Monday, April 16, 2012

There's No Place Like Home....except maybe Florida!

We took a long drive starting Saturday morning at 7 a.m. and made it home in EXACTLY 9 hours. 385 miles, two gas tank fills and 3 potty breaks. We parked behind Jeff's old place of work for the night but after hooking up, headed directly to our "old" house to see Dane (and get the battery for the Jeep charging). After a quick dinner with Dane we went to Katie and Justin's house and completely surprised her and the kids! Mom had completely lied to her earlier in the day explaining that the BP repairs had not been completed and we would not be home until Wednesday. Katie was completely taken aback but Amilia, well, let the pictures tell the story...

I think once over the shock she was pretty happy to see Grandma. Lord knows, Grandma was happy to see her. And the Moosh who happily gave me kisses and hugs even though I am quite sure she didn't really know who I was! It was a great homecoming and a very special evening.
After spending the night in a parking lot, listening to the rain pour down and feeling the temperature fall to a cold 40 degrees or so, we retrieved the Jeep then proceeded up to Otsego to our new 'digs". We had found and rented a privately owned lot in an RV park that is basically a condominiumized campground. Setting up in the drizzle and cold was less than ideal but we did get everything set up that we needed and then worked a bit on the inside set up. Nice to get things really out and set knowing we will not be moving for 6 months. The site is very nice with a large patio, fire pit, and view of the Mississippi River from our patio. The owner, unfortunately, has left an overabundance of crap, pots, gardening stuff on the lot that she has promised to get moved. Once that is done (and that is going to be one big chore for her) , and once the weather improves...we will be able to clean up the lot and patio and make it quite homey for the summer.

Our "backyard".

Today we did some further sorting and cleaning, grocery shopping and then ran back to Danes to pick up a few things (like a box of mail). We then forced him to come for a bite back at the BP as I was making Jeff's favorite, Chicken Fried Steak, and had a family pack to prepare!

Missed my Dane Bear Hugs!

So we are home, set up for the next 6 months and now just have to figure out what to do with our lives. First on the agenda is seeing friends and family. Then jobs!!! Then....we will have to see. Ideally we would convince Dane, Katie and family, Julie, John and Paige to move south with us to either Aransas Pass,TX  or Palm Harbor,FL or Palm Springs, Ca or maybe Breaux Bridge, La. Any would do but only if I never have to spend another holiday away from my loved ones again.

This concludes Jeff and Lisa's Big Adventure. And it truly was an adventure. A learning experience. And a gift. But....

                                                     THERE'S NO PLACE LIKE HOME !!!!

Friday, April 13, 2012

The BP gets a New Look!

Xena's still bored

We got the BP dropped off at the Monaco Service Center in Wakarusa, Indiana on Wednesday afternoon and retired to the Red Roof Inn for a few days during repairs. A few snafu's with parts but otherwise a great group of guys that actually know what they are doing (Monaco now owns Holiday Rambler, which is the original manufacturer of the BP).
This area of Indiana is highly populated with Amish so, while they aren't here in Elkhart, this scene is pretty much status quo...

It's pretty interesting to see though I have read a few books on the Amish and I know that their lifestyle can be kind of harsh (as far as punishment). Hopefully that is the exception rather than the rule. Yesterday we drove to Middleton which is highly Amish and had lunch at Das Dutchman Essenhaus. Though owned by non-Amish the entire staff and menu is definitely Amish. I didn't even know that Amish women had time for, or were allowed to have  jobs outside the home. It was family style (aka buffet) but it was delish! Homemade chicken noodle soup, bread and salad to start then the buffet with a literal Sunday dinner menu, chicken, mashed potatoes, dressing, noodles, veggies, etc. That was our first big "dinner" that actually felt like a family dinner since we left. After lunch we walked through some of the Amish shops, markets and also an antique store that was pretty interesting. As much as I love the quilts and understand the time and skill involved with the making of one, I just can't invest $800 and up just for Xena to puke on it! I'd have to kill her!
Jeff and I spotted this place on the way back to the hotel...

Yup, he felt like he was home already. After subjecting him to a big day of eating and browsing my poor husband took what I believe may be his first ever nap, from about 6-10. And then woke up to brush his teeth and sacked out again with me about 10:30.

As it turns out, Elkhart is the RV Capital of the US. No wonder we have seen every manufacturer here as well as Dometic (which makes RV appliances) and several furniture and accessory plants too. Today we went to the RV/MH Hall of Fame. A huge museum dedicated to the history of RV's and motorhomes. They had quite an antique collection which made both Jeff and I think how fun it would be to find one of these classics and refurbish it.

