May 29, 2010

Big Holiday Weekend

Memorial Day is the un-official start of summer here in the upper Midwest. It more or less delineates the end of the school year for most kids, big and little alike. Summer vacation is a vestige of earlier days when a mostly agrarian society needed the extra hands around the farm in order to get the most out of the three or four month growing season for the benefit of family survival. Those days are way behind us. Just try to get a teenager to do some real work these days.

Dar went along with Mom and my Aunt Nancy to decorate family graves in the area. I stayed near the bus-house -- mostly nursing a slightly sore shoulder. Must have pulled something while moving paving brick or sprucing up the car with an oil change and a scrub-job yesterday.

Not many plans for the holiday weekend though. We may run up to Dar's Uncle & Aunt's place near the Wisconsin Dells tomorrow. They have a big holiday weekend get-together with family and friends on each of the big summer 3 -- Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day. I can smell a big picnic lunch in the deal. I don't know why but there's always far more food at events like this than can possibly be eaten by all the attendees put together... even if they've been starved for days prior.

While procrastinating this afternoon, I took some photos of the menagerie of birds that, for some reason, have made this place their home. After I cull the hundreds of photos down to a handful, I'll try to remember to stick some in the Journal in the days ahead.

With Sandhill Cranes calling in the distance...

May 28, 2010

Good Warm Weather

It's been over a week since I posted an entry to the Journal... time for a quick update.

Being in Wisconsin and close to family and friends means we're almost always busy with something. In the past week we've worked on a couple plumbing projects at Mom & Dad's house, continued the trimming and clean-up of some back areas out at the farm, attended my niece's wedding, had a family portrait taken, enjoyed the weekly "Thursday night on the deck" (TNOD) get-together with Jan & Dave (and whoever else we can get to show up), and other things that just aren't jumping to mind right now.

A few days ago I awoke before sunrise and found the nearby marsh blanketed with ground fog. I grabbed the camera and hustled out for a little photo-shoot. Some of those images are included in this post.

During the last week we've had some warm -- almost hot -- summer-like weather. Temps made it into the low 90f's a couple days and the dew point was in the "uncomfortable" range, near 70f. I tried not to complain and find some enjoyment in it all... complaining has NO constructive purpose when your dealing with natural phenomena. Besides, most of the early months of this year were spent bundling up and trying to stay warm. So complaining about warmth now seems silly.

Whether it's a person's "hard-wired" nature or there's an element of choice in the matter, it seems to me that most people are either happy or not-happy, positive or negative. And as people age it also seems to me their position on this "happy-grumpy" continuum migrates a little toward the extreme. In other words, if you've been a basically happy person during your life you'll likely be even more happy as you age. For others who have been mostly unhappy during their lives... well, as they age they become even more strident in their unhappiness and negativity, and they're not much fun to be around. To the extent that there's choice in this matter, I really want to be on the happy, positive side of things, and consciously try to remind myself that complaining about things like the weather can become a habit, if I allow it. And once someone slips over to the "dark-side", it's almost impossible to bring them back.

Today I'll be changing the oil on our toad (Ford Focus), the first time doing it myself with this car. If it goes as well as I hope, I might even treat the filthy thing to a bath too.


May 20, 2010

Work Work Work

Yes, we're still around -- but have been busy as bees in Spring the past few days. Doctor and dentist appointments, working on the RV pad here at the farm, running the bus-house into town for a fluid exchange, completely washing the exterior of the bus-house (she's lookin' good now!), cutting down a few trees and continuing our "sprucin' up" of the farm yard... and more that isn't jumping to mind right now. If I worked out like this on a regular basis I'd be one fine physical specimen.

We're making a run into Madison today. My Dad has a doctors appointment so Mom, Dar, and I will hunt down lunch someplace and work in a little shopping. We love Trader Joes and make it a point to stop whenever we're close to one... which isn't all that often.

