Tuesday, September 22, 2015

About those best laid plans...

We pulled into the Forest City, IA lot of Winnebago Industries on Tuesday, September 15.  Having only decided a week before that we might want to "have the RV looked at since we're so near to where it was built" we did not have an appointment.  We drove into the Visitor's Center parking lot at 3:50pm and saw that they would close at 4pm.  I asked what we could do since we'd only been told to come and register as a "non-appointment."  (Is that like a non-person?) We were told to find a spot to park in the lot, hook up to 50 amp power (that's the kind you pay premium dollar for in campgrounds)  and free WiFi and, oh yeah, water and a dump station across the street.  Then, just go down tomorrow morning to the Service Center and sign up.  We'd have to get a new "permission" sign each day but other than that we were free to park as long as needed.  Say what?  Free camping for as long as we need it?

The following morning at 7am I dutifully crossed the lot and went in and made a list of the things we wanted looked at.  Rebecca the receptionist was both courteous and knowledgeable answering my many questions and assuring me that they would let us know when we'd be seen but I needed to check back each day.  So one of us did.  Each morning between 7 and 7:30am we'd walk down and find out that our "check back time" was at least one day hence.  The rest of the time we spent socializing with the other couples- mostly also "non-appointments" - Don riding his bike and I got to the many projects and chores I have been meaning to get to.

One night we had a delicious Mexican meal at a restaurant in town run by Mexican brothers who moved here from Orlando FL.  "Family" had moved here first, they followed, saw a need for a restaurant and opened one with good, authentic Mexican food...and reasonable to boot!  There's a small theater in town that has a schedule much like the one on STX when I was growing up- $2 a person and the shows run 4 days a week for a week.  We haven't gone yet but we probably will.

That night it rained-not pouring rain like we'd had several times in the past week but a good steady rain.  Later the next day I saw water on the counter by the sink which puzzled me because Don had not done the dishes.  I'd told him I would.  But then after I had I saw the water again and thought I'd just been really sloppy.  But then, a few hours later when no-one had been near the sink I saw another puddle and looked up to find a teeny tiny leak.  UGH.  You do not ant a leak in an RV.  I climbed up on the roof and sure enough what is called the roof cover-where the roof meets the gutter there was cracking sealant running most of the length of the RV on both sides.  Only one place had a bit of wetness and it was above where I'd seen the leak so I got out the Gorilla tape and spent the next hour + taping the entire area to block the rain that was projected for later and the next 2 days.  I am the one who has to do this because Don has acrophobia and would have just become a medical casualty.  Of course, because I did this we have not had more than a drizzle in 5 days but we're prepared!

On Saturday I headed 12 miles south to a laundromat that had been recommended by Rebecca in reception.  My GPS stopped working about 3 miles outside of town (it was kind of a Twilight Zone/Deliverance moment as I drove through corn and soybean fields spread over small rolling hills and saw not one other car) so I was left trying to remember what the map had said.  I went to the end of town and turned around in the Ace Hardware lot unable to find 3rd St on the left anywhere.  As I started to leave I allowed a young man to pull around me (I was on the left so it was less gracious than legal) and he shook his head as he drove by.  Hmmph!  I figured he thought I was some addle brained old fart -he saw grey hair and a confused looking woman- but hey! I FEEL 20 inside, buster!  I drove around a bit more-still griping about rude young male drivers and then circled back once again into Ace where I saw another young man.  I stopped and asked where 3rd St was and he started to tell me and I then asked That's where Lucky's Laundromat is, right?  "Oh yes, but for Lucky's you need to go several more blocks down. You'll pass some stores then a warehouse then an auto parts store then 2 houses and then you'll see it.  If you go around the corner you've gone too far."  Well, so much for the rudeness of young men.  I drove off confidently and apologizing to the male of our species for having insulted all of them and thankful for this guys helpfulness.  As directed, I got to Lucky's with no problem.  I found a nice shady place to park-Phoenix was with me so Don could go bike riding-and dragged my 4 bags in.  I also had my laptop-since laundromats tend to have WiFi. The place was deserted but there were 2 machines running so I figured someone would be coming back. I then looked for the change machine, found it...it was broken.  As I turned around ready to get the bags back in the car and go in search of change I saw a young man sitting at the table.  Do you know where I can get change?  Oh yeah, just go 3 blocks down to the bank and they'll give you a roll of quarters for $10.  May I leave my stuff here?  Sure.  So I drove away, not at all worried, got my quarters and came back to find my stuff sitting right where it had been. Of course.

