Oct 30, 2010

Pondering the Blog

Yesterday, Friday, we stayed at the camper all day. Dar spent a lot of time getting caught up on photos from this past fall that hadn't been processed and uploaded to online albums yet. I worked on a few small projects and spent some time soaking up some sun while reading with my Kindle (still happy as a clam with it!).

It's days like this, with no pressure to be anywhere or to do anything in particular, that I also ponder about things. Among the subjects of this reflection yesterday was this blog... the Journal. Lately, I've been a little dissatisfied with how it's evolved... or, I guess you might say, how I've "evolved" it... since it's all me. If it's turned into this or that, I'm the only one to blame since I'm the only author. My dissatisfaction comes from what I think is the mundane nature of most entries -- something that wasn't planned, but something that just happened. It's easier to write a daily diary of events than it is to write mindful self-reflections, insights, and interpretations of some aspect of what you did or saw or thought. One of the primary purposes of traditional journaling is self-discovery through the process of putting your thoughts down on paper. OK, but it can't be that all the time either.

I'd also like the journal to be a place where I can occasionally express myself creatively, to be a little crazy once in a while, to write something really out of the ordinary, maybe some poetry, maybe an ultra-short story. A couple years ago I did some of that and really enjoyed it. I think it's time to do some of that again.

Clearly, there's no right or wrong here. If someone wants their blog to be a diary of events, or a list of places they visited, or just a place to display their photos... that's OK. It's their blog and it can be whatever they want it to be.

But when I look back over my recent journal entries, I was somehow hoping for more. To that end, I have resolved to work a little harder at spicing things up a bit.


I have two driving purposes for the Journal... first, is to keep family, friends, and curious others updated on our location, activities, thoughts, and experiences; and second, to be a permanent record of our travels, our thoughts, our experiences... a legacy, if you will... so our kids, grand-kids, and, maybe, future generations might have a chance to understand a little more about crazy Thom and nutty Dar, those two strange but intrepid explorer ancestors.

Blogging works well for the first reason... keeping others updated. But I'm uncomfortable with how well it does with the second... the legacy. All these words and images are out there in cyberspace... on someone's blog-hosting server, and perhaps in some computer files somewhere.. Will it still be there, and be readable, in 5 years? or 10? or 20??  I'm not sure. How many computer files you produced 20 years ago are still readable or even available today?

Because of this issue, we've started producing a printed book of the Journal for every full calendar year we've been on the road. So far, we've done 2007 and 2008, and I'm working on getting 2009 together. The books are professionally bound soft-covers printed on high quality 8-1/2 x 11" glossy paper. Their not cheap... the 2009 edition is over 200 pages and will cost in the area of $60 or $70 per copy. But they're perfect for the purpose of a legacy document that can be handed down from one generation to the next. I also like how the individual journal entries in these books can be presented in chronological order rather than the reverse-chronological order of an online blog -- it makes the book more readable... an unfolding story.

I use Blog2Print.com for these annual books, but please don't take this reference as an endorsement or an ad. It's just the service I started working with and have had some luck with. I'm sure there are others "out there" that work just as well.


Oct 29, 2010

Northwest Nevada

This morning, Friday, we find ourselves in Fernley, NV. We're at the Desert Rose RV Park which we'll use as our base for the next week.

The drive from Standish CA. yesterday was quick and pleasant... just a little over 100 miles. The route on US-395 took us into Reno and then east on I-80 along the Truckee River. The town of Fernley is about 30 miles east of Reno and certainly more rural in feel... you know how much I like crowding and congestion.

We decided to plant ourselves here for a week. Among the possible things-to-do are Lake Tahoe, Carson City (Nevada's State Capital), Virginia City (see what Ben, Hoss, Adam, and Little Joe are up to), and Pyramid Lake. We could also use some soaking up sun time.

Digging through the drawer looking for my shorts...

Oct 28, 2010

California for a Night

Wednesday, yesterday, we made it another 210 miles on our trek southward. However, due to the cold, getting underway took a little extra effort and provided an opportunity to learn a thing or two. The temperature sank to 20f degrees that morning and had only risen to 24f by the time we were ready to get rolling. We're old hands when it comes to living in a camper on frozen nights... as low as 5f degrees, if I remember right, back in West Texas a couple years ago. But this was one of the few times we've buttoned up the bus-house for travel while it was that cold. When the slides were retracted, it became apparent the slide-toppers (small awnings that cover the very top of the slide) were coated with some ice and very stiff... and didn't want to retract properly. Getting up on the roof, which had it's own thin layer of frost and ice, to work on the problem from "up there", didn't seem wise. But after some effort by Dar at the slide retraction switches, and me outside knocking ice from the toppers as they retracted, we got them stowed. The other issue was the tow-bar we use to pull the car. It apparently got wet and one of the arm locks had frozen and wouldn't lock. After a little gentle urging the lock was unfrozen, locked properly, and we could be on our way.

