Monday, November 30, 2009

The Rest of the Story

Although I have posted something (however small) almost every day this week, there have been several things which have occurred to spice up an otherwise rather frustrating week.  So here are a few of those stories.

Several nights ago I woke up in the early morning hours to find the electricity off.  I quickly realized it was not just us without power because it was very dark outside.  I have a street light which shines directly in my bedroom window.  I didn’t realize how bright that light was until that night.  I really did not wake Gene up intentionally; he just happened to stir when I got out of bed to go to the bathroom.  However, the next day I noticed him telling anyone within shouting distance that I woke him up in the middle of the night to tell him it was dark outside.

One of the things I am plagued with is a fire phobia.  I’m not sure if there is such a malady, but it often dominates my thinking.  I am constantly envisioning a fire event, turning off, and unplugging whenever we leave the Everest unattended.  During the power outage, our furnace was running since it can draw power from the house batteries.  As I lay there in the dark, my mind was thinking about that furnace.  In my limited knowledge of deep cycle marine batteries, I envisioned the house batteries “running down” like the flashlight batteries.  In my vision I saw a very dim light emitted from the flashlight as the batteries lost their life.  I transferred that vision to the house batteries growing ever and ever weaker each time the furnace blower kicked on.  I turned the furnace off when I reached the conclusion that the blower would be too weak to force the hot air through the ducts and we would burst into flames.

On Thanksgiving Day my brother and I were brought to a stark awareness that we have not gleaned all the knowledge that our mother could impart to us.  This realization came as Mike was gathering the ingredients to make the dressing.  First, let me say that my brother is a very good cook.  He has an uncanny ability with good ole down home southern cooking.  As he searched for the dressing ingredients, he was unable to find the cornbread that Mom swore was in the freezer--already crumbled and ready to use.  He first consulted me, but I make cornbread from the Jiffy box mix which contains sugar--definitely a “no-no” for dressing.  He made a few calls to a few friends and finally came up with a recipe.  It turned out great.

We found our knowledge lacking again when it came time to make the giblet gravy.  From her hospital bed, mother instructed us in preparing this traditional Thanksgiving meal delight.

Our Saturday Soup Supper went well, but by this time in this very hectic and often frustrating week, any little incident would send me off.  One of Gene’s favorite desserts is an old family recipe it got many years ago from another great cook in our family--my cousin Carl.  Buttermilk custard pie is very easy to make, but the recipe makes no allowances for a trailer which is not quite level.  I put the pie, which is a relatively thin liquid before baking, into my convection oven.  In the past, I have always used the gas oven, but since in this trailer it is very difficult to light, I have used the convection oven almost exclusively.  As the turntable went round and round, I noticed just how out of level we are.  The pie finally began to set up enough that it didn’t slosh around any more and I breathed a sigh of relief.  My relief was short-lived as the top began to get too brown too soon. In the gas oven I would have just put a piece of aluminum foil over the top, but the convection oven doesn’t like aluminum foil.  I said a bad word then crossed my fingers, waited and watched.  My worries were for naught, however, as it turned out about perfect.

The pie baking occurred early Saturday morning.  After the pie cooled, I put a piece of aluminum foil over the top to keep the dust off.  About 10 minutes before Jack and Ansley arrived, someone, who shall remain nameless, put his foot in the middle of the pie.  Thankfully, his paws did not penetrate the foil.  Otherwise, he may have joined the ranks of the homeless, again.

I didn't mean to step in the pie.
It is hard to believe this is the last day of November.  Christmas will be upon us before we notice.  I can only do one holiday at a time and now that Thanksgiving is over, my mind is free to think about Christmas.  I retrieved the box of decorations from the basement yesterday afternoon and made a half-hearted attempt at decorating.  I didn’t make much progress so will wait until I get a little more “spirit”.  My Christmas spirit comes a little easier if there is some snow on the ground, but I don’t want to say that out loud because we have really been enjoying the unseasonably warm weather for November.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Saturday Soup Supper

Several years ago, we started our Saturday Soup Supper event.  It came about because, like is the case with so many families, Jack and Ansley had other places to go on Thanksgiving Day.  After a couple years of trying to juggle schedules so we would have the opportunity to spend a little time with them during the holiday weekend, I finally settled on the soup supper idea.  It has actually worked out fairly well.

In Tennessee, it is usually cool in late November--a great time for soup.  After all the turkey, dressing, sweet potato casserole, green beans and mounds of desserts, a simple bowl of soup sounded pretty good on a cool fall day.  After all the hours in the kitchen preparing turkey dinner for all the relatives, a simple pot of soup sounded pretty good.  Thus, Saturday soup supper was born.