I loaded up the machines and started conversing with the guy who'd thanked me for using Lucky's.  I thought maybe he was the owner but it turned out he was a service technician at Winnebago. We talked for awhile and then he gathered some of his laundry and said he'd be back to get the rest.  When he came back it was with an old Rand McNally Atlas-hard cover, in German and printed in 1890.  As I read it I realized it must have been from an American high school from the days they taught in the predominant language of the immigrant community.  German was especially popular as I remembered there were 4 public schools in Baltimore that were still doing so in the early 20th century.  I asked if I could take some pictures and he said Oh take it for the weekend.  I can catch up with you at Customer Service.  Say what?  So, yup I got to keep it for the weekend and Don and I both enjoyed looking at the old maps of the 47 then states (Hawaii and Alaska would not become states until I was in grade school and Oklahoma was not yet a state. Although the Organic Act of 1890 (the year of publication) actually "reduced" the area called Indian territories to half the original size with the western half called the Oklahoma Territory and the eastern half for the "5 'Civilized' tribes (sorry having a REALLY hard time with the terminology of this!) and the Tribes of the Quapaw Indian Agency, OK would not become a state-incorporating both areas until 1907.  This is a fascinating part of our history because I was an avid history student from grade school and I don't ever remember learning that.  If you're interested you can see more here here and here.  In order to get your head around the "5 'Civilized' Tribes" concept see this.  But, I digress....

So, yesterday I went over to do our 2:30pm check back and Rebecca told me they had put us down for Tues at 11:40am.  She said there was a chance they would call to tell us to bring the rig with us so I was pretty happy.  Then I remembered the atlas and went back to return it, at which point Rebecca had just received an email to tell us a spot opened and to return at 7am WITH the rig.  WhooHoo!

Bright and early...actually DARK and early (we are on the eastern edge of the central time zone so sunrise isn't until 6:30 and it was 5:45) we got up, had breakfast and then drove down the hill to the service center.  Our technician went over all the things we need and by mid morning they'd fixed all the small things.  Then the head guy came and asked that we come out to the rig.  The electrician was there (we'd told them that we though some of our circuits were mixed up when they installed the solar and we wanted to ID them as well as fix the fact that most of our power seems to be focused on the Receptacles 1 breaker.  Not good...turns out the great solar installation was missing a very important component-fuses.  Thankfully we have not shorted out or gone up in flames while overloading the circuits because there were no fuses to blow.  I think it was only the fact that we did not have enough power coming in (we are planning to get 2 more panels) and so really limited our use that we have not had a serious problem.  But the poor electrician.  He said I really didn't know how you would handle this.  I didn't know how to tell you that once we'd seen this we couldn't let you leave with it like this.  Yeah, we really don't want to either and thank YOU for finding it.  Our installer will NOT be hearing thanks.  We also need 2 new tires but really, the ones we have have driven 20K and for 5 years sat most of the time in storage and probably outside.  So, we are feeling kind of lucky.  We will probably be out of here in 2 days and the only difference will be "having" to spend all day unable to access the rig, being forced to eat at delis or restaurants and keeping the animals with us.  Personally I cannot say I love the 2 TVs set to Fox News but I just ignore them.  At least I got to see Pope Francis arriving in the US today.

So, stay tuned.  This may not be a "destination" but it's pretty, we are meeting people from all over and working with courteous, skilled and incredibly nice people.  I haven't had a chance to really get some pics but will before we leave.  Stay tuned.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015


The next leg of our trip was about family, specifically the Gordon men. May 4-10, 2015

We arrived at David's (son #2)  in E Windsor to find out that where we'd hoped we could park was not going to be possible.  Despite the fact that he believed parking in his driveway might be against the community's rules we set up with plans to move the following day.  We were literally on blocks. 

When one parks a Class A there are "levelers" that extend from under the chassis to level and stabilize it.  We always put a heavy rubber pad under the metal plate at the base of these levelers and then, if the site is not completely level, add 1 or more leveling pads.  Yeah, well, pads, wood AND cement blocks and much backing up and driving onto them and we were done.  As it would turn out we would not be able to find another place nearby and stayed there for 3 more nights.  The day we left David got a call saying someone had reported our being there. Lucky we were leaving.