When we return, I've got to get up on the roof with a tube of sealant and finish repairing a few small joints where the factory applied silicone has cracked -- noticed them while scrubbing the camper the other day. Hmmm... three years, huh? The roof has been leak-free since we took delivery and I want to keep it that way. Of course, the rain in the forecast for tomorrow is providing motivation to get it done tonight.

May 16, 2010

Woodpecker Alarm

I've been occupying my time trying to chip away at "the list", but progress has been slow. We've got the RV pad at the farm ready to use and moving day will probably be Tuesday. We'll run into town for a quick fluid exchange and wash the exterior of the bus-house prior to backing onto the pad -- all of which will make for a long day.

Yesterday Dar and I went to work on the basement -- those storage "bays" under the floor of the bus-house.  From the very beginning of our journey they were a mystery to me. When they're empty they appear enormous. But when you load 'em up they seem to shrink -- quickly. And the old addage that your stuff expands to fill the available space is also true. At least once each year, hopefully on a warm calm sunny day, we pull everything out, clean the space, inspect under the floor for signs of problems (stowaways, mechanical and structural things, etc.), critically go through all the stuff and cull those things not used, re-pack boxes and bins, and re-load it all. At the end of the process, if we're still on speaking terms, we celebrate the lightening of the load and the efficient, logical, organization of it all. The process can be stressful but it's necessary to keep creeping possession-ism in check. I'm always amazed that there are couples living fulltime in much smaller campers -- and they somehow make it work.

The past few days I've been awakened by a woodpecker having breakfast on the tree next to our camper. Because nights have been warmer lately, I've had my window open (ah, fresh air!). Most sounds from the outdoors are like white noise to me -- they lull me to sleep. But a busy woodpecker is like an alarm clock, and this guy is certainly busy.

Wondering if he's got a "snooze bar"...

May 11, 2010

Huddled Around the Heater

Special events brought us to Wisconsin early this year. In addition to this past weekends 60th wedding anniversary celebration we have a formal family picture planned and another wedding later this month. Oh, and then Dar's high school class reunion next month, a couple of doctor's appointments, dentist visits, jury duty, and I don't know what all else. As I've mentioned before, we'll be busy.

The early visit to Wisconsin is reminding us just how changeable the weather can be this time of year in these northern latitudes. As I write this Tuesday morning, the wind is howling out of the east and rain is pelting the bus-house. My outdoor thermometer says 43 degrees but it sounds and feels even colder than that. At any rate I'm not planning to move from my warm lair until thing improve.

Mom & Dad's 60th celebration was Sunday and we all had a great time. Dar and I enjoyed seeing and talking to family we hadn't seen in almost a year. The honorees, who desired the celebration be kept low-key, were a bit shocked that many of the grand-kids showed up -- unexpected and the "surprise" element of the day.

Yesterday, Monday, we worked at upgrading the RV pad we put in last summer. Dar's adding a border of  concrete pavers and we're adding a thin layer of pea gravel on top the original coarser gravel to stabilize it and provide a cleaner surface that won't track into the bus-house. If all goes well, and the weather cooperates, we should be able to park on it by the end of the week.

Huddled around the heater...

May 8, 2010

Early May in Wisconsin

After enjoying a bunch of warm and almost summer-like weather during the past few weeks, this windy, wet, and chilly spell that descended on the Upper Midwest the past few days is beginning to wear on me. I try to keep in mind that this is early May in Wisconsin and, having lived here for much of my life, I know that May, like April, can be nice or it can be wintery... be ready for anything and you won't be surprised. Keep reminding myself -- unless you experience the extremes you can't really appreciate the mean. So com'on, enjoy it!

The past couple days we've been busy visiting family and working on some of the tasks on "the list". My brother, the professor, is jetting into town for a few weeks and I'm going along to retrieve him from the airport tonight.

Watching for snow...

May 6, 2010

60 Years

60 Years ago today, May 6, 1950, two young people, hand in hand, started on a life journey that extended far beyond that walk down the church aisle. Full of hope, and with a touch of fear, they faced the future together, eventually producing a fine family of children, grand-children, and now great grand-children.