The drive took us through Klamath Falls, OR., and then south on OR-39 which becomes CA-139 on crossing the border into California. At Canby, we jogged east a few miles and picked up US-395 for the balance of the drive. We finally threw out the anchor a little after 3pm at Standish, CA., where we found an acceptable camp for the night. Notice the refreshing lack of snow.

It was still chilly last night but we stayed above freezing and the morning sky looks agreeable for our short drive today. We've got our sights set on Fernley, NV., about a half hour east of Reno and only a hundred miles or so down the road. Since we're ahead of schedule, we may linger there for a few days. You may remember that Dar is going to fly back to Wisconsin during the weekend of Nov. 13 to join her Mom and Favorite Sister in getting ready for the upcoming holidays... mostly baking cookies and sampling holiday spirits of various kinds I'm sure. Her flight arrangements have her flying from Las Vegas in about two weeks. So if we find some sun and warmth... well, it'll feel good to have shorts on again while exploring.


On Monday, the day we went up to Crater Lake, we stopped at the Oregon Logging History Museum on our way back home. It was just up the road from our camp at Collier State Park. The timber industry has been a driving economic force in Oregon for the past hundred years or more, and this museum is a collection of the equipment that made it all possible. Set right in the forest among tall Ponderosa Pines, where it felt right, we walked among the stuff, big and small, used to harvest massive trees from very difficult mountainous terrain. I can kill a lot of time in a place like this. The ingenuity and effort that went into designing and making these relics speaks to the technology of the day and the energy of the people involved. Each one is a frozen-in-time piece of history.

Now let's see... the sun is over there... so South... is that'a way.

Oct 27, 2010

A Different Side of Crater Lake

One of our original reasons for transiting Oregon via this route was to visit Crater Lake National Park. Of course that was before the recent series of big Pacific storms took aim at the Pacific Northwest covering anything above 5,000 feet with the first serious snowfall of the season. Checking the NPS webcams in the park [here] and [here] (daylight hours only... pleeeze!), it didn't look like we'd be seeing much even if we could get through snow-covered roads with our little front-wheel-drive toad and make it to the rim at 7,100 feet. And after the first snowfall of the season, the Rim Drive around the lake is closed for the Winter. So it appeared we missed a great opportunity to visit the park by just a week or so. Or did we? Read on.

The forecast for Tuesday, the only day we had to explore during this stop, was for snow showers interspersed with some sun breaks. The term "sun breaks" hooked us... not to mention a bad case of bus-house fever from hunkering down in that 300 sq. feet space for, what... three days now? So before you could say "Mount Mazama" we had the toad pointed uphill for the 35 mile drive to the Park.

We had visited Crater Lake before... about 20 years ago. During the time we lived in Vancouver, Dar, the kids, and I took a week long vacation to the southern Oregon coast. On the way back home we visited Crater Lake, doing all the touristy things expected... the Rim Drive, Cleetwood Trail, the Cloudcap and Phantom Ship Overlooks, and a good long stop at Rim Village as well as a visit to the Crater Lake Lodge. But that was 20 years ago. After a few years you just gotta reconcile those fading memories with reality... brighten-up the colors of those fading mind-pictures... re-confirm that those incredible scenes and evidence of the forces of nature do, really, exist.

Despite diminished expectations of what we'd be able to see, we bravely headed toward the park. Before long, the snow-less and sunny plateau south of the Park gave way to a dense pine forest covered with snow. As the climb steepened, the depth of the snow increased too. Tall Ponderosa Pines were full of snow... branches bowing under the weight... creating a cathedral-like effect that lined both sides of the road. Before we made it to the Park's South entrance at Mazama Village, there was close to a couple feet of snow on the ground. All color was gone... leaving only shades of black and white.

The roads were plowed, but the higher we climbed the more snow-covered they were. Up here there were fewer sun-breaks and more snow showers... mostly snow showers I'd say. We stopped at the Steel Information Center about 3 miles from the rim of the crater and got the low-down. OK, the road is open to Rim Village and the Visitor Center there... but that was it. We probably won't see much in the crater either. Oh, and "be careful". We were technically out of compliance with the rules by not having chains or traction tires for the car... but would Intrepid Explorers let a little thing like that stop them? We pressed on.

Finally, up at the Rim, snow showers and low dense clouds conspired to keep any actual view of the crater or lake hidden. Here, the snow was more than two feet deep. Everything was white. We stopped at the Visitor Center, had a small lunch (for a hefty $24), and checked out some exhibits while we waited for that glimpse into the crater that never came.