It has always been an small, intimate group--Gene and I, my parents, Jack and Ansley.  I originally thought about inviting a few other relatives and friends that we would like to see during the holiday, but a large group can quickly become impossible to manage in an RV.  So it has been just the 6 of us each year.  This year, however, my mother didn’t fill up to getting out just yet.  Kayley, although she didn’t help us eat soup, made five for this year.

I have tried to have a variety of soups each year.  Everybody loves beef stew so it is on the menu every year.  This year, however, I left it off since our group was going to be so small.  I always have some type of chicken soup.  This year it is chicken with wild rice.  This was  new recipe and it was yummy.  As a third choice, I have had split pea, smoked sausage stew, Italian sausage and noodle, and cheesy vegetable chowder.  The cheesy vegetable chowder has always been very popular so we had that as a second choice this year.  A variety of rolls and dessert round out our meal.  This year’s dessert was buttermilk custard pie.

Since the soups were in the crock pots, there really wasn’t much to do in the kitchen.  We had a wonderful, relaxing afternoon together.  Kayley slept through the entire thing.

After I post this, we’ll take the leftover soups to mother’s for their dinner.  That way they don’t have to miss out completely.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving Traditions

Each year for the past several years we have had our Thanksgiving Day Dinner at the home of my uncle.  Every year it is a feast and we eat far too much.  But that is the tradition and I expect it is true of most families.
My brother makes the dressing

My uncle carving the turkey and pork tenderloin

Ovens full of food

Rolls in the giant economy size bag

We laugh, we eat, and we enjoy our family time together.  That’s Thanksgiving in our family.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

More Blessings to Count

All in all this has been a good day and for that we are grateful.

My mother continues to improve and was able to be moved from ICU to a regular room this afternoon.  There is a good possibility she will be able to come home tomorrow.

As we think about all the blessings we enjoy each day, this year we are especially thankful for a healthy granddaughter.  She is sucking down the grub and has gained 2 pounds since she came home from the hospital.  Her mom and dad are adjusting very well to parenthood.  We have enjoyed being able to watch as baby, parents, and household pets get started on a new life together.  For all these things we are grateful.

Gene and I both have visited our doctors and have each received a clean bill of health.  Our good health allows us to continue this wandering lifestyle of full-time RVers.  What a blessing that is.

Through this wandering lifestyle we have had the opportunity this year to meet several new friends who share the wanderlust.  We have also enjoyed getting together with   longtime friends as our paths have crossed.  One of these friends wrote in his blog a few days ago about how much more valuable family and friends are than material things.  How true that is.  Communicating and spending time with friends and family enriches our lives like nothing else can.

Traveling around this great land affords us the opportunity not only to be eye witnesses to the physical grandeur of our nation, but to also experience its diversity of people and culture.  This is a great nation we call home and we are ever grateful for those who have given their lives for our freedom.

Thank you, Lord, for the blessings we enjoy each day.

We sincerely hope everyone has a wonderful Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Counting Blessings

We are blessed each day of the year, but most of us spend a little more time thinking about those blessings on Thanksgiving week. We started yesterday counting our blessing, the greatest of which (at least for yesterday) was that my mother is doing well after an emergency episode which put her in the hospital. She is doing better.

I am off early this morning to try to catch a doctor and then I will be counting blessings and offering up prayers all day.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Edgar Evins State Park

For today’s hiking adventure we drove east on I-40 to Edgar Evins State Park.  This is really a fisherman’s paradise, but there are a few trails which drew our attention.  Edgar Evins is a 6000 acre park located on Center Hill Lake.  The park has a marina, restaurant, and cabins for rent.  Being situated on the lake, naturally it is a park for water sports--boating, fishing, swimming, water skiing, but it also offers hiking on 11 miles of trail.  A large portion of the park is undeveloped and in that area they allow hunting in season.

The park has a nice campground.  We did not drive by there today, but the brochure says some campsites have been upgraded to accommodate RV up to 45 ft in length and have 50 amp electrical service.  We have been to this campground in the past and it is very nice with some sites overlooking the lake.

Observation tower at Visitor Center
It was a drab, gray day in Tennessee so we were not surprised to find no other hikers along the trail.  We only met one other person as we made our way around the 8-mile loop trail.  He was an early morning hunter dressed in a blaze orange vest and knit hat and his rifle was resting against the tree.  We were in the “no hunting” area so we were a little surprised to see him there.  Of course, some of the hunters choose to use the hiking trails to access the hunting areas some 2 miles distant.  What we found as we got closer was this young man carving his and the initials of his true love into the tree trunk.   That usually ruffles my nature-loving feathers, but since he had a gun, I decided it was in my best interest to smile and be polite as we passed.  I suppose it might be better for him to carve his initials into the tree rather than into his arm.  Perhaps his proclamation of love on his arm has ended in heartbreak and he now prefers the tree to bear any risk of future love lost.

