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Showing posts from 2008

Musings on our Lifestyle

written Wednesday, December 31, 2008
New Years Eve
Rockport, TX

Tonight marks more than the turning of the calendar to a new year -- it's also the completion of 18 months of fulltiming in an RV for Dar and me. Wow, a full year and a half! It certainly doesn't feel that way.

When we started in July of '07 each of us had different thoughts about how long we could do this. Dar thought the minimum was five years and it'd probably be much longer. I was thinking, oh, maybe two years and, if things went well, maybe a year or two more. But after a year and a half it really feels like we're just beginning. We've made the big adjustments... being away from family for long periods; living in 300 square feet and without the clutter of so much landfill-destined stuff; having 50 different campsites during a year. I'm now more in synch with Dar on this question. We'll see how long the money holds out.

During 2008 our thoughts changed from "we're on vacation mode&q…

Rockport Musings

written Monday, December 22, 2008
Rockport, TX

I'm in one of those unproductive periods that pop up every once in a while. Writing in the blog is easy when we're out exploring historic places, national parks, dramatic terrain, and the like. But often, when we park in one spot for an extended period of time, my mind takes a break and my writing muscles start to atrophy. A friend of mine claims there is no such thing as writer's block -- only laziness. That may be. But whatever the reason there's been a paucity of posts to the Sabbatical blog this month.

I thought it might be interesting to recount a few statistics about our lifestyle in 2008. These all relate to where we park the bus-house -- campgrounds, RV Parks, and boondocking -- and some statistics about the bus-house itself. And these are all for the year 2008:

Number of Camps/Moves:  59
Average Stay: 6.2 days
Longest Stay: 44 days (In Wisconsin for Wedding)
Total Cost of Camping: $4,911.10
Average Cost Per Day: $13.42
Mos…

Congratulations

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witten Monday, December 15, 2008
Rockport, TX



Carol Mae Hoch is my Mom. This past Friday, December 12th, she officially retired after more than 30 years of service to the Meals On Wheels Program in Beaver Dam, WI. During those years, with high standards and a passion for the program, she was responsible for recruiting volunteers, scheduling, finding replacements when necessary, and generally making sure that all the hot meals prepared by the local hospital kitchen would be delivered around the city to those unable to fend for themselves. The program doesn't just deliver nutrition, it delivers human contact, it delivers hope. She and Dad also delivered meals for the program every week, something they'll continue to do in the future.

And, if you hadn't already guessed, she did all of this as a volunteer, getting "paid" only with the satisfaction of having helped those in need. She was honored during a luncheon this past Friday.

Congratulations Mom on a job well done!

Th…

Monday Morning in Rockport

written Monday, December 15, 2008
Rockport, TX

First thing this morning I'd like to remind readers that the front page of our website (www.tdhoch.com) is updated every day. As opposed to this blog, which is updated with a new post only when there's something interesting to write about or when I feel like it, the front page is a quick daily summary of our location, the weather we're experiencing, a brief "What's New?" section about what we're up to, and a photo or two which I try to make interesting. So if you have a link that takes you directly here, to the RV Sabbatical Journal, you may want to change that link so it'll take you to the front page first. Once there, the blog is only a simple click away.

Last week, on Friday, the front page had a tribute to my Mom for her more than 30 years of service to the Meals On Wheels Program in Beaver Dam WI. But I realized later that because the front page of our website isn't saved anywhere -- when it's u…

In Rockport Early

written Saturday, December 06, 2008
Rockport, TX.

It's way past time for an update. I think my last post to the blog was almost a week ago... way behind again.

In my last post we were getting ready to leave Texarkana and move south. Because our reservations in Rockport for the holidays had us arriving on the 12th, we had a good week and a half to kill along the way to the Gulf Coast -- about the right amount of time for a stop in Austin to see the State Capitol and the LBJ Library and Museum at the University of Texas.

