Not All Who Wander Are Lost

Not All Who Wander Are Lost
January 17, 2017 - Florida Keys

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Happy Father's Day

Happy Father's Day to all the dads out there, especially to my husband Kevin. Our two boys are lucky to have him for a father.

My dad passed away eleven years ago this month. It's so hard to believe he's been gone that long. I would give a lot to be able to spend just one more day with him.

The weather lately has been hot and humid. With that type of weather come frequent severe storms. Last Monday we had a line of storms come through late in the afternoon. We had some very strong winds which uprooted a large hickory tree in the park. Luckily, it fell in an open area, but was pretty close to one of the campers. Could have been a real tragedy.

The hickory tree hit an oak on the way down, which brought down a pretty big oak branch to the left. You can see how big the tree is compared to Kevin walking next to it.

After the storm, we had a beautiful sunset.

The sunset created a very red rainbow.

Wednesday afternoon brought more storms. It looked so scary. The picture doesn't do it justice. We were very lucky that the storms went around us, and we just had a few small branches down. There were eleven tornadoes confirmed in Wisconsin that afternoon. None did any major damage.

The campground continues to be very busy, keeping us on our toes. We're completely booked for the next two weekends. We'll see what the rest of the summer brings. We're already one-third of the way through our six month stint here.

Don’t wish upon a star – Reach for one!

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Our Ruby Anniversary

Today is our 40th wedding anniversary. After a little online research, I discovered it is the ruby anniversary. We don't have any big plans, but will be going out to dinner at Outback Steakhouse. Eric gave us a gift card for Christmas, and we will finally be using it. Since it is our ruby anniversary, I feel obligated to have a red drink to celebrate, maybe a strawberry daiquiri. It's 6 am, and I'm already planning my cocktail for this afternoon :)

I've always loved this picture from our wedding ceremony. The photographer did a little magic and superimposed one of the stained glass windows of the church above us. It really made me feel that God was blessing us that day.

Our big anniversary celebration will be at the end of October. We're taking our kids to an all-inclusive resort in the Maya Riviera area of Mexico. We've never done an all-inclusive, so are really looking forward to a great time with the family.

I was 19 when we got married. People definitely married younger way back then. So, I've been married twice as long as I was single. In some ways, the time seems like it flew by, but so much has happened in those 40 years. Kevin and I have had a wonderful life, and are looking forward to many more years together. Of course, everyone has some hardships in life, but I can't complain. We've been incredibly blessed with a happy, healthy life and wonderful children.

The weather has improved, and the park has been quite busy the last few weekends. Most weekends for the summer are fully booked or close to it. As is typical in Wisconsin, it seems we went from winter to summer overnight. The spring was much colder and wetter than normal. We had a few really beautiful days last week with highs in the upper 70s and low humidity. Absolutely perfect. On Friday it got hot and humid, and it's expected to last through most of this week with highs in the 90s. Wisconsin weather is never boring.

A few weeks ago, we had some crazy thunderstorms come through. The clouds looked like a shelf.

Last week was the end of an era for Eric. He purchased a crotch rocket motorcycle when he was 25. I was so nervous at the time, fearing for his safety. He rode it for 11 years without incident, and decided it was time to sell it. Someday, he may buy a more traditional motorcycle, but for now he has given it up. I have to admit, I breathed a sigh of relief. I think Eric was a bit sad to let it go, but he hadn't used it much in the last few years, and was ready to move on.

Don’t wish upon a star – Reach for one!

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Our Nephew's Wedding

Our youngest nephew Robert got married on Saturday. He's the last of our nieces and nephews to marry. The wedding was in Waterloo, Iowa. I work Fridays and Saturdays, so I only took off Saturday. We left at 9 am and got to Waterloo a little after 1 pm. We were able to check into our hotel early, change clothes and make it to the 2:30 ceremony in plenty of time.

They had originally planned to have an outdoor wedding at a park. The weather this spring has been terrible, and it did not cooperate for them. Luckily, they had a back up plan at the Waterloo Arts Center where the reception was held.