Glimpses of Center Hill Lake
This is pretty rugged terrain in this area of the state.  The trail was wet from an overnight rain and the leaves obscured loose rocks and slick roots.  All this combined with the fact that the trail is relatively new and the treadway not hardened by years of use made this a very difficult hike.  We are both pretty pooped tonight.
What's left of Hoggard Homestead
Tomorrow’s plans include sipping coffee and a run to the grocery.  That’s it.  I’m sitting in a chair tomorrow.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Downtown Nashville

We each have lived in Nashville since the 1950s and have even lived and worked in the downtown area, but it is always fun to stroll along these familiar streets between the capitol building and lower Broadway.  We did that today and once again enjoyed our walk.  With the camera around my neck and Gene with his Texas baseball cap on his head, we looked like the hundreds of other tourists visiting Music City.  We stopped to make pictures, peeked in the honky tonks and stood in a long line for lunch.

We parked the car at the Farmer’s Market, which, on this late fall day, was stocked with bushels of Tennessee grown turnip greens and freshly dug potatoes.  The Farmer’s Market is located next to the Bicentennial Mall State Park.

Bicentennial Mall as seen from the Capitol
This urban park was built to commemorate the 200th birthday of Tennessee statehood.  At the foot of capitol hill, it is a rectangular-shaped park stretching about 3 blocks in length by 1 in width.  Along one long side are pillars marking the passage of time beginning 1 million years ago and progressing to 1996, the 200th birthday of the state.  Along this path is a black marble wall which tells the story of the area from prehistoric times up to 1996.  The park is planted with trees, shrubs, and flowers native to Tennessee.  It is really quite nicely done.
Pillars marking the past
On the hill above the Mall is the capitol building.  From a distance, say from the inner loop as one travels around the city on the interstate, this state capitol doesn’t look as impressive as many other capitol buildings we have visited around the country.  However, up close, I think our capitol is as handsome as any I’ve seen.  It’s not as massive as some, but it has a certain dignity.

As a child, I heard my grandfather speak of signing his name in the dome.  I was impressed with the story, but I had my doubts as to its accuracy.  A few years ago, I read an article in the local paper about our capitol and it mentioned that there are many names written in the dome from years ago when it was open to the public.  One of these days, I’m going to ask if they have a record of those names.

Ryman Auditorium
We walked along 5th Ave passed the Ryman Auditorium, perhaps the hallmark icon of Nashville.  Built in 1891 and used first as a church, this historic building is best known as the home of the Grand Ole Opry.  The Opry has a new building now at Opry Mills, but they come “home” to the Ryman a couple months each year.

We found our lunch at Jack’s BBQ on Broadway just down from Legends and Tootsie’s.  The line was almost out the door when we walked in at high noon.  We each had the Texas brisket sandwich with cole slaw.  I made my lunch a multicultural experience--Texas brisket with Kansas City BBQ sauce on Broadway in Music City.  Now that’s an assault to your senses.

Tomorrow will be another hiking day.  We are trying to get registered for a TTA hike.  If that doesn’t work out, we’ll go somewhere on our own.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Grassy Cove

Gene here,

Yesterday, Judi had a doctor’s appointment.  I ran off with the boys (Bill and Herb) for a hike.  Both guys are long time friends.

We went to a sector of the Cumberland Trail near Grassy Cove, TN.  Herb is considering to be the volunteer maintainer for this 7.8 mile section of the trail.

Hiking buddies, Herb and Bill
The Cumberland Trail Conference has a great web site with driving directions, trail commentary, and parking information.   The driving directions were dead-on--you really did reach your turn at 6.6 miles and not at 7.1 or worse 6.4.  However, the directions failed to mention Jewett Road turned to gravel before we got to the trailhead.  Gravel, then narrow.  Then more narrow.  By 4.6 of the 6.6 we were ready to turn around.  Since the road was pretty decent even if only 1 lane, we pressed on.  We found it!

The old frame store
I dropped the boys off and took the car back to the other end of the trail.  Since I RV, I won’t be around to offer much help with maintaining, so at least I can help the maintainers get their first look at the whole 7.8 mile section.

The General Store
I stopped at the J.C. Kemmer and Son general (merchandise) store for a coke to go with my lunch.  The brick store has stood on TN 68 since 1930.  From 1900 to 1930, the frame store (still standing) had been just off the TN highway on a county road that went into the heart of Grassy Cove.  The owner let me take photos and was quite accommodating.

Just up the road was the J.L. Kemmer and Son store.  I’d like to know the story of J.L. and J.C.  Do the families get together for the holidays?