So on Monday, December 1, we escaped from Shady Pines RV Park near Texarkana and headed south on US-59. The agreed upon route for the day had us picking up I-20 west near Marshall, to US-271 to Tyler, around the west loop to TX-31, which we could take all the way to a Corps of Engineers campground on Navarro Mills Lake, about 30 miles northeast of Waco. The plan was to enjoy the Corps park for a couple days, if it was decent, before heading down to the Austin area for t…

Ready to Move

written Sunday, November 30, 2008
near Texarkana, TX

If we accomplished nothing else during our stay in Texarkana it was to confirm that this "Ark-La-Tex" area (as they commonly refer to it) isn't going to be on our short-list of places to live someday. There's just nothing we saw that would cause us to delay leaving. A few years ago Mac Davis wrote a song about Lubbock TX that applies here, if I may paraphrase: "Happiness is Texarkana in my rear view mirror."

Yesterday, Saturday, the weather broke and a bad case of bus-house fever drove us out on a short exploration of the area. Just south of our RV Park is the Wright Patman Dam and Lake, another COE project. There are 4 COE campgrounds around the lake, one of which is top-notch and will be on our list of places to stay if we ever break down passing through this area in the future. We also explored the Dam, as I find these massive structures amazing in their scale and the amount of effort expended to build th…

A Rainy Spell in Texarkana

written Friday, November 28, 2008
Texarkana, TX

It's been a quiet couple of days here in Texarkana. Yesterday, Thanksgiving Day, we stayed in. Since it was cloudy and, at times, drizzly, it was a perfect day to veg, watch some football, and work on getting our big dinner ready. But the football game, Tennessee v. Detroit, was so bad I turned the sound down and used the glow from the TV only to help me see the crossword puzzle I worked on. The poor, sad Lions haven't won a game this year, and may well go win-less through this entire season. Whether it's business or sports Detroit doesn't seem able to get a break these days.  Maybe the Lions can be included in the auto industry bailout?

I wonder if the financial crisis we're going through is having an impact on professional sports? It only seems logical that it would as the support of business has to be critical to the various leagues cash-flow. It's not individuals that keep pro-sports going... it's business, a…

The Crisis with our Economy and our Way of Life

written Wednesday afternoon, November 26, 2008
Texarkana, TX.

I've been spending some time every day reading and trying to understand this economic crisis we're all in. More and more people, including the new President Elect, are saying this is an immense problem of historic, almost biblical, proportions. While there's a tendency, a human need, to believe the future will be like the past -- reliable, predictable, and, hopefully, better -- it's looking more and more like this will change our way of life for many years into the future.

For your consideration:  First, this well written article by Tom Friedman of the New York Times. It's worth the five minutes it'll take to read.

(Link to Friedman column "All Fall Down")  Click to read

Next, here's an excerpt from an important article on Bloomberg.com. Written by Mark Pittman and Bob Ivry, it provides some information that few of us know and less understand.

(Link to Bloomberg.com article by Pittman and Ivr…

Texarkana

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written Tuesday, November 25, 2008
not far from Texarkana, TX.

Well, we're another hundred miles further South and determined to keep "running this play" until we find some warm weather. The cool Midwest Fall had the "freezing line" dropping South about as fast as we were moving the last few weeks, and while I'm not complaining too much, there's a growing need to get the shorts on and soak up some sun. Yesterday my Dad sent a copy of his own "out the window" picture from Beaver Dam. Yowzer! It looks like another early winter for Wisconsin. Last year they had record snowfall of over 100 inches. I really hope the sun comes out and it warms up for the rest of the winter -- they need a break.



Meanwhile, further South, the drive down from Little Rock went well. I put 77 gallons of good old #2 diesel in bus-house today and, amazingly, paid the least per gallon since starting this endeavor in the summer of '07... just 2.56. I'm not celebrating t…

The Biggest Dam Bridge of All

written Monday, November 24, 2008
Maumelle COE Park near Little Rock, AR.