It's true, we weren't able to see the main attraction... and we weren't able to reconcile most of those old memories because everything was covered in snow. But we DID get to see a different side of Crater Lake... a monochromatic side... a side that not many people have ever seen. And that made the day one of the special ones in our book of explorations.

Check out our Crater Lake photo album when you get a chance.

Oct 26, 2010

Go or No Go?... Let's Go!

This morning we're in Collier Memorial State Park, about 30 miles north of Klamath Falls and 90 miles south of our last camp, the snow-camp, at LaPine State Park. We woke to 30f degrees this morning... not as cold as the forecast... and a light dusting of new snow that fell overnight. At this early hour it looks like we'll have some sun today too.

After I posted yesterdays entry to the Journal we cleaned the snow off the car and drove around to check out road conditions. About that time the snow started falling again... a snow shower... and the condtion of the roads in the park gave us reason to think we'd probably be spending another night at LaPine. The roads were snow/slush covered... maybe an inch or two deep. I've always said I didn't want to drive the camper in the snow... that we'd just wait for it to melt... which we could do, but the forecast for the next few days was not much of an improvement and I was itching to move further south.

Once we got to the main road outside the park, US-97, the snow had stopped and the road surface was wet, but clear of snow. We drove down to the town of La Pine for some provisions and gas for the car, and by the time we headed back to the campground the sun was out. My spirits lifted and we decided to move. Along the way back we made a side-trip in the park to see the "Big Tree"... Oregon's largest and oldest Ponderosa Pine. Now that's a big tree.

Back at camp, it took only 20 minutes or so to get the bus-house ready for travel. Because we wanted to minimize slush spray from the bus-house from covering the car, we decided Dar would drive separately until we got to a truck stop in La Pine where we could hook up.

Fuel is expensive in Oregon... we paid 3.34 for diesel at La Pine, which was about the observed going price during the last few days. We won't need fuel again until well into Nevada where diesel is at least 20 cents less.

Once fueled up and hooked up, the drive south was uneventful. US-97 is a good two lane road and this portion is very level and lined with tall pines on both sides. Even if we had clear blue skies and the peaks in the Cascades would have been clear of clouds, the trees along the road would have made peak-vieiwing a spotty hobby at best. Dar also remarked how much more enjoyable travel is when the toad is hooked up to the bus-house and we can be together during our drives... bantering back and forth... small comments... questions... nonsense... occasionally breaking out into song... it's just a more fullfilling and complete experience. Some fellow fulltimers always drive separately and that certainly is not our preferred style.

After a few more brief snow showers along the way, we pulled into Collier Memorial State Park about 2:30pm. This is another great Oregon State Park, a smaller one with about 40 sites. But get this... most of them are full-hookup with 50amp service. You don't find that at many State Park campgrounds in other states.

There's a few more campers here than there was at LaPine, but still plenty of sites to choose from. We selected one, backed in, and set up for a short stay. We think we'll be here two nights, as Wednesday still looks like the best weather day to move further south. During our stay we'd like to attempt a visit to Crater Lake National Park. Clouds may prevent seeing much, but we're getting bus-house fever and need to get out and do something. Click here to see an up to the minute webcam image of the entrance to Crater Lake.

Gotta run...

Oct 25, 2010

Snow at 4200 Feet

There may have been one other camper in the campground last night. Everyone else fled due to weather and maybe the realities of having to get back to a fixed life... work, commitments, appointments, etc.. Intrepid explorers, on the other hand, stay through thick and thin, good times and bad, hot and cold, rain and snow. SNOW? Did I say snow?

This was our camp this morning...

And since that picture was taken, it started lightly snowing again. The temp is holding steady at 33f degrees, which is better than the predicted lower 20's for the next couple mornings.

Our plan, ragged as it is, is to wait... wait for a break... wait for it to warm a bit... and get ourselves moved a hundred miles further south, to Collier State Park. Hopefully that will be today. The way the forecast looks at this point, Wednesday will then be the best day to make it into Northeast California (where we all know, from the song, it never rains). As we look ahead from there things should moderate as we work our way to the Reno area.

And in the time it took me to write the above paragraph it stopped snowing and the sun is out. What interesting weather.

Looking for my snow shoes...

Oct 24, 2010

The Waiting Game

The story of the day is still the weather, at least as far as we're concerned. There's a long line of storms and moisture out in the Pacific, driven by a strong jet-stream, aimed right at the Northwest. The accompanying satellite image shows what we're dealing with.

It looks like we'll get a break in the action on Monday... at least that's the hope. If not Monday then Tuesday. We don't need much of a hole as we're just going south about 100 miles to our next camp. We want to visit Crater Lake National Park... that too was a hope... but if this weather pattern persists we may just keep driving south until we find sun and a little warmth. We're also being pinched by the impending seasonal closure of some Oregon State Park Campgrounds. Oregon east of the Cascades experiences a real winter and it makes no sense to keep campgrounds open for the trickle of people like us.