Grassy Cove is a “hole” in the Cumberland Plateau with an elevation of 1500 feet.  The surrounding plateau area is 2000 feet or so.  But Grassy Cove is surrounded by mountains that rise above plateau level--Brady Mountain (our hike), Black Mountain, and Bear Den Mountain.  The high point of Brady Mountain is 2900 feet.  That is quite a bit of relief.  (I finally figured out why they call elevation change “relief”.  It is because it is such a relief when the trail quits going uphill.)

Grassy Cove was created by streams that can’t get out of the hole.  At least not by way of a river that breaks through the surrounding mountains.  Instead, the streams draining Grassy Cove go underground into a cave.  This is called a “sink”.

The water pops back above ground west of Brady Mountain to form the Sequatchie River.

By the way, I finally did hike.  I got far enough to be able to climb all the hill available.  It was quite a relief.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Reflections on RVing--Budgeting

‘Tis the season for reviewing the budget for next year.  I usually look forward to this discussion for two reasons.  The first is I like to see how close to the budget we stayed during the past year.  The second is because I am always anxious to see where we can increase monthly expenditures.  I can always get into spending more money.

This year, we took a real hit in the maintenance category.  Even though we have a line item to cover scheduled maintenance and repairs on the truck and trailer, we had almost spent the entire allotment for the year by May.  Buying the Everest has actually helped in that category.  Even though we have had it in for service several times, everything has been covered under warranty.

Buying the Everest, however, was nowhere to be found in this year’s budget.  When we originally decided to embark on the full-time RV lifestyle, we anticipated doing this for several years.  Consequently, we had budgeted for a second RV.  We did not anticipate getting it so soon.  Now, this unit will have to last until we tire of traveling.  Oh, dear.

The other area which ended up over budget for the year was groceries.  On average, I was over about $30/month.  I have learned over the past couple years that groceries is one of those categories which varies greatly from region to region.  Food in the Rio Grande Valley was very cheap and in Washington state fairly expensive.  Nashville is more moderately priced and I have been under the monthly budget since we got back to Tennessee.  Because we are planning to spend the winter in Florida and heading to New England for the fall, we increased the grocery budget by $30/month.

Other budget items which vary by region are campground fees and fuel prices.  Our fuel was under budget for the year.  Again, the prices of fuel were much cheaper in south Texas where we spent the winter.  Of course, fuel prices were much lower everywhere this year than last year.  Fuel was more expensive in Washington, but we did not tow as much during the 6 weeks we were in that area which kept our overall fuel costs down.

Our campground budget is $28/night, but we try hard to find something for less than $25.  We have done very well in this category this year.  Campgrounds vary widely in price, but as you would expect, they are more expensive near major attractions.  Since National Parks are generally a major attractions and that is where we want to be, sometimes we have to search pretty hard to find something suitable within the budget.  We have learned a few tricks.  Many campgrounds offer weekly and  monthly rates.  Sometimes it is cheaper to get a weekly rate and only stay 5 or 6 nights than to pay the nightly rate.  Same thing is true for a monthly rate.  If we are in an area which offers a lot of hiking or other attractions we are interested in, then we often stay a month.  Not only do we get the cheaper campground rate, but we also save on fuel as well.

Another area in which we were over budget was gifts.  What can I say, I have a new granddaughter.

In the beginning, when Gene was planning for our retirement, he adjusted our yearly budgets to reflect a 3.5% inflation rate.  We’ll get that small increase when our funds mature and become available to us for 2010.  So, we get what we get and there is no more.  Staying within the budget is crucial.  When thinking about where we would make adjustment for the coming year we always look at the big items first.  Our largest budget categories are campgrounds, groceries, fuel, maintenance and health insurance.  Health insurance is set and we have no control over that. Our rate this year is increasing, but not by much. Thank you, Lord.  Campgrounds have been under budget and even though we will be in the east where they tend to be a little more expensive, we plan several monthly stays so will leave that item unchanged.  Fuel has been under budget, but because we raised it last year to accommodate the higher fuel prices of the previous year, we are actually thinking about lowering it for the coming year.  The Everest will be under warranty until the middle of April, and since it is new, we don’t expect huge repair bills.  We have new tires on the truck and don’t anticipate anything major for it.  Therefore, maintenance will remain the same.  As I mentioned, groceries will be increased by $30/month.  I guess all the extra can be spent on Kayley.

Budgeting is a difficult but necessary task.  Staying within the budget allows us to continue to live our dream.  I have written about how we came up with a budget in a previous journal.  There are three entries (July 31, Aug 2, Aug 3, 2008) in the New York journal which deal with planning for retirement and other budget considerations.