Monday, Dar and I loaded our bikes onto the Toad and drove about 10 miles to a trailhead for the famous Arkansas River Trail. The good citizens of the Little Rock area have built this extensive trail system over the last few years and we were itching to "give it a go". There's something liberating and free about riding a good trail through a natural landscape, along a river, through woods or forest, or even a good desert. We do it whenever we can.

Throughout the country local and state governments have converted old abandoned railroad rights-of-way into these marvelous trails where one can walk, run, or bike through the countryside without fear of being run down by some old vision-impaired guy driving a 45 foot motorhome. Of course, before you send me hate mail, it's also possible to be run down by young mindless texting teenagers, or middle aged depressed drunk guys. I just don't believe bike…

The Bill Clinton Museum

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written Sunday, November 23, 2008
Maumelle COE Park near Little Rock, AR.

Back in the Spring of this year, as we traveled eastward from Oregon and Washington, our exploration theme was to follow the Lewis & Clark Trail. As I wrote yesterday, themes put some organization and objectives to our travels -- they help set a path and highlight obvious places that need to be checked out.

Since leaving Wisconsin in October, we have multiple themes for our travels. Seeing as many State Capitols (as we did Friday) is one. Visiting as many Presidential Libraries and Museums is another.

So yesterday, Saturday, Dar and I trekked back downtown and spent the afternoon at the William Jefferson Clinton Presidential Center and Park. The building is set in a new city park hard on the banks of the Arkansas River, which was previously a run-down warehouse district. Because a theme of Clinton's campaigns and administration was "a bridge to tomorrow", the building was designed to appear like a …

Arkansas State Capitol

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written Saturday, November 22, 2008
Maumelle COE Park near Little Rock, AR.

On Friday, yesterday, Dar and I drove down to the State Capitol in downtown Little Rock. The day was clear and brisk under a bright blue sky.

For all the traveling we've done over the years, and especially since we started fulltiming in July 2007, we've only been to a handful of State Capitols. It didn't become a theme of ours, an objective, a goal, until this leg of our journey. Most fulltimers have what I call "themes" to make their explorations more interesting and to provide some structure and organization to their travels.

Here are a few themes fellow travelers have told us about: major league ballparks, National Parks, highest point in each state, over-nighting in every State, fishing the major rivers in each State, various lists of museums, and, of course, State Capitols. There are many more of course -- lists limited only by your imagination.

Invariably, there are standards or requirem…

Solutions in Search of Problems

written Friday, November 21, 2008
Maumelle COE Park near Little Rock, AR.

The rental car I used the other day had a "feature" I hadn't come across before. There is no ignition key. There is no place to even put an ignition key. So how does one start a car without a key? Well, what you have is a fob, a "clicker"-thing similar to the ubiquitous keyless entry do-dads we've all been carrying around for years. I'm guessing that this is another example of the use of technology that finds it's way into our lives only after it becomes the low-cost alternative to the old way of doing something. In this case, all the electronics are probably less expensive than the mechanical keyed switches. I'm only guessing.

So, how does one start a car with one of these marvels installed? Apparently, the little key fob you carry around is somehow "sensed" when it's within a few feet of the car. Once it's sensed, it's possible to just push the "s…

Mountains and Sucking Toads

written Thursday, November 20, 2008
Maumelle COE near Little Rock, AR

The day started clear and cool, and we were looking forward to our first exploration since coming down with colds the past week or so. The objective was to drive a scenic route on small back-country roads in a generally northwest direction from our camp to the area referred to as Toad Suck. It's along the Arkansas River and about 24 river miles upstream from Maumelle Park. The same destination using Arkansas's finest country roads would be over 40 miles away.

The first place we stopped was Pinnacle Mountain State Park. There we learned about the geology of the area. The center-piece of the park is a 1,011 foot high conical shaped peak that dominates the surrounding landscape. The river level is about 300 feet above sea-level, so the peak rises about 700 feet above that. (I know, not much of a "mountain", but it was fun nonetheless.)  After a quick stop at the visitors center where we learned of trails…

Maumelle Park

written Tuesday, November 18, 2008
Maumelle Park near Little Rock, AR

Yesterday, Monday, we had planned to move from Burns Park, where we'd been staying for the past week, to Maumelle COE Park just 12 miles away. Because Dar was in full "capitulation phase" with her cold, we did consider delaying the move another day, but she decided all the activity with moving would help take her mind off the misery. Maumelle is a couple notches above Burns in facilities and maintenance, and it's right on the banks of the Arkansas River. Instead of just being parked in the woods, its being parked in the woods and on a river.