Our visit though was fun.  First of all, in addition to David and wife, Ley, Don and I got to spend time with his youngest grandchild without it being an event or party.  She was in her last weeks of kindergarten so we went to pick her up each day and see the place she'd soon be leaving for first grade at her local school.  But the first night we all went to an early dinner in nearby Princeton.

My newly discovered taste for beer lead us to the Triumph Brewing Co. which had another nice sampler and good food. And this sampler, although I would ultimately prefer the amber ale, had a delicious light and citrusy beer as well as a heavier one with coffee over (under?)tones.  It was good. Dinner was followed with a walk around town and window shopping. 

Taking time to smell the flowers

The very cool list of benefactors of the Princeton Public Library's Annual Fund (I think)

Staying with David was the first time we really sort of slowed down and sat around and rested.  But that doesn't last long with us so we decided that we'd all go for a bike ride along the Delaware and Raritan Canal Trail while their daughter was in school the next day.  Everything was fine, we dropped her off and continued to Princeton and the the phone call came that she didn't "feel well" and Don and I did the ride by ourselves.  It was lovely riding along the footpath and past Carnegie Lake up to Kingston and Lock #38 and the Lock Tender's house and where we turned around. We saw mallard ducks, Canadian Geese, a beaver and a snake or two and turtles. Did you know that geese eat poison ivy?

                          Canadian Goose a bit perturbed at my picture taking and a pair of mallard males

Millstone Dam
Carnegie Lake

<- snake and ^ turtles

  Lock Tender's House and Lock #38 at Kingston, NJ

Springtime colors
                                                       yummy poison ivy!

On the morning of May 8th it was time for us to leave for Son #1's house in West Orange and just in time.  Someone had reported our parking in a driveway and David received a notice.  Since it was a Friday and the kids would be at school and Don3 and Kiana, his wife, at work we took the chance to stop for propane (it fuels our refrigerator when we are driving or not plugged in to electricity) and then to go visit an old friend of my mom's who was for many years, My Other Mother.

So, after determining through the West Orange Police Department that we could park in Don3 driveway and they had permission to park their cars in the street overnight and finding a bulk propane seller we said our goodbyes and hit the road.  The propane place was nearby but we had to disconnect the car in order to get in.  While I paid, Don reset the tow setup and hooked up the brake.  And we took off. And after about 1/2 mile I asked What is that awful smell? as we pulled up to a red light and a passing car pulled alongside to say our car was smoking!  Oh No! Only a month on the road and we have major problems!!! Well, it wasn't major.  Since I normally hook up the brake while Don does the tow bar and because this car has been mine for 10 years, he was unaware that the steering wheel locks when the car is shut off and when setting the brake I have to be sure that it is operational, the gear is in Neutral, the hand brake off AND the steering wheel has free play.  The front wheels had locked and we were literally pulling the car as it skidded along the road!  You can bet we checked and rechecked the condition of our "toad" all the way to West Orange.

Nothing quite like highway driving in NJ!

We arrived in West Orange and immediately drove up to Englewood to see Joan and Ron. UPDATE: Ron died in late 2017.  RIP

Joan and my mom met just after they had each graduated from high school in 1944.  They became fast friends and through the years kept in touch.  It was to Joan's sister Ellen's that I came the year I moved to the states from Ireland and Joan would become my "other mother"  It was Joan who would tell Don that I was living back on St Croix in 1994 and that she thought I'd like to hear from him which started our reunification and eventual marriage.  We had a nice lunch and great conversation and before long it was time to leave and go greet the older two grandchildren.

Both of the kids were filled with stories and reports of what they have been doing and our grandson was looking forward to our attending his soccer game the following day.  We barbecued hamburgers and hotdogs for dinner and then it was off to bed for everyone.

The next morning early, it was Mother's Day, I got up and drove to shop at Trader Joe's in South Orange.   Then it was back to the house, on to the game and then an early birthday lunch celebration for our grandson before we said goodbye and left for Ulster Park, NY in the Hudson Valley.

Sometimes you just need a map...