The next few days we're celebrating with them. Here's a reprint of the announcement in the local newspaper:

Harold Hoch and Carol Mae Neis were married on May 6, 1950, at St. Peter Catholic Church (now St. Katharine Drexel). They will be celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary with their family on Mother’s Day.
Their children are Thom and Darlene (Soldner), Jerry and Debra (Krezinski), Jan and David Bilgri, and Bill. They have eight grandchildren and three great-grandsons.
Their attendants were Sharon (Neis) Kant, deceased; Floyd Hoch, June (Malak) Beers, deceased; Ed (Butch) Beers; Betty (Andercheck) Willihnganz and Cletus Willihnganz.

Happy 60th Anniversary Mom and Dad. You're the greatest Mom & Dad a blogger could hope for.

May 5, 2010

Two Months, Two Thousand Miles

From the time we left Sandollar RV Park in Rockport TX until we drove into Beaver Dam yesterday, almost two months have passed and we've added another 2,100 miles to the bus-house odometer. We spent time in the Hill Country of Texas, lingered at Palo Duro Canyon in the Texas Panhandle, found history and adventure in Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska, did some family tree research in Iowa, and finally rested for a week on the banks of the Mississippi River in Southwest Wisconsin. Along the way we camped at four Corps of Engineers campgrounds, one State Park, two County Parks, and four RV Parks. We explored four State Capitols and visited a series of museums and historic sites. Of the 11 places we camped, we stayed for 5 days or more at 7 of them. Of the 2,100 miles the bus-house covered, fewer than 200 miles were on Interstate Highways -- and by far most of that was in the Texas Panhandle.

This leg of the journey was closer to what we're finding to be our ideal travel mode -- drive less and stay longer. No hard rules, but something like drive a hundred miles and stay a week. Not always possible but you sure do become more intimate with a place if you're able to stay more than just a day or two. Oh, and stay off the Interstate Highways if possible.

We left Grant River COE near Potosi about 10am yesterday. Wanting to try a route we hadn't taken for a few years, we went north to Lancaster and Fennimore, then turned east on US-18 to Dodgeville and Madison. We skirted around Madison on the south side, caught I-90 for a few miles to pick-up US-151 northeast to Beaver Dam.

Since we'll be here with family for the next few weeks, I wanted to top off the fuel tank, which we did at a small truck stop in Columbus WI, just a few miles south of Beaver Dam. They have a truck scale there and I've been wanting to get a recent "load report" -- to see how well we've been doing in keeping the bus-house trim. We have a GVWR (gross vehicle weight rating) of 32,000 lbs. -- 20,000 on the rear axle and 12,000 on the front. With a full 105 gallons of fresh water and a full 100 gallons of diesel fuel we scaled out at 19,700 on the rear and 11,060 on the front.

As I said, we'll be here in the Beaver Dam area for the next few weeks. We have a couple big family events to attend... a 60th wedding anniversary and a wedding, and then in June, Dar's high school class reunion. And there's a couple big "to-do" lists that I'll be working on too.

Better get busy...

May 4, 2010

Potosi Brewing Company

One of our little dark secrets is that we both really enjoy brewpubs and wineries as we travel throughout the USA. I can't say we've ever had anything other than a great time while sampling the wide varieties of craft beers and wines that these establishments create. And the good-natured, like-minded folks we meet during these visits just add to the enjoyable experience. I mean, who can be grumpy in a winery or a brewpub?

Benjamin Franklin once said "Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to have a good time." So, in pursuit of a good time, we came back to this Corp of Engineers Campground, conveniently situated close to Potosi, WI., the home of the historic Potosi Brewery. We were here back in October of 2008 when I documented our visit to the National Brewing Museum [link to Journal post], which is housed in the refurbished Potosi Brewery.

What I didn't write about at that time was the small micro brewery, brewpub and restaurant known as the Potosi Brewing Company (PBC) that's also housed on the old brewery grounds... and that's what we focused on this year.