About mid-day, we broke camp at Burns, made the short drive to Maumelle, and found a very nice campsite near the river. There are more people here than one might expect -- the place is probably half full -- as snowbirds from the north make this an annual stop on their way south for the winter. The park is close to major highways but secluded and quiet. It's ju…

Little Rock Update

written Monday, November 17, 2008
North Little Rock, AR

Here's a quick update covering the past week.

We arrived here at Burns Park Campground in North Little Rock last Sunday afternoon. The campground is a nice enough place and is close to our ideal camping experience because it is heavily wooded, has clean asphalt roads, and well-separated campsites. However, some sites aren't very level and the park has a neglected feel to it.

Monday and Tuesday were rainy and Dar was getting ready for her trip to Wisconsin. It's become a tradition, with her Mom and Sister, to get together on a long weekend in November and turn the farmhouse into a Christmas cookie factory. I dropped her off at the Little Rock airport on Wednesday and off she went.

Unfortunately, as much as I was looking forward to the time alone and having ALL 300 square feet to myself for a few days, it turned out to be less than what I'd hoped. About the time Dar left, it became clear I was coming down with a cold -- …

Toad Suck Daze

written Monday, November 10, 2008
North Little Rock, AR

After thoroughly enjoying a couple days with Bill & Sue near West Plains, MO., we fired up the bus-house and pointed her South again. We got back on Hwy 412/62 eastbound in Northern Arkansas until reaching Ash Flat. A right turn onto Hwy 167 southbound took us through Evening Shade, Cave City, Pleasant Plains, and Velvet Ridge. At Bald Knob we picked up Hwy 67 southbound, a 4-lane divided road that goes right to Little Rock.

I really wanted to stay at a Corps of Engineer campground some 30 or so miles north of Little Rock at a place called Toad Suck Ferry. Of course, the only really good reason for wanting to stay there without seeing it first is the name. What could possibly be the origin of the name "Toad Suck"?

According to Wikipedia:
The legend behind Toad Suck is that long ago, steamboats traveled the Arkansas River when the water was at the right depth. When it wasn't, the captains and their crew tied up to wai…

Panic Stop

written Monday, November 10, 2008
North Little Rock, AR

We left Branson on Friday the 7th of November. The destination was the acreage of a couple friends we met in Rockport last year -- Bill & Sue, who live near West Plains, MO. We've been emailing back and forth during the past month about our respective plans for the winter and they invited us to stop by, see their place, and check out this part of the Ozarks.

Driving in the Ozarks can be a challenge. The roads are little more than collections of curves, hills, and double-yellow lines. Not a lot of dirt was moved when these highways were built, and it seems they had no chain saws since the road seems to wind around any tree of size. There are precious few places where a motorist can safely pass a big bus-house that's poking along a few m.p.h. under the speed limit.

On the way to West Plains we did have one incident that caused me to stop breathing for a minute and utter a few carefully selected words. As we trekked eastward…

The Andy Williams Christmas Show

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written Thursday, November 06, 2008
Branson, MO

All Right! I might as well get this out there right off the bat: I actually enjoyed the Andy Williams Christmas Show that Dar talked me into attending yesterday. Yes, I enjoyed it! With all my grumbling about the lines, the crowds, the traffic, aging performers, and all the other touristy hoopla here in Branson, probably no one thought I'd say that. I certainly didn't.

But I had a great time. First of all, you've got to admire someone who's doing what they love, and enjoying it so much that they'd rather work at their craft than relax, retire, and fade away. He doesn't say how old he is, but a little research found he's 81 years old. In person, he certainly doesn't look like an octogenarian. Even if he has a cosmetic surgeon on retainer (and he probably does), so what? Performing is his passion and looking good is a part of performing. Way to go, Andy.