Here's Robert waiting for the bride. Our great-nephew Nathan, who will be nine in a few weeks, was ring bearer. He wasn't too excited about having to wear a tux, but he did a great job for his uncle Robert. It was great to see that side of the family. It is Kevin's brother's family. We haven't seen some of them in quite a few years.

Poor Brittney was suffering all day. She had surgery on her foot a few weeks ago, and it became infected, so she's been in a lot of pain. She was actually supposed to be on crutches all day, but what bride is going to listen to that.

The happy couple!

Not much else is going on with us. This has been the worst spring weather since we've been working at the park. Camper numbers are down, but even with the lousy weather, we've been about half full the last few weekends. Die hard Wisconsin campers don't let wet and cold weather keep them down.

The above average rain has made the ground extremely soggy, so Kevin has been struggling to get the grass mowed. We are fully booked for the upcoming holiday weekend. Some rain is expected during the week. Hopefully, it won't be too much as all sites are booked and some of them get quite muddy with a lot of rain.

Cold weather is keeping my bird feeder quite busy. I've seen a new bird this year that has not been here before. I believe it's called a Rose-breasted Grosbeak. Exciting!

I put oriole food in the hummingbird feeder, but the orioles didn't seem to be able to perch on the feeder. I took the top off and put the bottom part full of nectar on a crate. I added the piece of wood so their feet had something more solid to sit on. That worked great. I've also been giving them grape jelly. I enjoy watching all of the birds at the feeders.

I can't stand the robins. They poop on everything. We put fake snakes on our vehicles, which helps to keep them from pooping on our stuff, but they still manage to occasionally bomb us. Somehow, they even manage to get it on our windows.

Don’t wish upon a star – Reach for one!

Monday, May 1, 2017

Seven Wonderful Years of Wandering

Today is the seventh anniversary of our life as full time RVers. In some ways, it feels like just yesterday that we began this journey. But, when I look back at all that's happened in those seven years, it feels like a very long time. Our previous life seems like another lifetime altogether.

Don't get me wrong. I wouldn't change a thing about our life before becoming full time RVers. I loved the home we raised our children in, and the memories of those first 33 years of our marriage are wonderful. We are so lucky to have had all of those fantastic years, and then to start a second phase in our married life with so many new and amazing experiences.

Here's a picture of our site on May 1, 2010. We are still spending the summers at this same site, but with a new truck and fifth wheel since then. Also, the red car was traded to our son for the green car that first year. He no longer has the red car, but we still use the green car in the summers. It's a 2000 Pontiac Grand Am with over 200,000 miles on it, but it works just fine for us in the summers.

Here we are today. Other than the obvious new vehicles and fifth wheel, what really stands out to me is how much the trees have grown in those seven years. In the late 1990s, there was a severe storm that went through the park and destroyed over 150 trees. These little trees had been planted after that storm, and they sure have grown.

In those seven years, we've stayed in 26 states and been to Hawaii, Mexico, Belize and Honduras without the RV. We've explored many amazing National Parks and Monuments, as well as lots of other interesting places throughout this country. We've had some fantastic times with our family and friends, and are living a healthier life with much less stress. We're so happy with the decision we made, and have no regrets at all.

We lucked into great jobs at Derge Park in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin from the very beginning, allowing us to spend the summers in Wisconsin near some of our family and earning some money as well. Between our jobs at the park, three years working at Amazon in the beginning of our adventure, and my pension; we've been able to earn enough to cover our expenses each year. Can't beat that. I can honestly say we have everything we need, and don't miss a thing (except maybe a dishwasher).

We've had some things go wrong; that's going to happen no matter where you live. The biggest frustration has been when things need to be repaired on the fifth wheel and you live in it. Luckily, we've found some good mobile RV repair people along the way.

We reach social security age in the next few years, so we're dreaming of some changes in our travels in the coming years. Time will tell if those dreams come true!

As you can see from the current picture above, it's raining. It's been raining for about a week. In fact, this has been the worst April weather we've had since we began this journey. Cold, wet, cold, damp, cold, rain, cold; you get the picture. It could be worse. At least we haven't had tornadoes and snow like other parts of the country had this past weekend.