Now, I think I’ll go Christmas shopping.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Travemunde, Germany

We have had two quiet days close to home.  After a very busy week last week, we needed a couple down days.  I guess whether you would also consider them relaxing, would be a matter of opinion.

Yesterday, Gene spent most of his day outside.  He finally had a chance to wash the thick, black layer of bugs off the front end cap which have been there since our trip to South Carolina.  He also went to Camping World to purchase a tube of self-leveling caulking for the rubber roof.  The Everest dealer in Columbia had mentioned that it was good idea to keep a tube on hand.  When he returned from Camping World, he spread a little of the caulking on the area of our leak.  He also spent some of his day socializing with the neighbors.

I stayed inside all day except for the laps I walked around the campground.  I busied myself with my photos again.  This time it was older pictures.  When I got my Apple, I also purchased an external hard drive to use for backup and storage.  I have many CDs of a lifetime of photographs and am ever so slowly copying them back to the computer to be stored on the external hard drive.

Our hotel in Travemunde
Yesterday, I came across these photos of a trip we made to Germany in April of 2007 for a wedding.  Since our life while in Nashville visiting with family and friends is probably quite boring to the reader interested in a travel journal, I thought these photos might help break up the monotony of cleaning, hiking, and family dinner together.

We spent our first night in Travemunde, the small seaport hometown of the bride. It was a family wedding so there were several family members there with us--my parents, and two aunts and uncles.  We spent the morning strolling along this one street bordered on one side by shops, boutiques, and outdoor cafes and on the other by the river.  The ladies, as you can imagine, were in the shops making purchases.  The men waited on the sidewalk.  Gene did a little shopping, as well.  The airline managed to get him to Germany, but not his suitcase.  He had to buy a suit for the wedding.

The building where the wedding was held
The wedding was held at the Kempinski Grand Hotel in Heiligendamm.  The hotel complex was made up of several buildings and sat facing the Baltic Sea.  I have never (and never expect to again) been in such a fine hotel.  Our room was in the building called “the little castle”.

The Little Castle
At the time of this wedding, Gene and I were both still working part time and did not have the opportunity to spend the ten days after the wedding with the rest of the family as they toured Germany.  Instead, because of airline delays, we were only able to be there for 3 days.

On the Baltic Sea
Today has been another semi-relaxing day.  We did our walk at Beaman Park this morning and I spent the afternoon in the kitchen preparing for company tomorrow.  Gene was outside again; this time washing most of the rest of the Everest.

Tomorrow, we will be back at Beaman Park in the morning, but we will take along our good hiking buddy, Herb.  He is getting homemade chicken noodle soup, a grilled cheese sandwich, and freshly baked peanut butter cookies for lunch.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Family for Dinner

My uncle and aunt, Edd and Nancy, came for dinner this evening.  I meant to take their picture, but I forgot.

I certainly didn’t go all out with a big, elaborate meal.  We’re just country folk and beef vegetable soup and cornbread is perfectly fine fare for us.  Not only was it nothing special, I used some leftover roast beef from a meal Gene and I had a couple weeks ago.  Roast beef with carrots and onions makes the best stock for soup, anyway.  There was about half of the roast left and I threw in a bag of frozen mix vegetables.  How easy is that?  Maybe I should say “bam” or “yummo” or some other culinary expression.  The only thing else is cornbread with lots of butter (butter makes it better, you know).

I did fix a nice dessert.  Apple pie would have just about set the meal free, but I decided to have apple and pear crisp.  It is a Barefoot Contessa recipe which I make often during the fall season.  All kidding aside--it is fabulous.  With a scoop or two of premium vanilla ice cream, it is a dessert to rival chocolate any day.  Definitely “good eats”.

Since I didn’t spend my day slaving over a hot stove, I did what was expected when family comes to dinner.  I cleaned house.  You know--the kind of house cleaning you do when your mother comes.  My uncle is what I lovingly call the gold standard in neat, clean, and organized.  My mother cannot hold a candle to her little brother.  So I cleaned.  I vacuumed every square inch of carpet, I vacuumed the window treatments, bedspread, and lamp shades.  I scrubbed the floors, washed the windows, and dusted all the cabinet doors.

I did not rearrange my closet.  I closed and latched the door, however.  His closet is looks like one of those advertisements for closet organizers.  His shirts are arranged by color and sleeve length.  And they are all starched and ironed.  Gene hasn’t worn an ironed shirt since we moved into the Everest.

We had a wonderful meal together.  Gene did the tour since they had not seen our new home.  I hope he didn’t open any drawers.  We laughed and talked and planned Thanksgiving dinner at their home.  I think they had a good time; we certainly enjoyed having them.

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Warner Parks

Today was one of those beautiful fall days--one of bright sunshine, blue skies, and a pleasant temperature in the mid 60s.  You know what we did--we took to the trails of our favorite local park.  We put a couple loops together in Percy Warner Park today to make a 7-mile hike.

