  The first time we tried to stay at a Wal-Mart, the manager said no one was allowed to stay overnight at that location on that particular day.  The reason was we were at the store in Johnson City, TN and it was a race weekend at Bristol Speedway.  Whether or not parking is allowed is at the discretion of the individual store managers.  Bottom line—always ask permission to stay.

There are some RVers who use Wal-Marts as often as possible when traveling from place to place.  That is what we are doing tonight.  We called ahead to get permission and find out where in the parking lot we should park.  We are as close to the curb as we can get and we only put the slides out on the curb side.  To show our appreciation for the privilege of staying overnight, we bought over a hundred dollars in merchandise while here.

Of course, this isn’t like a full-service camp site.  We have no electricity.  Our house batteries will run a few lights, but we need to be careful with that because we are going to need those batteries to keep the furnace blower running all night.  We have propane for heat and technically I could cook, but the kitchen slide is not out so I can’t get to the stove.  The refrigerator and water heater will both run on propane so I don’t have to worry about perishable food and I will have hot water for hand washing and the few dishes we may use.  Yesterday, I prepared a wild rice salad with grilled salmon for tonight and Burger King is on the other end of the parking lot for our breakfast tomorrow.   We have a 50 gallon fresh water tank which should be sufficient for all our water needs.

As I mentioned before, this is only our second Wal-Mart stay.  The first time was early in our first trip in the Montana.  We had read so much about “boon-docking” at Wal-Mart that we just had to try it.  We were a little uncomfortable that time and were not eager to try it again.  Now, with more experience under our belts, we were willing to give it another shot.

Tomorrow, we have only about 150 miles to Livingston, Texas where we will stay for at least a week.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Westward to Robert Louisiana

We have arrived safely at Hidden Oaks Campground in Robert, Louisiana just across Lake Pontchartrain from New Orleans.  We took I-10 to I-12 which bypasses the New Orleans area and for the most part the highway was in good condition.  There were a couple construction areas which were non problems because no one was working today. The one area of construction which did cause an inconvenience was at the Louisiana Welcome Center.  That rest area, as well as the next one, was closed for reconstruction. I was driving and the welcome center was where Gene was to take over.  We only had about 35 more miles to go to the campground, so it wasn’t a real issue.  However, I had been fighting the wind for a couple hours and was past ready to give up the steering wheel.  We had only one delay and that occurred on Highway 59 before we got to I-10.  There was a small parade which held up traffic for a few minutes.

Before I get on to the campground, let me just say that I was grateful to be pulling in the driveway; a place were I could get out of the truck and leave the driving til tomorrow.  Now for the campground.  You will remember my 3-point rating system—good for a long stay, good for a few days, good for overnight.  Gene thinks I should add one more category—don’t ever stay there again.  I guess this campground falls into Gene’s new category.

I was hesitant to pull into the driveway.  The potholes were so numerous and so huge, breaking an axle could have been possible.  I pulled up to the “stop here to register” sign and Gene went to the office.  It was locked.  The sign, which I could see from the truck, clearly said “open”, but Gene reported that there was also a sign which indicated they would return at 9 AM.  Back at the truck, Gene called the office, but, of course, the answering machine picked up. The manager pulled into the drive a few minutes later with some excuse about being away.  There were no registration forms so she recorded our information on a scrap of paper and we were told to select any spot to the left of the office since it was less muddy on that side.  Gene walked on ahead to scout out a site and I came along behind with the Montana in tow.  The interior roads are gravel, what is left of them.  Potholes reign supreme.  Gene was able to find a pretty dry, level pull-thru site which would accommodate our rig, but we had to drive through a shallow ditch to get into the site.  I fully expected to find the TV, microwave, and/or dishes in the floor when I opened the door.  All was well, however.  Great big kudos to Montana suspension systems.

It is a beautiful, sunny day in southern Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana.  To stretch his legs a little this afternoon, Gene went for a walk around the campground.  He reported having passed one trailer which had a steaming pot sitting upon a grill and the aroma of red beans and rice filled the air.  We’re in Cajun country now.

We will be here one night only and continue our westward journey tomorrow for another 200 miles or so.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

On RV Toilet Paper

I think I promised another social hour story.

There are a few things which RVers don’t talk about much in public.  One of those topics is toilet paper.  It is difficult for the nonRVer to get their mind around black tanks, gray tanks, sewer hoses, sewer donuts, and toilet paper.  Among RVers, however, this is a hot topic of discussion, especially if you have just purchased your very first RV.  The host of our 4 o’clock social hour not only brought up the subject of toilet paper, he also had a demonstration and hands-on activity.  Now just hold on a minute before you get too grossed out (or excited); it was not whatever you are thinking.

New RVers always have the question of what type toilet tissue is safe for the black tank.  This information is readily available for the seeking.  Our owner’s manual even provides a lengthy list of what can and cannot be deposited in the black tank.  For example, under no circumstances are wet wipes or even Kleenex to go down that hole.  Our manufacturer suggests the use of nothing except toilet tissue clearly marked as “safe for RVs”.  The goal here is to use a product which will disintegrate in the tank as much and as quickly as possible.  There is a test which can be done to determine if the tissue you want to use meets the RV standard for disintegration.  It was this test which our social hour host conducted with the help of his audience.
We use the brand in the second jar from the left.
He had several of the popular brands of toilet tissue which he enclosed in a quart canning jar filled with water—one brand per jar.  These jars were then passed to the attendees to be shaken for a few seconds.  It is obvious which brands of tissue will be safe for your black tank.  There were two tissue types which were included in the test which are rarely found on your grocery shelves these days, but were very familiar to this audience “of a certain age”—a page from a catalogue and a corn cob.