But we're making the best of it. Yesterday afternoon the clouds thinned and the sun actually came out for a few hours... and we took advantage of the break to enjoy a long walk around the park. We're in a pine forest, mostly Ponderosa and Lodgepole Pines, some of them hundreds of years old. They're truly magnificent things to be around... two hundred feet high and many feet around. In the photo above I'm trying to get an idea of the circumference of this Ponderosa... estimated about 13 feet. That reddish-orange bark is a characteristic of the Ponderosa.

If we can catch a break in the rain this afternoon we'd like to visit the 500 year old "Big Tree" here in Lapine State Park. It's the largest Ponderosa Pine in Oregon.

Watching the rain...

Oct 23, 2010

Ups and Downs into the High Desert

Having said our "good-byes" the night before, we had the bus-house ready to roll by 9:30am yesterday. Encouraged by patches of blue sky and a few sun-peeks, we headed east on I-84 through the scenic Columbia Gorge. I've been through the Gorge many times over the years and I'm always, every time, in awe of the stunning beauty. It doesn't matter what season or what weather, there's always something you haven't seen before in quite the same way. In my book it's one of the most amazing and inspiring drives one can find in these United States.

At The Dalles we turned south on US-197 and started up the hill. Having begun the day along the Columbia River at just a few feet above sea level, we have to climb over 4,000 feet before ending the day at our planned camp in the LaPine State Park in Central Oregon. Due to severe relief caused by eons of erosion as water finds the quickest way to the big river, we still had plenty of downhill grades to accompany the generally uphill trend along the way. At one point, after having attained almost 2,800 feet, we lost half that, 1,400 feet, as we dropped down to the Deschutes River at the little town of Maupin. Twists and turns and switchbacks kept the driver busy and presented great scenic "photo-ops" for the chief photographer.

As we worked our way south, through Madras, Redmond, and Bend, we found these towns have dramatically changed in the almost 20 years since we lived in the Northwest and would sometimes spend holidays over here. Then, they were sleepy outposts at the margin of the Cascade Mountains and the high desert. Now they're bustling hubs of activity and apparent affluence. Many folks from California moved here during those years, taking advantage of the big difference in real estate values. (Of course, that just drove up the values of everything here too.) It's an attractive area for a number of reasons... since it's the dry side of the mountains the sun shines a lot more than it does in Portland or Seattle, and easy access to Cascade Mountains through the back door provide all kinds of camping, hiking, fishing and other recreational opportunities. And because this side of the mountains experience a real winter, complete with cold temps and snow, winter sports are also a big thing here.

If you remember, we moved a day early to try to get ahead of impending winter-like weather. Well, for the next few days it looks like we'll be hunkered down here at LaPine State Park. The forecast is a complete package... it's got everything you can imagine: rain, periods of sun, snow, low temps in the low 20f's, high temps in the low 40f's. Oh, and let's not forget the high wind warning for the next couple days.

We'd really like to find a hole in the weather about Monday and make it to another Oregon State Park down near Crater Lake. It would put us a hundred miles further south and we'd like to visit Crater Lake National Park if possible. But all plans are day-to-day right now.

Dar has more photos from our day on our online photo gallery. Check them out when you have a few minutes.

It might be cold outside... but it's warm in the camper....

Oct 21, 2010

Next Year Kids

It's getting late and I have a knot in my stomach. Earlier tonight we said our good-byes to Andrea, Gage, Ryan, Evan, and the rest of our Northwest Family. Those month-old roots are hard to pull out... it takes time to adapt to being on the road again.

The plan is to depart Vancouver Friday morning in the predicted 50% chance of rain and head up the Columbia River Gorge to the eastern side of the Cascade Mountains. Because the mountains always wring-out a goodly amount of water from the typical west-to-east moving weather systems that come rolling in off the Pacific Coast, it's often dryer on the eastern flanks of the mountains than on the western side. We'll try to use that phenomenon to our benefit as we float south over the next few weeks.

The objective Friday is to make it as far as LaPine State Park just south of Bend, OR. We'll use that spot to re-group emotionally and see what the weather gods have in store for us. Next week we'll spend some time at another State Park near Crater Lake before dropping into California and Nevada.

I'd like to take this opportunity to extend a big "THANK YOU" to Andrea, Gage, Duane, Shirleen, Ron, Sue, Tom, Rose, and all the many others we met and talked and mingled with during the past month. And to Mark and Shelly... if ya'll hadn't taken off for the islands... and if we'd done a better job managing our time... well, we'll just have to catch up with you two on the next trip. Visiting the Northwest always makes us feel like we've come home... and someday, it might just be that again.