My preference for "craft beer" has grown stronger over the years, and has apparently rubbed off on Dar. She absolutely fell in love with one of their concoctions called Scotch Ale, among their more robust offerings. My preference has tended more toward the "hoppy" side of things, and I'm a sucker of most any IPA (India Pale Ale) that's made. PBC brews one called Snake Hollow that kept my interest most of the week.

During the past few days we've had lunch there, dinner there, enjoyed happy hour there, and, as you'd expect, gotten to know almost everyone on a first name basis. The crew is as laid-back and as friendly as you'd expect an establishment like this in Rural Wisconsin to be. We especially enjoyed meeting Steve Buszka, the Brewmaster and magician who creates these unique and tasty brews.

If you find yourself in the extreme Southwest corner of Wisconsin -- and you should as the countryside itself is stunning and unlike anything in the rest of Wisconsin -- take some time to visit Potosi and the Potosi Brewing Company. You'll be glad you did.

Tuesday morning we'll be pulling up the jacks and getting the bus-house rolling toward Beaver Dam. The weather looks agreeable and the short drive should have us there by mid-afternoon.


May 3, 2010

Blog Together Again

Some readers may remember that I switched from Yahoo! to Blogger for my blog-host about a year ago. At that time I was able to, one-by-one, copy the posts from the first few months of 2009 to Blogger so I'd have all of 2009 (and beyond) in one place. I also created a link to the pre-2009 posts that still pointed to the old blog on Yahoo!... a workable but inconvenient situation that left The RV Sabbatical Journal divided.

But one of my projects that bubbled to the top of "the list" recently was to unify the Journal in one place -- to migrate all the old posts to the new blog. I probably spent more time finding a "quick" way to do it than if I had just copied and pasted one post at a time. But in the past few days my efforts have succeeded and we now have the Journal re-united again. You you check out the archives of my previous posts over there in the sidebar, you'll see 2007 and 2008 are now available here. With no need any longer to link to the previous "old" blog, I'll be removing the link to it in the next few days.

My motivation for doing all this is the online service called Blog2Print [] that I found a couple months ago. It gives bloggers the tools to create a book from their blog. They format the book directly from the online blog, re-organize it so it's in chronological order (instead of blog order), provide some tools to add photos and other pages, print it and bind it all together into a book. It's not cheap, but I like the idea of having The RV Sabbatical Journal on paper and in chronological order --  something that might be more permanent than the electronic version floating out there in cyber-space, and be more enjoyable for us to peruse when we're re-living those memories of our travels.

May 2, 2010

RV'ing with a Dog

Questions for Thom...

 I recently received an email from a reader asking (and I paraphrase)... "Thom, why don't you ever write about your dog?"

Well, that's an easy one... we don't have a dog. But I dare say the questioner's assumption that we have one is understandable. Most RV'ers, by far the majority, have a dog, often more than one.

Some RV'er pet-owners have pets that are not dogs... we've seen cats, exotic birds, ferrets, and we did run across one fellow who thought he had a snake... hadn't seen it for a couple weeks, but thought it was "still in there somewhere". But all the "other" pets combined are just a small sliver of the pet pie. The vast majority are dog owners.

We were out for an evening stroll around an RV park late last year, just the two of us, when this woman comes up to us and demands "Where's your dog?" For a moment I feared that maybe this RV park had a rule about it... maybe you must have a dog to get in. But no, not a rule... just an assumption.. and perhaps a little fear of some new campers with questionable credentials -- "They're not like us... they might be people who don't like dogs!"

But Dar and I absolutely LOVE dogs. We do! We have a few "grand-dogs" in the extended family and always enjoy scratching their ears, playing catch, going for walks, picking up their poop. We're just at the point in our lives where we love them a lot more when they belong to someone else. We're at that same point in our lives when it comes to kids too. But I don't think that makes us bad people, does it?