There was a substantial rain this morning which began in the predawn hours and continued until mid-morning.  We were glad of our decision yesterday not to try to travel today.  Instead, we enjoyed coffee, bagels, and fellowship with other RVers at the clubhouse this morning.  We had a relaxed day of internet surfing, reading, sudoku, and phone conversations with various family members.  A good day all round.

We are rested and, with clear skies in the forecast for tomorrow, we will hitch ‘em up and move ‘em out toward Texas in the morning.

A Day With Friends

Like the rest of the country, the “sunny” south is in the grip of bitter cold weather.  We, however, have had temperatures only in the mid 20s, and thankfully not the minus 20s like so many up north.  For the third night in a row we unhooked our water to prevent the outside lines and the campground pipes from freezing.  We were missing our heat taped, insulated water system we use in Nashville in the winter.  We left all that cold weather stuff in Tennessee.  We were, after all, going to the deep south where it is warm.  After a hard freeze overnight, the sun did its thing quickly this morning and without the steady wind of yesterday, we had a very pleasant day indeed.

We met our friends, Diana and Tony, early and drove down to Gulf Shores for a wonderful 6 mile walk at Gulf State Park.  Afterwards, we had a late breakfast at Tacky Jacks which is right on the water.  Well, right on the water if you wanted to sit on the deck.  It was still a little too chilly for that so we sat at a window table inside and looked across the deck to the water.  After that good walk, the Belgian waffle and omelet slid down without any effort at all.  We all cleaned our plates then chased it with several cups of coffee and great conversation.  We had another wonderful visit with Tony and Diana and are looking forward to seeing them as we make our way through Texas and on to Washington.

This afternoon, we had the opportunity to spend a little more time with new friends, Darrell and Judy.  Gene and Darrell got deep into a GPS discussion while Judy filled me in on digital scrapbooking.  We really enjoyed seeing the “home improvements” Darrell has done to their rig.  It is amazing how just a few little things here and there can make such a huge difference in the overall appearance.  Great job, Darrell!  Judy had family photos lined up above one of their slides, a place I never would have thought of putting photos.  It looks super.  After a little wine, cheese and conversation, we continued the RV tour at our rig.  We are anxious to get to know Darrell and Judy better and, since they have children in Middle Tennessee, I’m sure our paths will cross again.

We had originally planned to leave here tomorrow heading west.  However, the weather forecast indicates rain for most of the day.  Since we have no set schedule, we have decided to sit out the rain and leave on Monday.  What a great way to travel.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Be Grateful for Each Day

This afternoon we again went to the clubhouse here at Escapees Rainbow Plantation for the 4 o’clock social hour.  The 4 o’clock social hour is a hallmark of the Escapee RV Club.  Every Escapee owned park all over the country has social hour at 4 o’clock every afternoon except on Sunday.  At least some of the parks, perhaps all, have a 6 PM ice cream social in lieu of the 4 o’clock hour on that day.  The structure of this meeting varies slightly from park to park, but basically it is a time when folks new to the park can introduce themselves, meet folks who have been there a while, find out about upcoming activities, both in the park and in the community, and such as that.  It is a time to meet other RVers.  While here, we have meet several people, some who will become lifetime friends, I’m sure.

Part of the regular routine at the social hour here is for people to introduce themselves and tell a little extra—where they are from, where they are going, how long they have been an escapee member or just anything they want to say.  I was deeply moved by the comments of one lady today.

She explained that she and her husband had just arrived today.  They had been to this park several years ago and were back here for a few days as part of what she called their “memory tour”.  They are visiting the places they had been to in the past because this may be their last trip.  She was not a young lady and, for whatever reason, her husband was not with her at the meeting.

Later, at home as I was eating dinner, this little lady came to mind again.  What a wonderful trip to go back to the favorite places you had visited during your travels.  Then again I thought of how sad that would be—to journey around the country knowing you may never be at these places again.

Each day we have, whether we travel, or work, or just do chores, is a blessing.  We so often hear of people who are struck suddenly with misfortune, illness, even death.  Since we can’t know what tomorrow may bring, it is not appropriate we live each day to the fullest and do our best to be a blessing to others.

This morning I got up complaining about the record cold temperatures here in the deep south.  Perhaps I would have been a better blessing to my husband and would have better served myself if I had instead rejoiced in the glorious sunrise.

I have another great social hour story for tomorrow and I promise—no more preaching.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Show and Tell at the Quilting Circle

Among the many craft groups that meet regularly at the clubhouse, is a small group of ladies who enjoy quilting.  Yesterday afternoon at the social hour, one of the quilters announced that this morning would be “Show and Tell”.  If you had a quilt, or a piece of a quilt, or even a quilting idea, yours or anyone else’s, bring it along and share with the group.  I decided I’d take the quilt off my bed, which was a gift to me from my Aunt Betty.
Aunt Betty's quilt
As a child, I spent a great deal of time at my grandparents’ home.  I do not remember a time when there was not a quilt in progress and most of the time there were several.  My grandmother taught me, as well as all her daughters and most of her granddaughters, to quilt.  I spent countless hours at the quilting frame.

My Aunt Betty is the only one of the many females who continued (I should say continues) to make quilts.  Betty is quite an accomplished quilter and has been asked over the years to teach quilting classes for various groups.  One of her favorite patterns to make is the “log cabin”.  The log cabin is a very versatile pattern and quilts can look totally different simply by varying the arrangement of pieces.

The quilt she gave me several years ago is one of her variations on the log cabin pattern and it is hand quilted—not such a common thing these days.  I took that quit to the quilting meeting today to share as a tribute to Aunt Betty, as well as to my grandmother, who taught us to quilt.