When we left Jean and Paul's, our intention was to stop at and visit Valley Forge on the way to NJ where we would see both Don's older sons. We directed our faithful GPS to lead us there and after driving past signs that said Valley Forge National Historic Park we found ourselves in a parking lot that appeared to be WAY FAR AWAY from any sites we knew we should be seeing.  AND, to make matters worse, the direction we knew we needed to go was clearly marked with a No Entry/One Way sign.  So, we continued in the direction we'd been going and ugh! We were in town, in our huge RV towing the car and the GPS (because I was inadvisably using Google Maps on my phone rather than our SPECIAL FOR RVs one!) sent us up little residential streets on hills with sharp curves. We made it back around but still could not find the right place.  I called the Visitor's Center and the woman there gave me long complicated directions which sounded even harder.  Bagging any idea of getting RV, car and us to the Visitor's Center, we returned to the original parking lot and unhitched the car, loaded Phoenix into it and set off to find it.  Find it we finally did and it was not easy.  Apparently, the NPS cannot put their signage on certain roads (at least that is what we were told) so we had seen one sign but the next logical place could not be used.  In any case, by the time we got to the Visitor's Center and found the 1/2 hour film we would have liked to see was not being shown for another 1.5 hours, we decided to skip the cool and orderly display inside so we could drive around in the heat.

We saw the site of an encampment and then visited the Washington Memorial Chapel and by then it was getting late.  We did not want to hit rush hour traffic in NJ and so we gave up.  A pretty much dud of a visit. The chapel was pretty though and there are online resources.

One of the most poignant memorials is that of a mother crying at the grave of her child killed in war

Even with all of our mis-routing it was a beautiful drive along the springtime roads

Our drive to NJ was pretty and we saw lots of farms...YES...there are farms in NJ!

Crossing the Delaware River
albeit it in spring, on a bridge and in an RV rather than freezing in a boat...
into NJ


And on to visiting an old friend... May 1-4

About 100 years ago, really only in 1967, my parents decided I needed to go away to school.  My father wanted me to learn French. He and my mom had tried sending me to spend a summer in Montpellier (France) with my best friend, at her cousin's, but as he said later,  I returned "after teaching the people of Montpellier to speak English but speaking only a few words of French." It was decided "away" would be a boarding school in Lausanne, Switzerland.  As petulant a teen as ever lived, I pouted and fussed... but I went. (I would have a brilliant time, learn French that I have been using since, make friends from all over the world but it would take me YEARS to truly appreciate how valuable this experience was and how much of a selfish little twit I was.  My mom even took me to London, Paris and Geneva on the way!)

In any case, my roommates-Jeannie and Nan-were ironically both from Chicago.  Ironically, because it was an international girl's school with 104 girls from all over the world and only 2 from Chicago. Jeannie, who called me Squirt, was fluent in French and Spanish and was as cool as I wasn't. I was a bit in awe of her but at the end of the year,  I returned to St Croix and she changed to a school in MA.  Jean and I stayed in touch for awhile but after some years lost touch.  Then, thanks to Facebook, I found her and we have stayed in touch since.  2 years ago she came to NY City and we spent a day at the Cloisters.  Since we'd planned to visit her a few years ago and were deterred by rain this time I was determined.  As luck would have it, Jean would be home, along with her husband Paul, and they have a "lot" next door where we could park.

But first we had to get from College Park MD to Phoenixville, PA and we were not going to take the Chesapeake Bay Bridge since it was a bit windy and stormy.  Instead, we decided upon a longer but more scenic route taking us from the outskirts of DC and Baltimore into PA farm country. The ride was beautiful but we had to stop for gas and trying to make it around a sharp curve coming away from the gas pump we managed to knock the gas "gun" out of its holster and break the holster.  But, a quick exchange of insurance info with the gas station manager and we were on our way.  We arrived midday quite calmed by the rest of a beautiful ride.

The Conowingo Hydroelectric Plant and dam
Looking down the Susquehanna River                             

As we drove over the bridge we could see hundreds of birds sitting on the rocks below!

     We drove up and down gentle hills 

and along long flat stretches

past people, tractors and buggies

farmers plowing their fields

cows standing in them

a horse grazing in his pasture

and signs of the times.  Many small farmers sell their products at small roadside stands (even if you can only get one egg at a time ;-) ) but the last thing on the list to the right is "Second Farm."  It saddens me to see these small farmers forced to either sell or go with a huge corporation.

There were times we knew we were entering urban areas as well
 The lot at Jean and Paul's turned out to be a field that they bought with their house but which the local fire department uses for their annual fair and in return keeps it mowed.  Private, grassy and FLAT it was perfect.  So was our visit.