The lousy weather has kept campers away. There have been very few people here since we've been back. This past weekend, we were alone in the park for the entire weekend. That rarely happens. Not good for the revenue of the parks department at the county, but a very quiet start for us. Reservations are coming in strong for May and the rest of the summer, so I'm sure we'll be plenty busy again.

Don’t wish upon a star – Reach for one!

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Happy Easter

Kevin and I wish you a Blessed Easter Day. We made it to Lincoln, Nebraska on April 5th after a few longer than normal driving days for us. We like to keep our driving days to about 200 miles. In order to have more time in Lincoln to help Korey and Cathryn, we did some 300 mile days. Not a big deal.

Both kids had off on April 6th, so they took us over to see the new home. It's a great house and I'm sure it will serve them well for many years. It's about 20 years old and in very good condition.

Since this is their first home, they don't have some of the tools needed to be homeowners. We headed to Home Depot to pick up painting supplies and some paint color samples. Back at the house Cathryn painted sample colors on the walls. Korey and Kevin had a lesson on how to replace a light fixture and a faucet, and I began stripping the wallpaper in the foyer. Luckily, that was the only room with wallpaper.

I had prepared taco meat and fixings ahead of time, so we went back to their apartment and had a last meal together there. It was a nice apartment, but they are so happy to have their own home now with much more storage space.

Both of them had to work on Friday and Saturday, so Kevin and I spent those two days painting. We've painted our fair share in our years, and have a good routine for us. I do the cutting in and Kevin does the rollering. We ended up painting the family room, master bedroom, dinette and kitchen. Here are some before and afters of the family room and bedroom.

They chose colors in the gray tones. The woodwork is a medium oak, and the gray walls help tone down the wood color. It turned out very nice.

They were both off work on Sunday, so that was moving day. Kevin had emptied out the back of our truck, and we were able to move all of their large items using just our truck. No need to rent a moving truck. Their apartment was on the second floor and the bedrooms in the house are on the second floor. We were sure tired, but we got all of the big items moved. Their lease on the apartment doesn't end until early May, so they have lots of time to move the rest of the smaller items and get everything cleaned up. Nice not to have to do all of the moving in one day.

All of the climbing up and down stepladders doing the cutting in for the painting, as well as up and down stairs for the moving did a number on my knees. About eight years ago, I tore the ACL in my right knee and had surgery. It's never been right since then. I also have arthritis in both knees, so they were not happy with me. Icing and ibuprofen helped, and they will be fine after a little rest. Just a reminder that our bodies are not as young as they used to be.

We spent two more days painting while the kids were at work and finished all the projects we had planned to do. Maybe next year we'll go back and paint some more, but this was enough for one trip. Kevin was also able to help with a few other projects; installing a new light fixture, caulking, a new motion sensor light switch, new thermostat, caulking and cabinet adjustment. A very fruitful week.

Anyone who full times in an RV knows that things break. It's probably the thing that is most frustrating as RVs are known for not having the best construction. Also, it is hard to find quality repair facilities, and where do you go if it needs to be in the shop.  We had a few problems over the winter. It sure helps that Kevin is pretty handy.

On one of our trips, I came inside to find glass all over the counter. One of the pendant lights had loosened and crashed into the other one, causing it to break. It makes no sense to have lights that can swing in an RV. We're thinking that the motion of traveling loosened the screw, and we didn't notice.

At one of the stops in Florida, our automatic leveling jacks weren't working. One of them was making a terrible ratcheting sound. I did some online searching for Lippert jacks, and found a troubleshooting guide. As I read the steps, Kevin was able to do everything needed to reset the jacks. Success! They have been working great since.

We also had trouble with our Schwintek slides in the kitchen and bedroom. We were able to reset the control panel and get them working. On our last night in Iowa before getting back to Wisconsin, the kitchen slide would not go out no matter how much resetting we did. One side was not working. We were able to get into our refrigerator, so had sandwiches and called it a night. Thank goodness it didn't stop working while it was out. The sunrise in Iowa was beautiful!