There are actually two Warner Parks--Percy and Edwin Warner.  Because they are located side-by-side, they are often referred to as the Warner Parks.  Together they include almost 2700 acres of forested land and meadows and offer hiking trails, horse trails, scenic roadway, an equestrian center, an educational/visitor center, softball fields, picnic shelters, and a dog exercise park.  All this within the city limits of Nashville.

The hiking trails are generally in loops with connector trails accessing the loops.  The enthusiastic hiker could put the loops together and create a 12 mile hike.  There are also about 18 miles of horse trail within the parks.  Horse and hiking trails are separate and although bicycles are not allowed on either of these trails, there is an extensive paved road system, some of which is closed to motorized vehicles, which is very popular with bicyclists.

View of Nashville from Lea's summit
For our hike today, we parked at the Deep Well parking area and took the connector trail to access the Warner Woods loop.  We made a quick side trip a few yards along the road to Lea’s Summit, a grassy knoll offering a fantastic view of everything between there and downtown Nashville--a distance of about 9 miles as the crow flies.  Lea’s Summit is one of our favorite lunch break places along the trail.  We went there first today so only stopped briefly for the view and a couple photos.

Visitor Center
Continuing around the loop, our next stop was at the terraced stairway which is the official Belle Meade entrance.  From our vantage point high on the hill just off the trail, we could see straight down the stairway and on out Belle Meade Blvd.  Back on the trail, we continued on around this smaller loop to the connector trail and joined the larger Mossy Ridge loop trail.  Mossy Ridge is the most strenuous of all the trails at Warner Parks.  Over its length of 4.5 miles there are several hills to climb.

Back at the truck by early afternoon, we were both pretty tired, but glad we had taken advantage of this gorgeous fall day to get outside and enjoy the weather.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Columbia, Tennessee

Today we took the Everest back to the dealer in Columbia hopefully for a final visit for repairs.  We had a short list today--secure the bedroom TV to the cabinet door, replace the hinges on a cabinet in the living room, and, most importantly, repair the leak on our main slide.

After we dropped off the Everest, we toured historic Columbia.  Located about 60 miles south of Nashville, Columbia is the county seat of Maury County.  It is a typical old southern community with the courthouse in the center of a “square” surrounded by local merchants.  Columbia, like so many of the small communities, is struggling during these economic hard times.  The downtown area family owned businesses are closing their doors as the outlying Wal-Marts and similar “all-in-one” discount stores claim the shoppers.  We walked around the square and were amazed that over half the stores were vacant.  About two-thirds of the way around our circuit, we were approached by a well-dressed gentleman who introduced himself as the Mayor.  He was proud of his hometown community of 80,000 folks and was eager to point out the improvements being made to the downtown area.

A couple blocks from the square at the corner of W 7th and High Street is the boyhood home of James K. Polk, the eleventh president of the United States.  The house was built by his father, Samuel Polk, in 1816 and was the first brick home in Columbia.  Polk lived in this home until he moved to Washington to serve in Congress.  We decided not to tour the home since we had done that a few years ago, but instead visited the small museum and gift shop.
James K. Polk Home

Maury County Courthouse
This area was the Antebellum south and there are still several plantation homes available for touring in the area.  

St Peter's Church
We found lunch at Lucille’s Restaurant just off the square on S Main St.  Lucille’s started out in the 1930s as a pie wagon catering the the factory which once stood on the corner of 8th and Main.  In 1952, Lucille moved into the current location.  Our waitress provided us with the history.  She has worked at Lucille’s for 38 years.  As a “meat and three” the specials today were chicken and dressing, pork chop, and grilled ham.  There was a long list of vegetables to select from and each plate came with rolls or cornbread.  Gene finally settled on the chicken and dressing with creamed spinach, candied yams, and one each roll and corn muffin.  I went with the tried and true cheeseburger.  It was not the best diner food we’ve had, but was far superior to anything we could have gotten at a fast food joint, and much cheaper.  Gene’s plate was less than $6 and my cheese burger was less than $3. We came in early, but by the time we got our food, the place had filled up.  You won’t be surprised to know that most of the diners looked to be over 50 and most new each other.
United Methodist Church

First Presbyterian Church
We also stopped in Ted’s Sporting Goods.  It was a small store filled to the brim with Carthart, camo, and wild game heads mounted on the wall.  To round out the selection of merchandise, there were a few “green egg” grills (which I’d never heard of before) and a nice variety of cast iron cookware.