Oct 20, 2010

A Kindle

A few weeks ago I bought a Kindle e-reader. Not being an “early adopter” of new technologies and a bit put-off by the price the early Kindles commanded, I’m way behind the tech curve on this one. Millions of people already own a Kindle or one of many similar devices that have emerged in this new e-book market over the past couple years.

But two things have happened to make my own Kindle a reality: first, Amazon has seen fit to lower the price of it’s most basic model to just $139, just within the reach of our budget. Second, I’ve been able to convince the Safety Director that moving some of my library from paper and ink books to digital format will take many pounds of weight out of the bus-house that could then be used for more girl-clothes, shoes, or maybe just keeping the bus-house light and nimble.

I wasn’t sure I really wanted to give up on books just yet. There’s something friendly and practical about a book. It’s a tangible thing that one can own in the traditional sense… share, pass it around. They’re easy to transport and don’t require batteries and a charger. After being dropped onto concrete books can usually still be used… they're very durable. Dropping a digital reader onto concrete is usually fatal… for the Kindle.

Not nearly as slick as an I-pad, it’s a purpose-built device designed for one thing… reading text. It connects to Amazon through any open Wi-Fi system and hundreds of thousands of books are available, most for 10 bucks or less. Another bonus… books out of copyright and in the public domain are free. If I hear about a book that sounds interesting to me, all it takes is a few clicks and I can have it in my Kindle within minutes. All this is done through Amazon.com, who also maintain a record of your book purchases and allow you to download books you’ve purchased to other devices like an I-pad or your pc. In the event your Kindle is stolen or breaks, your purchased books can be loaded into a replacement Kindle for no charge.

I don’t intend for this to be an ad for Amazon and the Kindle. There are other e-readers out there… the Nook from Barnes and Noble, and many others that function similarly and work just fine I’m sure. But considering the new low price, I thought Amazon and the Kindle was the best overall package for me.

So how’s it working out for me? So far… so good. I’ve been a reading machine the past few weeks. The monochrome screen?… it’s as close to the look of paper as I’ve seen. Just like a real book, it’s usable in bright sun or under your reading light at night. Because it doesn’t display color and it’s not a touchscreen, it’s certainly not going to replace your I-pad. But I’ve still got my laptop pc for all that internet browsing, blogging, and communicating.

I don’t think I’ll ever give up on regular paper and ink books completely. But this little device sure does a good job of keeping my nose in a book instead of pointed at the TV.

Oct 19, 2010

A Note about Comments on this Blog

If you never comment on this blog, you can probably skip this post and use your valuable time in more rewarding ways.

A week ago or so I changed the settings on The RV Sabbatical Journal to allow readers to comment freely on my posts without having to deal with "word verification" or "comment moderation". For the uninitiated, these are two ways to reduce the amount of "spam" comments that could show up on a blog posting... comments that have an ulterior motive, usually to get a reader to click on a link that leads to who-knows-where, ultimately trying to sell something or some service. They are counterfeit and they're not wanted by most bloggers. I took this action because Blogger, the blog hosting service I use for my blogs, has a pretty good spam filter that catches almost all the spam comments that come through. I thought.

During the past week, I've had two instances of spam comments that have crept into the blog. Fortunately, neither was offensive on their face, just a short insincere fake comment and a link to somewhere in cyberspace. Both I deleted quickly.

However, I don't blog every day and I certainly don't want to be checking for spam comments multiple times each day. And sometimes we're camped in places where we have no access to the internet for days and I don't want to be worrying about spam during these glorious days off the grid.

So, before some truly offensive or damaging comment makes it into my blog without my knowledge, I'm turning "word verification" back on. I know it's a pain, but it's going to make me rest a tad easier knowing there's some kind of barrier between these nefarious cyber-kooks and my blog. For now, if you comment you'll have to do the word verification step (you know, "enter the word you see in the box above...") but your comment will appear immediately.

I sincerely hope this works. If, somehow, spam still makes it through, I'll have to turn moderation back on (approving every comment before it's posted), or just turn commenting off altogether.  That would be unfortunate.

Chased by Weather Again?

Last year, on our way south from the Northwest, a series of weather disturbances kept us moving along, pushing us, until we got to southeastern New Mexico. The issue was being in the high-country during the late fall, where temps and precipitation fall in unpredictable ways sometimes.

As I look at the prognostications from the weather-folk for the next week I wonder if we're starting the same pattern again. Our rather nice and dry autumn of the last few weeks looks like it's coming to a screeching halt about this coming Friday afternoon, with rain likely for the following 4 or 5 days. We're scheduled to leave Saturday of course. Consultations with the safety director and our family may move this up a day. We'll see how the vote turns out.