We were fortunate to find Complete RV Repair in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin last fall when our refrigerator stopped working. Mark came out to the campground on Good Friday and determined the motor on one side of the slide was broken. He said that these Schwintek slides are terrible, and he doesn't feel they are made for bouncing down the road. Once he got the motor out, he and Kevin were able to pull the slide out on that side while I pushed the button to get it moving on the other side. He will order a new motor and install it when he has some time. No hurry; we're here for six months.

It's great to be back in Wisconsin. Today we're going to my mother's for Easter. I can't wait to see our son Eric and my mom as we haven't seen them since Christmas. Also, it will be good to be back to work for the summer as Florida was pretty expensive, and it's time to replenish the bank account.

Don’t wish upon a star – Reach for one!

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Biltmore Estate - Asheville, North Carolina

We stopped in Asheville, North Carolina on our way back north because I really wanted to visit the Biltmore Estate. It is the largest privately owned home in the country with 250 rooms, including 33 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms and 65 fireplaces. In the 1880s George Vanderbilt visited Asheville with his mother and fell in love with the area. He purchased 125,000 acres of land overlooking the Blue Ridge Mountains and had a mansion built. It took six years to complete, and he moved in on Christmas Eve in 1895 as a 33 year old bachelor. He named it Biltmore from "Bildt", Vanderbilt's ancestors' place of origin in Holland and "more", for open, rolling land.

 This is one of the more expensive tourist attractions we've visited. Regular admission is $65 per person, then you can pay more for special tours, audio tour, and lots of other options. They were running a special in March for a $10 discount if you wore your favorite team's apparel, which we did. Also, if you order your tickets online at least 7 days in advance, you also save $10. We purchased one 90 minute audio tour for an extra $11 which I listened to and filled Kevin in on the highlights. They give you a very nice booklet which explains much of what the audio tour covered.

I'm not one to usually spend this much on a tour, but I couldn't resist this place. I'm not alone as over 1 million visitors come each year; that averages out to over 2,700 per day. If you go, arrive early. We went at a slower time of year, and it was plenty crowded.

Upon entering, you see the winter garden room. There were lots of orchids growing in there, which I know are a hard flower to grow. Lots of gardeners working at the estate.

Next was the Banquet Hall. The room is so large, it's impossible to take a picture depicting the entire space. There are three fireplaces at one end, and an enormous pipe organ in the loft on the opposite side. Currently, the estate has costumes from recent period movies on display, so those are the mannequins you will see in some of the pictures. George Vanderbilt married Edith in 1898. They had one daughter, Cornelia born in 1900. Dinner usually took about two hours.

The Music Room was never completed in George's lifetime. It was a hidden room and was used by the US Government during WWII to hide treasures from museums in Washington DC. It was completed by the family in 1976. The detail in all of these rooms is amazing, from the ceilings, wall coverings, fireplaces, furnishings, window treatments and art objects.

This portrait of Cornelius Vanderbilt is on display in the Breakfast Room. He was George's grandfather who borrowed $100 to buy a ferry boat and built his shipping and railroad empire into $100 million dollars upon his death.

The library is a testament to George's passion for books with half of his 22,000 volume collection. The painting on the ceiling is The Chariot of Aurora, painted in the 1720s by Italian artist Giovanni Pellegrini, originally in a palace in Venice. Flash photography was not allowed, so the pictures are not the greatest.

Of course, every home needs a Tapestry Gallery. This one entitled Faith is from the 1530s, and is part of a set called The Triumph of the Seven Virtues. Tapestries of this magnitude took five years to plan and design and another five years to weave. There were many tapestries throughout the entire house.

Edith Vanderbilt had a beautiful bedroom. Rich couples in their time period always had separate bedrooms with a sitting room between them. This was because both the men and women changed clothes up to six times a day with a servant helping them. The servants could not see the spouse undressed, so separate bedrooms.

The second and third floors had many bedrooms and living rooms for guests. This bedroom called the Louis XV room was where Edith chose to give birth to their daughter. In their time, women were frequently confined for weeks before and after a birth. This room was very elegant and had beautiful views of the estate. Not a bad place to spend a few weeks. The daughter Cornelia also gave birth to her two sons in this same room.