We were seated on an aisle about mid-way back in the front…

The Branson Phenomenon

written Wednesday, November 05, 2008
Branson, MO

50 years ago Branson was a very small, quiet, fishing village along the White River, surrounded by the gorgeous wooded hills of the Ozark Mountains. There were two small motels with a total of 16 rooms available.

Today, many of the hills have been stripped of trees and leveled for theaters, restaurants, hotels, condos, time-shares, apartment developments, and sub-divisions. They're building a new airport capable of handling large commercial jets, and had to move two mountains to do it.

Here's a short list of what you see as your driving around town. "Sensory Overload" comes to mind:

Hollywood Wax Museum
Titanic Museum -- Experience a Titanic Christmas
Dinosaur Museums
Year 'round Haunted Houses
Worlds Largest Toy Museum
Go-Karting Tracks
Ripley's Believe It or Not
Family Fun Factory
Dinosaur Canyon Miniature Golf
Water Fun Parks
Dick Clark's American Bandstand/ Bar & Grill
Showboat Cruises
Magic Shows
Ride the Ducks
Huge …

Historic Election

written Wednesday, November 05, 2008 -- Branson, MO

On every Presidential election Tuesday for many years, I've made it a tradition to watch the election returns on TV. I'll get a comfortable chair adjusted just right and positioned for minimum reflection and best viewing angle, I'll pop some popcorn, open a cool adult beverage of some kind, make sure the remote control has fresh batteries, and settle in for an evening of results and analysis. I know, it won't change a thing. I could save a lot of time by just reading about it in the paper the next day. But the tradition continues and it will for the foreseeable future.

This election was historic for at least a couple reasons. First, and perhaps most obvious and notable, it was the first campaign to result in the election of a black man as President of the United States. Regardless of your politics and your opinions about it, this will be something that will start a new chapter in the history books for many years.

Second,…

Branson Missouri

written Monday, November 3, 2008 -- Branson, MO

How does something like Branson get started? Yesterday, I talked with an old-timer who's been coming here since 1959. In those early days, the population of Branson was less than 100 people, there were two motels with a total of 16 rooms available, a few fishing cabins along the river, and a sprinkling of other sleepy businesses. That was 50 years ago.

Today, the official population of Branson is about 6,000, but that grossly understates reality. Because so many people live just outside Branson's city limits, the real population of the area is more like 30,000. And when you throw in the number of people visiting (as many as 8 million every year), the number of people around here can be upwards of 65,000 on any given day. There are more than 50 theaters in the area with over 60,000 seats available -- more seats than Broadway in New York I've been told. This week alone about 100,000 veterans will be here for the annual Veterans D…

Harry S. Truman Lake and Dam

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written Saturday, November 1, 2008 -- Thibaut Point COE Campground near Warsaw, MO.

I got off to a slow start on Friday and it was just after noon before we headed off to explore more of the big lake we're camped on. We had a surprise rain shower that lasted a couple hours in the morning but by the time we left camp the sky was mostly clear and the sun was out in earnest.

The Harry S. Truman Lake (or Reservoir) was created along the Osage River as the result of a large Army Corps of Engineers project that was authorized in the 1950's and wasn't completed until the late 1970's. It primary purpose is flood control, but electric power generation and recreation are among the other benefits. It took a long time to build as numerous roads, bridges, cemeterys, and complete towns had to be relocated above the new lake level. I wonder if a project of this scale could ever be done again in our litigous modern society. And where would the money come from?

On our loop around the lake…

The Unexpected Rain Show

Friday, October 31, 2008 -- near Warsaw, MO.

I heard a low rumbling... off in the distance. What was that?

It was 6:30am and I was just starting to stir from a good nights sleep. Then I heard it again. It's thunder. But it can't be thunder -- there was no prediction for rain. What the heck?