When we do leave we'll be heading up the Columbia River Gorge to get to the eastern side of the Cascades, and then south through Central Oregon. Along the way we'd like to maybe visit Crater Lake National Park -- haven't been there for over 20 years.. After cutting off a corner of California we'll find a good two lane road that heads south through Nevada. We do have to be in the Las Vegas area by the 9th or 10th as Dar is going to fly back to Wisconsin for a weekend from there. And that means I'll be in LV for 5 whole days by myself. Dar's worried I'll gamble away the nest-egg.

Today, Tuesday, Dar and I will be working on getting more chores done and getting the bus-house ready to roll -- whatever day that turns out to be.


Oct 17, 2010

House Guests

Last night we had a couple overnight guests at the bus-house... a rather rare occurrence, thus something worth documenting here in the journal.

We watched a movie (Shrek), made a big tub of popcorn (don't worry Mom, it was low-fat and very healthful), and stayed up way too late. But we had an absolute blast and these two guys can come back any time they'd like.


Oct 12, 2010

Simple Project Takes All Day

Yesterday I started on my to-do list of maintenance and cleaning projects... and never got beyond the first one. My thinking was to pick an easy one and knock it out quick as a way to build a little momentum. But sometimes, as we all know, things don't always go as planned.

The first item on the list was the kitchen faucet. It's one of those cheap RV models that came with the bus-house when it was punched out at the plant in Indiana in the spring of 2007. We've grown to like the function of this unit -- the spout part pulls out and can be used as a hand-held sprayer. But it was becoming progressively harder to swing from side to side between the two sink bowls, and had actually stopped swinging altogether in the past few weeks.

My thought was to get under the sink and loosen the big nut that secures the faucet to the counter-top... that perhaps it was binding from being too tight. So after cleaning out a work space in the cabinet below the sink, I went in with wrench and flashlight in hand... only to find that the nut in question wasn't too tight at all... maybe just a little more than finger tight. Hmmm.

So I removed the entire faucet assembly and studied it for a while, looking for a way to disassemble it and, hopefully, find a way to remedy the problem. I'm not a mechanical whiz by any means, but I couldn't see any way to break it down into it's component parts without destroying it in the process. It became clear that replacement was going to be the solution. Besides, it might be time to replace this regularly used item with a higher quality and repairable residential faucet.

After a couple trips to Home Depot, a little adapting here and there, and about 5 more hours than originally planned, we now have a new Moen kitchen faucet that has a five year warranty and is able to be repaired. After pressure testing all the new connections and living with it for a day, the confidence is building that it will serve us well.

The other day I found a great deal on a small propane powered portable radiant heater. I've been interested in expanding our options for heating the bus-house in various situations and this thing fills a hole we had in our heater arsenal. When plugged into 120v power we have three ways to keep warm... the horribly inefficient and noisy RV furnace that's built into the bus-house. It's rated at 40,000 btu (input) but I'd be surprised if we got any more than half that actually into our living space. Option 2 is the heat pump cycle on our Penguin A/Cs. And option 3 is a small portable electric space heater.

The problem has been that when boondocking (no hookups and completely self-contained and self-sufficient), we only have one option... that noisy RV furnace we hate so much. Despite it's multiple bad habits, it does have one thing going for it... it doesn't require 120v power. It only needs 12v battery power for the controls and blower fan, and propane as the fuel. But that good news also has a bad news element... it uses so much 12v power that a cold night will drain our battery bank.

Some people shy away from unvented portable propane heaters. There are dangers if not used correctly. And for that reason we won't be using it while we sleep. I just want to keep the camper toasty until bed time when the ugly old RV furnace will take over. It might also come in handy to extend our outdoor time on cold evenings... you know... watching sunsets, the night sky, satellites, and more.

Preparing for Winter like a squirrel...

Oct 10, 2010

Praise to Moms and Dads Out There

Even though I’m a Dad, and even though I went through the whole child-raising process, a long time ago, (twice in fact… but with a huge amount of help from Dar), at this point in the weekend I just feel a need to heap praise on all those young Moms and Dads out there – those unsung heroes – who not only find a way to survive the process themselves but are able to get their kids through it as well. As I sit hear today, Sunday afternoon, with our two little charges tucked away for naps, my weary body and mind are acutely aware of how huge this job really is and the near-total repression of one’s adult needs that must occur in favor of the needs of the little ones’. In times like this it’s also crystal clear to me why we’ve evolved in such a way that having babies and raising kids is the realm of the young.

I, for one, would be in favor of more days honoring you Moms and Dads that are still on active duty with small kids. One day per year just doesn’t seem like enough. Maybe one per month?