The basement level housed the three massive kitchens and some of the servants bedrooms, as well as a bowling alley, swimming pool and workout gym.

The swimming pool still has the original underwater lights, but is no longer filled with water as it leaks. Water was brought in from a nearby reservoir and heated before guests went swimming. There were no pool chemicals or filtration systems in those days, so after about three days, the water was emptied and then refilled for the next pool party. There were changing rooms for both men and women next to the pool, as it was inappropriate to walk through the house in your bathing suit.

This is the main kitchen where a dozen servants were working all day to feed the family and their guests. The copper pots are original. The Vanderbilts treated their servants very well. Each had their own bedroom and were paid a good wage for the time. The estate reminded me very much of Downton Abbey. The Biltmore Estate had many modern conveniences at the cutting edge of its time such as electricity, indoor plumbing, refrigeration, central heating and electric drying racks.

Vanderbilt hired landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted to design his gardens. Olmsted also designed Central Park and the US Capitol grounds. The walled garden has beds of tulips and daffodils. There is also an azalea garden, but they were just starting to bloom.  There is a massive conservatory with all kinds of plants growing in the multiple greenhouses.

The red buds were blooming. They are one of my favorite trees. I love their lacy and delicate look. I've really enjoyed seeing all the red buds in bloom as we're heading north.

The view of the Blue Ridge Mountains from the terraces of the estate are breathtaking. I'm sure it is even more beautiful in summer and fall. If I lived near here, I would buy an annual pass to come see the gardens during the different season, and to see the house decorated for Christmas.

It took us over two hours to tour the house and gardens. Then we drove about 2.5 miles to Antler Hill Village and Winery on the other side of the estate. We went for a free wine tasting at America's most visited winery, The winery was established in 1985 and inspired by George Vanderbilt's passion for fine wines. The original estate was a working farm and dairy, which is how money was raised to support the estate.

There is a farm area with displays of vintage farming equipment, as well as demonstrations. We also visited The Biltmore Legacy exhibit where wedding displays showed the weddings of George and Edith and some of their heirs. Jackie Kennedy's wedding veil is on display here. It turns out Jackie wore her grandmother's veil for her wedding. A few years later, Jackie's first cousin married a Vanderbilt and wore the same veil. All of these rich families are somehow related.

George Vanderbilt died at the age of 51 from complications of appendicitis. Edith lived on the estate for a few years, but moved away after she remarried. She sold off the majority of the land to the US government to become part of a national forest. Cornelia and her husband opened the estate to the public in 1930, responding to requests to increase tourism during the Depression and to generate income to preserve the estate.

Upon Cornelia's death, the estate was divided between her two sons. One inherited the house and 8,000 acres; the other inherited the dairy and 7,000 acres. The dairy has since been sold and the estate now covers 8,000 acres with two hotels and employs 2,000 people. The estate belongs to fourth and fifth generations heirs of George and Edith. They have certainly found a way to fund the enormous cost of keeping up such a massive property, and to share it with the public.

After leaving the estate, we made a quick stop at the Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center. The parkway runs for 469 miles between The Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee and Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. Roadway construction began in 1935 as a public works project to bring jobs and tourism to rural Appalachia. We watched a very informative movie about the construction of the parkway and all that can be seen along the way.

The Asheville area has beautiful scenery, and we could easily have spent a few more days exploring. However, we are on a mission to get to Lincoln, Nebraska on a roundabout trek back to Wisconsin. Our kids Korey and Cathryn have bought a home, and we are going to spend a week helping them move, paint and strip some wallpaper. Can't wait to see it.

We're spending the weekend at the East Nashville/Lebanon KOA on our way west. When we arrived, we were greeted by these residents. The rooster was doing a lot of crowing. Fortunately, he has been quiet this morning.

Don’t wish upon a star – Reach for one!

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Charleston, South Carolina Walking Tour

I found a Groupon for a walking tour with a company called Ashley on the Cooper Walking Tours, a clever name as Charleston is located between the Ashley and Cooper Rivers. On Monday we took their two hour 1 pm tour with Kathy.  She was a fantastic guide, teaching us the history of Charleston in a fun and educational way.