I hopped out of bed, fired up the internet router, turned on my computer, and made coffee while everything booted up. There's definitely lightning off to the west and there's definitely a storm out there, regardless of what the weather service predicted.

A few minutes later, with fresh hot coffee in hand, I was on the Weather Underground website (the site I default to for weather information) and, sure enough, there's one little line of showers, barely visible on the national map, right there in the middle of Missouri. There's not another radar echo from another drop of rain anywhere for a thousand miles around. But we are lucky enough to be in the one little spot of sporty weat…

Southward to Missouri

Wednesday, October 29, 2008 -- near Warsaw, MO.

We've been lingering in the North for a long time because autumn in the Midwest is our favorite time of the year. But now that November is almost here, it's time to start moving South. On Tuesday, yesterday, we pulled our jacks, pointed the nose of the bus-house southward, left Iowa, and ended up in another Corps. of Engineers Campground on the Harry Truman Reservoir near Warsaw in Central Missouri. It was an almost 300 mile drive... a long one for us. But we found another great COE park near Warsaw, MO.

We like the solitude and peacefulness of this place so much we may extend our stay for a few more days. We'll see.

T

Exploring for Ancestors

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Tuesday, October 28, 2008 -- Winterset, IA

On Monday, yesterday, we drove over to Indianola, IA., to meet up with one of my cousins, Kevin, a contemporary of mine, who is the grandson of a sister of my grandfather. I'll pause here for a few seconds while that sinks in.

(Pause.)

Kevin grew up in Melcher, IA., just a few miles from Bauer, IA. where my ancestors settled in the early 1870's. Not only has he lived here in the area all his life, he's also done a lot of research and genealogical work of his own. He's a walking family-tree encyclopedia; he knows where all the bodies are buried and most of the stories about them. We couldn't have had a better tour-guide for the day.

The last time I was in this area I was 4 years old. In 1955, my Mom and Dad, Grandmother and Grandfather, my younger brother and I... we all loaded into Dad's Plymouth and set out on the biggest trip I'd ever been on. From Beaver Dam, it was a two day ordeal on two lane roads to cover the 30…

The Iowa Statehouse

Monday, October 27, 2008 -- Winterset, IA

The "exploration for the day" on Sunday was the Iowa State Capitol building in Des Moines. One of the multiple themes of our travels these days is to see as many of the statehouses as we can. They're full of history, usually very ornate and rich with art and symbolism, and there's an aura or feeling of importance, orderliness, and solidness -- after all, it's the place our state laws are proposed, legislated, and adjudicated.

The Iowa Statehouse is the only Capitol in the United States that has 5 domes. The main dome rises 275 feet above the first floor of the rotunda and it's exterior is covered in gold leaf -- thin sheets of pure gold. Because the gold is so thin, it must be replaced every 30 years or so. It was last done in 1998.

Interesting factoid: 250,000 sheets of gold leaf would form a stack only 1 inch high. So while you might think it'd take tens of millions of dollars to cover a dome this size with pure go…

Small Towns & Covered Bridges

Sunday, October 26, 2008 -- Winterset, IA

Living in Winterset is easy and comfortable. To me it feels like a different country compared to trying to survive in a big city, as we did for so long. I know, Winterset is in the middle of Iowa, which is the middle of America, and in many ways most Americans, who live in big metroplexes and along the coasts, probably consider it a foreign country too. The great middle of the United States is often the brunt of jokes, is considered boring, and not "with it". But as I've aged and have re-oriented my values, I like the simpler life of places like this. People have few pretensions, they're friendlier, come across as more genuine, and seem to be more about enjoying what they have rather than worrying about something they don't have. The pace of life seems more natural, at least to me.

The other day we needed a few grocery items. Winterset's only grocery store is a nice sized Fareway Store situated, not out in a strip mall …

Musings from the Road

Sunday, October 26, 2008 -- camped in Winterset, IA

I've read the past few days that the credit crisis is easing and banks are starting to give loans again. Now that the economy looks like it's heading for the dumpster, the stock market is down 40%, and unemployment is rising fast -- the real trick may be to find someone who wants a loan.