Paul was still at work but we had plans together that evening and decided to go right away for a walk at French Creek Park.  It was a welcome change from sitting and sitting and sitting... After a delicious dinner we drove to see a play that we all agreed afterwards was very disturbing but with incredible acting.


A walk in nature is the best medicine there is... 
(keep scrolling down...)

As difficult as it may be to believe, with all the signage, this bridge was badly damaged and had to be rebuilt last year because a driver of a 13 ft tall truck ignored the signs and drove onto it.

Phoenix enjoyed the walk especially because she kept finding little treats to munch on.

The next day, we went up to the Kimberton Waldorf School annual fair, where we enjoyed several gastronomical treats-fire baked pizza, a peppermint orange sipper (a tradition at the fair) and some baked goodies as well as watching a Maypole dance.  We then drove to the Seven Stars Farm of the BEST yogurt I have ever tasted (Lemon and Maple are the best) and then to Camphill Village where we walked through the house and small shop and then ate lunch at an excellent cafe with fresh baked (on the premises) bread.   


                 It was May Day so there was a Maypole.  



Stone hearth baked pizza-DELICIOUS!

Traditional treat at these fairs-a peppermint stick sipper in an orange

The great sheep escape
and the Headmaster catching and returning them.


Note: ALL dairy cows have horns.  It is only at farms like Seven Stars where they are not removed

Home of the best yogurt I have ever had


From this...

...on this...

...to this.

Even the speed bumps are creative

After stopping to shop at the Kimberton Whole Foods (No, it is NOT that Whole Foods but a separate and much better store.) we came home to enjoy Jean and Paul's Peruvian exchange student getting ready for her first high school prom.  Her friend came over and helped with her hair and then it was time for picture taking when the dates arrived.  There was much laughter as the 4 young people tried to figure out the art of pinning a buttoniere.  Paul was not home for this merriment as he was practicing for the next day’s entertainment, so Jean, Don and I went over the Station Bistro, a local restaurant that was incredible.  

When we got back to the house Jean and I started reviewing her old year books from Switzerland while we managed to put a good dent in Paul’s excellent wine collection.  We finally decided that with another full day ahead rest was prudent and we all sallied off to bed.

The next day dawned beautiful and once again we got going early.  First, it was over to visit Jean’s older daughter’s to meet her and take a short hike in the woods behind her house.  

Yellow violets are not nearly as common as the violet ones so they are a treat when I find them

Then we drove over to Pottstown to the Hill School.  My dad graduated from The Hill and I had never been there.  Although there were many new buildings since his time (early 40s) it was eerie walking in the same place that my dad had and a place about which I had heard so much as a child.  It was like so many other places in the states: I knew all about them except experiencing them.  My dad has been dead for 41 years so it was especially poignant.

Next it was time for Paul’s concert. He is a member of the Chester Co. Concert Band and they were presenting a program of Springtime music. What a delightful program it was!  Some of the pieces were familiar, others were not.  ALL were played extremely well and had the audience clapping and dancing in their seats.  It was a perfect counterbalance to the play on the first night, though both were so well done.  There is so much talent in so many places!  I wish more people knew about and supported the local arts because everywhere we have gone we have seen art, museums and concerts that rival what one sees in the “big cities” and are so important to the life of that community.  

Michael Pettis the 2014-15 Composition Award winner 
He conducted his winning piece.

What I would like to play...

...the only instrument I have ever played with any success.

The band stood for  well deserved applause

Our cultural fulfillment was not yet complete, however.  After a quick dinner we 4 piled into the car and drove to the People's Light Theater  in Malvern to see Biloxi Blues, a Neil Simon play, which we all enjoyed immensely.  Once again, excellent acting in a small local company with guest artists. Full to the brim with good cheer returned to the house and had a last glass of wine with our incredible hosts.

The next morning, Paul was off to work and Jean was doing some paperwork (she is a doctor) and Don and I both needed haircuts.  We ran over to a nearby mall, had quick, and cheap haircuts (there are many benefits to being seniors and this is one), Don picked up his medications and had some bloodworm done and we returned for lunch and to spend a little more time with Jean before leaving to visit Valley Forge to spend some hours before continuing to Don's middle son David's, in NJ... or so it was planned.