Thinking about a nap for myself…


Oct 9, 2010

Rain Happens

It’s about 3pm on Saturday afternoon. The house is quiet – except for the mechanical hum of pumps emanating from the refrigerator and the fish tank… white-noise really. The two boys are in their rooms… sleeping I presume, since they can’t be this quiet for this long if their eyes are open and their little minds are busy plotting the next misadventure. Dar ran to the store for a few things. Outside, it’s raining and foggy and dreary.

And inside, inside my head and heart, it’s raining and foggy and dreary too. We’re only about a week from having to say “good-bye” to our Northwest Family again and getting our journey of discovery re-started. It’s always traumatic… always difficult… and I always seem to acquire this bout of melancholy after we’re camped near family for an extended period of time.

On the one hand, I really love being mobile and free… experiencing new places and situations… bringing history alive by being at the site of events that shaped our past. But on the other hand, family and friends and grandkids enrich the soil of life in a place like this… providing anchorage for my quick-growing roots and making it much harder to leave.

Rain happens. But the sun will shine soon.

Oct 8, 2010

Weekend Trial

Trial by fire… this certainly isn’t going to be just a drill… no, it’s the real thing! This is shaping up to be an all grandkids all the time weekend… up close and very personal.

You see, our daughter and son-in-law, Andrea and Gage, are getting away for the weekend… sans kids. We gifted them with this weekend babysitting gig for their anniversary in August -- a good sounding gift, I thought, one they probably wouldn’t take us up on (wink). But I was wrong.

Don’t get me wrong, we love being with the kids, but we like it more when Mom and Dad are around to handle the more, how do you say…, messy chores, and we can just hang out and spoil the heck out of ‘em until we have to go home.

But, alas, they called our bluff and we’re mentally preparing ourselves for the task at hand… watching over one 5-ish and one 2-ish year old boys… keeping them healthy, fed, clean, and safe for two whole days. In theory, this will be big job, one that requires a lot of energy and complete concentration. In reality, we’ll love it.

During the next two days I may journal more -- if we get a break or have any energy left at the end of the day.

Have a great time at the beach Andi and Gage! The boys are in good hands.


Oct 4, 2010

Debit Card Fraud

credit-card-imageWe had one of our debit cards compromised this past week.

Because debit card transactions directly hit your bank account (versus credit card transactions where you have a chance to review your charges before actually paying for them) we’ve always been judicious in the use of them. Our basic policy is that we only use the debit card when we’re actually taking possession of the goods or services we’re buying on the spot… for example, grocery stores and other established retail businesses where we’re exchanging goods directly for cash.

We never use the debit card when buying online, any advanced purchase (like airline tickets, concert tickets, etc), or anytime we’re not sure of the complete integrity of a seller. A credit card gives you an added layer of review, approval, and protection.

About a month ago I was reviewing our bank checking account activity online and found a “pending charge” to something listed cryptically as M*Telkom. I immediately called the bank’s customer service line and disputed the charge. They told me at that time that being a “pending” charge it could be a mistake and might correct itself in the next day or so. Also, because the transaction was “pending”, they couldn’t do anything until the transaction was complete and the funds had been taken out of the account. Taking this information at face value, I checked the account activity again a day or two later and found the transaction had indeed dropped off. Problem solved… I thought.

But when looking into our account online again one day last week, I found a completed transaction to the same M*Telkom for about $177 that had been paid just the day before. I won’t get into a rant here about customer service reps. in India, only to say we had a frustrating hour or so on the phone before I finally got a guy named Dan in Columbus Ohio who was quick and efficient at solving the immediate problem. The funds were back in our account, with interest (a whopping 2 cents.. woo hoo!), the next day.

The business that originated the charge, Dan told me, is a “direct marketer” in South Africa. It sounded like he too was questioning the veracity of this business. How they got ahold of the debit card number that was used for this transaction is a mystery to me.

Needless to say, the debit card was cancelled and a new one with a new number was sent.

I can only speculate that this “business” hits random accounts with charges (however they get valid card numbers) and hopes the account owner fails to discover the fraud by not checking each transaction carefully.

It’s clearly very important to check the activity in your accounts often and with care. I know I’m planning to check mine more often in the future. I’m also using our bank’s “email alerts” capability to have an email sent to my cellphone for every debit card transaction. This works extremely well… I often hear the text message arriving on the phone before I get home from the grocery store… a great use of technology.

Hmmm. $58 to a spa in Portland??? Dar?, You got some ‘splainin’ to do!


*addendum: After publishing this entry, I realized I missed another rule we try to follow if using a debit card: Never surrender possession of the card to anyone else for any reason. The most common situation like this would be paying for a meal in a restaurant… where the waitperson takes your card to complete the transaction. Whenever we have a situation where we have to give up possession of the debit card, we always use the credit card instead.