We started near the Circular Church which has been on the site since the late 1600s, but has been rebuilt several times due to fires. There are many old grave markers and vaults dating back to the earliest days of the church.

Charleston has many historic churches. The Cathedral of St. John the Baptist was built in 1890 using sandstone from the northeast similar to brownstone homes. It is beautiful from afar, but even more impressive up close. Each block has hand chiseled stars representing the Bible story where God promises Abraham as many children as there are stars in the sky. The stained glass came from Germany.

 St. Michael's Anglican Church was built around 1752 and is the oldest church in the city. In historic times, families purchased their pew boxes. George Washington and Robert E. Lee both worshiped here (not at the same time, of course). The pulpit is the original. The gold chandelier was originally lit with candles. During the Civil War they painted it black to keep it from being stolen, and it worked.

 In addition to many beautiful churches, we also saw blocks and blocks of the most amazing historic homes. I think Charleston is the most beautifully historic restored city I've ever seen. Many other historic cities have some great historic homes mixed in with newer construction, or the homes are in disrepair. Charleston has done am amazing job of keeping the hold homes in excellent condition.

This is due in great part to a fantastic lady named Susan Pringle Frost who founded the preservation society in Charleston in the 1920s. She and her rich lady friends were instrumental in having many homes restored, maybe the original flippers. She was responsible for the famous Rainbow Row on Bay Street where the homes are painted in vibrant pastel colors. She was also the first president of the Equal Suffrage League.

 This blue frame house is supposedly the oldest home in Charleston from 1691 having survived many fires, hurricanes, floods and anything else Mother Nature could throw at it.

 This bed and breakfast is the John Rutledge House who was a governor of South Carolina and a signer of the Constitution.

 Many of the houses have beautiful flower boxes under the windows and amazing gardens behind their fenced yards.

 I loved this blooming tree with red and white blossoms. Our guide said it was a non fruit bearing peach tree.

 After our tour we walked down to Waterfront Park where there is an amazing pineapple fountain. Pineapples were used as a sign of hospitality and are seen all over the city on wrought iron fences and concrete walls.

We continued to Battery Park where there is this statue to honor Confederate defenders of Charleston. There are many cannons on display all around the park.

South Carolina was the first state to secede from the Federal Union on December 20, 1860. The vote was held on this site which is now a bank (on the left). There is a plaque on the wall. The adjoining buildings are much older, both occupied by law firms. Lawyers are second largest industry in Charleston. Tourism is number one.

We've toured several cities on trolley tours which are fun and informative. If we can find a walking tour, we prefer it because there is more time for the guide to give you in-depth information. Charleston does not have trolley tours. Instead, they use horse drawn carriage tours which are much quieter and cause less traffic problems. The horses wear bags to catch their poop. If the horse pees on the street, the driver drops a marker and street cleaners with a water tank spray it down at night so the streets don't small like a stable.

We stopped at the Fort Sumter Visitor Center on the mainland. The fort is actually on an island quite a ways out into the harbor. Ferry rides are available, but at $21 per person, we just weren't that interested. We've been to quite a few old forts in our travels. Fort Sumter is famous for the place where the first shot of the Civil War was fired  on April 12, 1961 by Confederates onto the fort which was occupied by the North. The fort fell quickly to the south giving the Confederates a strategic port. It stayed in southern control until 1865 despite repeated attempts by the north to take siege. It was severely damaged by over 20 months of bombardment.

George Washington visited Charleston in 1791 for a few weeks. He was treated as a hero with many balls given in his honor. Washington Park has a statue of him and a 1/30 scale reproduction of the Washington Monument.

One story is that he so much admired the Charleston County Courthouse, that he asked the architect James Hoban to design the White House.

I took many more pictures, but I'll stop here. I thoroughly enjoyed my day in Charleston, and would highly recommend it as a place for everyone to visit. We just scratched the surface of what there is to do.

Don’t wish upon a star – Reach for one!