They have called to say the Everest will be ready by 4.  All repairs are done and we are just waiting for the sealant to “cure” which is suppose to fix the leak.  I guess 4 is as good as we could have hoped for, however, it will put us back in Nashville just in time for the rush hour traffic.  Hopefully, we can stay put now until the end of the year.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Reflections on RVing--Home for the Holidays

As we began thinking about the full-time RV lifestyle and traveling for months at a time rather than the typical 2-week vacation, we realized we had to make accommodations for several things.  We started out with a fairly long list, but finally whittled it down to just a few--annual doctor’s visits (including dentists), registration and tag renewal for the truck, annual maintenance on the 5th wheel, and the all important family and friends.

We are each from families which are pretty close knit and have certain things which have become “family traditions”.  As we looked at the yearly events, we came to the conclusion that the time we most wanted to spend with family and friends was the November/December holiday season.  Since family and friends take the number one priority spot in our life, we made the decision in the beginning to arrange annual doctor and maintenance items around the winter holiday months.  That took a few years to get everything lined up to occur in November and December, but we “got ‘er done”.

The phrase “home for the holidays” takes on a whole new meaning for us now.  In early September we start scheduling medical appointments for early November--annual physicals, mammograms, dermatologists, dentists; every other year I get a bone density, and there is the colonoscopy from time to time.  November turned out to be a very busy month at RV service departments.  We have to call almost as far in advance for that as for our physicals.  Of course, we can and have gotten service done at other dealerships around the country, but we are familiar with the folks at Cullum and Maxey and have been happy with their service.  The first year we switched our truck registration from April to December was quite a hassle.  It was very difficult to make the clerk understand what we wanted to do and why.  After a lengthy discussion, she finally got it and the first year was prorated since we were already paid through April.

This schedule has also worked great for family and friend activities.  The majority of our friends are members of the hiking club.  After the heat of the summer, the cool days of fall are popular for hikes.  We like to take advantage of those group outings and we get to see far more of our friends that way than if we tried to get together individually.  The club also has a great holiday party in December which we always enjoy.

Like most families, we get together for Thanksgiving and Christmas meals together.  With so many different families involved, sometimes it takes several days to get that accomplished.  That just means we have that many more opportunities to stuff ourselves.  It’s a good thing those annual physicals are earlier than the holidays.

Even though these are very busy months for us, sitting in one spot for 8-10 weeks is not our style.  Hitch itch sets in after about 4 weeks.  Having come home early this year will make that even more difficult to deal with.  The week spent in Spartanburg and the Smokies really helped in that respect and we were actually anxious to get back to Nashville yesterday.  We’ll remember the effects of a single short trip away in the future and try to schedule doctor and maintenance appointments accordingly.

“Home for the holidays” is more than just gift exchange and good eats; it’s a very busy time for us.  However, we are very happy with our decision to spend this time of year getting all those chores done that require us to be in Nashville.

So....with that said--let the fun times begin!!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Back in Joelton

We pulled into the site we vacated last week in the campground in Joelton about mid-afternoon following an uneventful drive from Walland.  We were all anxious to get out of the truck and get our little home set up once again.

This is going to be another busy week.  Tomorrow is Gene’s annual physical which will probably take the best part of the morning.  I get to do laundry.  I think I’d rather have the physical.  Wednesday we both have dental appointments.  That shouldn’t take too long and hopefully we will have the opportunity to get in a short hike afterward.

Thursday, it is back to Columbia for service on the Everest again.  This time, our main concern is getting the leak fixed.  We will be exceedingly blessed if we don’t have rain before Thursday.

Besides the leak, there is the issue of the TV.  Did I mention that our bedroom TV fell off its door on our trip from Newport to Walland?  We have a flat screen TV which is mounted to a piece of plywood, the plywood is mounted to the inside of a cabinet door.  The plywood, along with the TV, detached itself from the cabinet door.  Luckily, the door was securely closed and the TV fell into the cabinet on top of Gene’s shirts.  The TV was not damaged.  We were shocked to find that the plywood had been attached to the cabinet door with 8 tiny nails which look a whole lot like straight pins.  They certainly didn’t look sturdy enough to hold the weight of a TV, especially one riding down America’s highways at 60 mph.

All these things that come loose, break, or fall off of a new RV are pretty typical.  We call it the “shake down period” and we hope that everything that is going to break does during the 1-year warranty period.  Even though we expect it to happen, it is nevertheless frustrating to have it happen and keep running to the dealer for repairs.

Thursday promises to be a long day.

That’s it for now.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

TTA Annual Meeting

Well, we have had a fantastic weekend with beautiful weather, wonderful visits with friends, and lots of fun and frolicking at the annual meeting of our hiking club.