Oct 3, 2010

Sunday Musings

While we've been busy with grandkids and visiting family, September slipped away and October is already three days old. A steady stream of snowbirds and fulltimers are flowing through the RV park here... and, like migrating birds, they’re generally headed south, fleeing the inevitable onset of Winter. It’s that time of year again.

Wine Tasting near Hood River, OR.For most of the North, October is the month of greatest change, decrease, in average temps. Since we started fulltiming three and a half years ago it’s been a continual surprise to us just how short and intense the summer really is… especially in the west. For example, the average high temperature in Zion National Park is over 70f degrees for only 5 months; in Albuquerque, NM., only 6 months. And when the high is less than 70f, the low is often in the 40f’s or less. During the course of the year, we certainly use a heater of some kind a lot more than we ever use an air conditioner.

We're already past the halfway point in our stay here in Vancouver, WA., and I'm starting to look at possible routes and camps for our own migration. I don’t like how fast time flies by during our Northwest visits, but it is our lifestyle right now… to really see North America while we have good health and are able to do it.

By the way, the pictures on today’s post are selected images from the past week or two. They don’t have much to do with my words… just enjoy them. And Dar has been working to upload more photos from the past few weeks into albums in our online photo gallery. Check them out if you’d like.

Now it’s time to jump on the ‘way-back’ machine and revisit that day a couple weeks ago when we finished our US-2 project… September 15th, if I’m not mistaken. At the time I said I’d write about it later… and this is “later” enough.

If you remember [link to that day’s other post], we had just finished an incredibly scenic drive from Grand Coulee, into the Columbia River Valley, and over the Cascade Range on US-2. The western terminus of US-2 is where it joins I-5 in Everett, WA., some distance north of Seattle. Since we were getting there mid-afternoon, and since I had little desire to brave rush-hour traffic through the Seattle metroplex, I thought we’d just do a quick Walmart overnight and make the run through Seattle and down to Vancouver the next day.

But we found the chosen Walmart to be less than ideal for our plan. It was an older store with a very small parking lot with lots of traffic and few places to securely park the way we prefer during these overnights. I checked with store management who gave me the OK to stay for a night. But something just didn’t feel right.

Curiously, there were a lot of cars parked around the far perimeter of the lot, along with a small collection of old RV’s, some of which looked like they weren’t exactly road-worthy. With a second, closer, look, we found that most of these cars had people sitting in them… one per. Hmmm. Why would they be parked way out here if they were waiting for a shopping partner? Since it was now raining, it even made less sense.

As we waited, both for the rain to subside and for some cars to move so we could improve our overnight spot, it was becoming apparent that these car-dwellers were exactly that… people living in their cars… and probably staying here overnight, every night. Hmmm. When the rain lightened up, some of these car-dwellers got out of their cars and started to group together with other car-dwellers. Then bagged bottles were pulled out and shared as cigarette smoke wafted about these impromptu gatherings… homeless happy hour.

Now I feel some sorrow and empathy for homeless people, but I do think there’s an element of choice in many of their stories. I can’t say I felt in danger, but I also know I wouldn’t have slept well with drinkers and partiers just outside my bedroom window. And Dar was voicing her own concern, finally saying that she’d rather run the Seattle gauntlet at rush hour than stay here any longer… and she certainly didn’t want to overnight here. The Safety Director had spoken, and I was in complete agreement.

I got on the internet and started looking for alternatives. There was Lowes not far away that my sources said permitted overnight parking. I called the manager who said normally he’d have no problem with us staying, but… his regional manger was coming in early the next morning and he didn’t want any RV’s on the premises. OK then.

I started looking for something around the southern end of the metroplex and came upon a Cabelas store right off I-5. Cabelas are always great overnight spots… they usually have a specific area set aside for big RV’s and encourage RV’ers to stay. Since it was 75 miles away I guessed it would take a good couple hours, with traffic, to complete the drive. And with sunset only a couple hours away by that time, we needed to get going if we were going to make the run. And we did.

To make a long story a little shorter, it took us almost three hours to get to Cabelas. It was already quite dark when we arrived, but we got the OK from store management and found a very nice spot in a huge lot dedicated to large vehicles and RV’s. Needless to say, after a long day (325 miles), and after that tense rush-hour heavy traffic run through Seattle, in the rain, we were ready for an adult beverage and a good nights sleep. It turns out we were the only rig at Cabelas that night, and we had a very quiet and restful night.

The next day, Thursday, we enjoyed a leisurely morning, did a little shopping at Cabelas, and had a pleasant 112 mile drive down I-5 to Vancouver.

All in all, it was an interesting experience. It was good that we listened to our gut feelings, acted on our discomfort with the situation, and removed ourselves from what would have been, at the very least, an uncomfortable and restless night.


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...