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Not only is the stock market down almost half, but plain old gasoline is almost half the price it was just a few months ago. How do investors in new energy technologies view this? Why would anyone invest in a new energy idea when the price off the old one is so volatile? How do you predict a return on your investment?

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On November 5th, with any luck, we'll know who the next President will be. Once all the spending on campaign ads ends, there will have to be an impact on the economy. Is it possible to just stop almost a billion dollars of campaign spending and NOT have an impact on the economy?

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If the majority of people …

Winterset, IA -- The Home of John Wayne

Thursday morning, October 23, 2008 -- Winterset, IA

Winterset is the County Seat of Madison County Iowa. Only about 30 miles southwest of Des Moines, this small town of abut 5,000 people is an example of what I imagine as an ideal place to live. It's a great combination of small and intimate -- large enough to have it's own school system, grocery store, restaurants, and services, and small enough to be free of congestion, crowds, crime, and hype. If a person needs the amenities of a larger city, Des Moines is just a half hour drive away. According to the last census, it's barely growing (+1.6%) so people have come to adapt to a steady-state environment. Everyone we've run into is open and friendly. As with most small places we've experienced it's the norm to wave at people that you see along the way.

We arrived at the City Park Campground here in Winterset early Tuesday afternoon. Dar handled the driving chores today from jacks-up to jacks-down. The weather was g…

Herbert Hoover From West Branch, IA

Tuesday, October 21, 2008 -- near Iowa City, IA

Yesterday, Monday, we pulled up the jacks and left Grant River COE near Potosi and pointed the nose of the bus-house southwestward. US Hwy 151 was our route for most of the journey to our next stop -- Colony Country Campground just north of Iowa City, only 112 miles away. This will be a short one night stop as we're squeezed between our desire to see the Herbert Hoover Historic Site and Museum (part of our "Dead Presidents" Tour) and the reality of the weather later this week, which is projected to be really crummy from Tuesday night through Friday. Checking our list of things to explore, there much more to do around Des Moines (I know... who'd 'a thunk!) so if we're going to be someplace for a few days with poor weather, the Des Moines area would be our preference.

Once at Colony Country, we unhooked the car, backed into a suitable site, locked up the bus-house, and immediately drove off to West Branch, IA, the h…

A Sunday Drive in the Country

Monday, October 20, 2008 -- Potosi, WI

Yesterday, Sunday, we drove a loop from Potosi, through Dickeyville, across the river into Dubuque, up the Great River Road on the Iowa side to Balltown, then to a ferry crossing the Mississippi from Turkey River, IA to Cassville, WI, and finally back to Potosi. It was a warm sunny day -- just right for that last autumn drive to see fall colors in their full glory.

The ridges and valleys of the driftless area take some getting used to. Both sides of the river are full of them. As you travel, the car's motor is straining, struggling, shifting gears, and smokin' to climb the steep grades, or it's brakes are white hot and smokin' to keep your speed in check as you're coming down to the 35mph curve at the bottom. Sometimes not the most pleasant drive, like when you've got a loaded dump-truck three feet behind your rear bumper on a steep downgrade. During the last year or more we've driven through much of the western USA and …

The National Brewery Museum

Monday, October 20, 2008 -- Potosi, WI

From the earliest days of settlement in America, brewing beer was a common and highly valued skill that most wives possessed... right up there with cooking. Because stream and ground water was often unsafe to drink, brewing beer was a way of producing a drinkable liquid that was safe and contained natural preservatives. The fact that it contained alcohol and made one feel good may have been a convenient side-effect. Benjamin Franklin once said "Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to have a good time".

As immigration increased and communities formed, commercial breweries popped up in almost every town and village, especially those of German heritage. The area of Wisconsin where Dar and I grew up was a classic example. In Beaver Dam and almost every surrounding small town, there was at least one brewery to meet the demand of people who considered a couple'o beers after a full day of work nearly a right. Dar's Mom remembers …