We arrived at Misty River Cabins and RV Resort in Walland, TN about noon on Friday.  Arriving at Misty River was almost like coming home for us.  During the 9 months that Gene worked at the Knoxville office of his employer, we parked our Montana on the very site we were assigned this weekend.  During that time, we, of course, got to know the owners and staff very well.  Just seeing these friends would have been worth a visit to Misty River.  This is a relatively new campground--it is only about 3 years old.  It has been laid out with the big rigs in mind and nearly all the 50 or so sites are pull-thrus with 50 amp electric service, cable TV, WiFi, picnic tables and fire rings.  All interior roads and sites are gravel with grassy areas between sites.  The shower house and laundry facilities are new and very nice.  Misty River’s main disadvantage is that it is about 10 miles from Townsend which is a gateway community to the Smokies.  However, it is also about 10 miles from Maryville, the closest large community for groceries, restaurants, and entertainment.

Townsend is a nice, small community with a small grocery, a couple coffee shops, and several motels.  For years, Townsend tried to become the bustling gateway community that attracted the tourists like Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, but it failed in that attempt.  It has since adopted the image of “the quiet side of the mountain” and has developed a laid back, peaceful community with a very nice greenway which meanders past large grassy lawns in front of small, privately owned motels.  The Little River comes out of the Smokies and passes through Townsend drawing a few fishermen and hordes of tubers and rafters during the summer months.

Tennessee Trails Association is a statewide hiking club with 15 chapters across the state.  Chapters take turns hosting the annual meeting--this year being East Tennessee’s turn.  The mission of the club is to promote hiking and trail development across the state.  Their primary project over the years has been to build the Cumberland Trail--a 300-mile linear trail extending from Cumberland Gap National Park on the Kentucky border to Chickamauga National Military Park near Chattanooga.  Each year at the annual meeting, both a silent and a live auction (as well as white elephant) are conducted to raise funds to build this trail.  Each chapter also has small projects to help build and maintain trail and greenway, especially in state and local parks, across the state.

Waiting to make a wet stream crossing.
Having been members of this club for many years, we have several good friends who share our interest in hiking and it is always good to see these folks each year at the annual meeting.  We got the opportunity to visit and catch up with several friends yesterday as we hiked along the Little River and Cucumber Gap trails.  It was a great hike--only about 5.5 miles in length with only one short uphill section.  We did have the chance to practice our rock hopping skills at one creek crossing.  In our large group of about 35, we only had one to fall in, but most had wet feet by the time they arrived on the far shore.

One of the highlights of the meeting is the live auction.  In times past, the items for auction were usually well used hiking or camping gear and those items which would normally be donated to Goodwill or the trash bin.  The “auctioneers” were volunteers from the club.  Gene has even taken a turn or two. We always had a great time though, bidding ridiculous prices for some worthless piece of junk.  Eight or ten years ago, someone decided that we really could make more money if we had items that people would actually like to own.  With that decision, the club started getting donations from sports outfitters of everything from gift certificates to packs, from state resort parks for 1 and 2 night stays at their lodges, B and Bs were offering packages, club members were donating finely handcrafted items, and a host of other really nice items.  They also started hiring professional auctioneers.  There still are a few traditional items that always appear at the auction which never cease to amaze the auctioneers.  One of those items is the pan of fresh homemade brownies.  Each year the auctioneer (since the meeting is in a different area of the state each year, we never have the same auctioneer) starts the bidding off around $10 for the brownies.  This year, that pan of brownies went for $375.

This morning, 6 of our good friends came over to share breakfast with us and we spent the morning enjoying everyone’s company.  Friends are truly precious gifts.

We have had a great weekend, but now we are pooped puppies.  We extended our stay by one night just to rest before the drive back to Nashville.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Great Smoky Mountain National Park is located at the Tennessee--North Carolina border and consists of approximately 550,000 acres.   GSMNP receives more visitors each year than any of our other National Parks.

Most of these visitors can be found along the 4 or 5 roads inside the park. US Highway 441 cuts across the park from Gatlinburg, Tennessee to Cherokee, North Carolina.  As it crests the mountain at Newfound Gap, there is a side road which takes visitors to the highest point in Tennessee--Clingman’s Dome.  Perhaps the most popular drive within the park is the Cade’s Cove Loop Road.  It is not uncommon during fall leaf season for the 11-mile drive to take a couple hours to complete.  It is a beautiful cove with several restored cabins, a small visitor center/gift shop, and almost a guarantee  of seeing a black bear.

A great place to fish
Great Smoky Mountians National Park is our home state park so we’ve spent a great deal of time here.  I had a few photos on the computer taken during previous visits to the park. Enjoy.
Charlie's Bunion
Clingman's Dome Lookout Tower
Greenbrier School
Laurel Falls
The Sinks
We are here this weekend for our hiking club annual meeting.  More on that tomorrow.