Seriously, we've made a conscious decision that, for us, having a dog along would really complicate things when we're exploring, traveling, and trying to live in just 300 square feet. But I want to make it clear that this decision was for us... we realize and understand that others simply can't be alone and can't live without these furry members of the family -- and that's OK. We love scratching your dog's ears as much as any.


May 1, 2010

A Growing To-Do List

Whenever we're close to one of our extended camps... Wisconsin or Washington or Texas... we find ourselves making up a to-do list of all the things, big and small, that we want to accomplish while not preoccupied with traveling and exploring. Sometimes I misplace the list and start a replacement -- only to find the first one and then I've got two lists to deal with. This time, as we approach a pause in our travels, "the list" has grown to proportions I've never seen before. I haven't seen anything about "securing world peace" but I do recall something about taking care of the Gulf oil spill problem (I think that was on Dar's side... I hope)

So between visiting with Family and "the list", we'll be jumping and staying pretty busy the next few weeks. But that's OK too. Sometimes we delude ourselves that this fulltiming lifestyle is like a big vacation -- in theory... just take it easy, relax, and enjoy. However, there's a difference between theory and reality. The reality is that we've got work to do sometimes. And that's a good thing... I think.

I've also been thinking about how to handle this Journal during our Wisconsin stay. While some bloggers religiously post each and every day (they're animals!... com'on, EVERY DAY!!?) I haven't had that level of determination or commitment... and probably never will. But my almost-daily postings of late will certainly drop off somewhat -- I can't say for sure. I'll try to keep the entries interesting and rewarding... at least once in a while.

Musing along the Mississippi...

Cleaner Email on a Bright May Day

After a series of thunderstorms moved through the area last night, things cleared up, calmed down, and we woke to bright sun this morning.

One of my projects yesterday was to clean up our email. And by "clean up" I don't mean simply to trudge through it all, read it, and decide whether to save or dispose of it. No, I mean to make an effort to eliminate much of it at the source.

Let me explain. Over the past few years a growing amount of email has been automatically dumped into our inbox each day from various sources. Most of it we've agreed to... a daily email with the recipe of the day... a daily digest of the latest Yahoo forum postings... daily reminders from Prevention Magazine to eat healthy... updates on this or that... you get the idea. Well, the volume of this type of email has grown to maybe 20 or more each day. It's gotten to the point that most of the email we get is simply dumped without even looking at the body of the message. And that's kinda' stupid.

So yesterday I found the source for each of those I figured we could do without and turned them off. Even though some sites said it could be a few days before these automatic messages would stop coming through, I can see a dramatic difference already. My intention is to continue to keep the email sent to us as clean as possible. We love getting messages from friends and family with news about what's going on in their lives -- but we can certainly do without the recipe-of-the-day or the digest of the rants of a few individuals on some of the forums I belong to.

Oh, and something else I've found a partial solution to... unwanted forwards, which make up another significant slug of the email we receive. As I said above, we love to hear from people that want to connect with us to deepen the friendship or family ties. But the only time we hear from some people is when they're forwarding emails originated by someone else... email chain letters, political messages, jokes, and other "cute" things that just don't do it for us. The problem with email is that it's too easy for people to just forward this stuff to everyone in their address book -- without thinking about the time it takes to download it and figure out what to do with it all on the receiving end. Additionally, there's the concern that these forwards are harboring viruses and other malware that can screw up a PC in short order.

I won't say specifically what I did to handle these unwanted forwards... only to say that I was able to create a series of "rules" on my email providers server that sends them to a separate online folder that won't be downloaded when I retrieve email... especially important if we're on a slow connection, like here along the Mississippi in Southwest Wisconsin. Occasionally, I'll glance at that online folder to see if the rules trapped anything that I may have wanted.

I'm sorry if I'm upsetting anyone that reads this. But it's how I feel. We'd love to hear from you... but cool it with the forwards and just send a short note that let's us know how things are going with you.


Beyond Branson; Pondering Future Travel

This past Tuesday, we moved from Branson to a very nice Corps of Engineer’s Park on Wappapello Lake.  We’re in the Redman Creek CG. This fac...