The one above totally has "Shaggin' Wagon" written all over it! The few other people at the museum whipped through in about a half hour while Jeff and I (Ooooing and Ahhhing) took the better part of two hours to complete our tour.

Back "home" and thinking that as long as we have to stay in this crappy ass hotel...I might as well take advantage of the bathtub. Anyone who knows me, knows I love a good bath (versus shower) and having been without for 6 1/2 months, I am soaking this opportunity up (literally).

Monday, April 9, 2012

Heading North and Winding (way) Down!

We decided to forgo a stop in Tennessee and headed straight west, then north to Clarksville, Indiana (which is just across the river from Louisville). Jeff had actually lived here back in the early '80's. I think he was looking forward to seeing his stomping grounds some 30 years later!
Our drive last Thursday ended up being a full 9 hours with stops to pee and gas up only. Just after departure a turkey flew across the highway and hit Jeff's window at full speed, cracking the rain guard and leaving a few feathers and blood spatters but not breaking the window. All we could do was laugh at the incredible odds of having a frickin' turkey hit us. Damn things hardly like to fly, yet we manage to smash the one that does!

The next issue came just north of Knoxville, as we climbed through the rest of the Appalachian range, we also ran smack into a torrential rainstorm complete with hail. About 75% of the road traffic pulled over (which does not really help in the safety department) but Jeff pushed on, however slowly, and soon we made it to the mountain top, out of the rain and into fog so thick the hood ornament was all but invisible. Upon our (late) arrival at the Add-more RV Park, we got set up, heated up some left-overs and poured a fairly tall scotch.

Friday I did venture out on my own for a little shopping/errand therapy (if Big Lots and TJ Maxx aren't a great therapy, I don't know what is!). Then Jeff and I returned to Clarksville for a movie in the late afternoon. I had recently read "The Hunger Games" and NEEDED to see the movie. It was not great, but just seeing a movie (first since San Louis Obispo, CA) was fun.
Saturday we drove to another little "suburb" called New Albany, mainly in search of the New Albanian Brewing Co. Which we found. Twice. Once on the outskirts of town where we indulged in a pizza (first since San Antonio) and then we proceeded to "Historic Downtown New Albany" which may be historic but boring as hell. On the bright side, there was an offspring brew pub down there so we had a second taste of some very good brew.

Easter Sunday we had actually planned on returning to the downtown brew pub for an Easter Omelet but after waking, neither one of us had an ounce of ambition or desire to go anywhere. So we spent the entire day lounging, reading and eventually, putting a couple steaks on the grill for dinner. Xena was bored with us but it felt great...

Today we proved to have a bit more ambition and made it to the Kentucky Derby Museum and Churchill Downs. This was actually pretty exciting for me as I love horses (though my emotions are mixed on racing). The museum was beautiful with exhibits about the history, the winners, and the HATS! They show a movie in a room where the screen is 360 degrees round and also give you a brief tour of Churchill Downs itself and the track area. The guide was terrific and very excited to talk about the upcoming Kentucky Derby as well as the other 36 Derby Days he has attended.

The "Race for the Roses" must be an amazing thing to see. People start coming to Churchill Downs at 9 a.m., there are 13 races during the day but the big one, is #11 and sometime around 6 p.m so people are pretty well looped up on Mint Juleps by the time the twenty, 3 year-old race horses, hit the one mile track for their 2 minutes of glory! Jeff practiced his gate time...

After the museum we went to another historic Louisville place (and apparently a new obsession of mine), Cave Hill Cemetery. Cave Hill actually has a large cave and spring and was homesteaded in 1847. The cemetery today is huge and I have never seen so many custom, ornate and incredible  stones, markers, statuary, obelisk's and mausoleums ever. It was stunningly beautiful.

And....Colonel Sanders and his wife are buried there (along with a plethora of famous explorers and founding fathers).

We had a nice walk through the cemetery and then headed back to the BP. Only had one mis-direction and when turning around spotted this sign...

Kind of gives me a stomach ache just thinking about it!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Blue Ridge Parkway

No storms overnight and the day looked promising this morning so we took a drive on the 469 mile Blue Ridge Parkway which winds it's way through the Appalachians. We started at MM 200 near the town of Fancy Gap and drove north to MM 170 near Rocky Knob State Park. Unfortunately, the parks/visitors centers were not yet opened (they don't open until May 1) but the scenery and views were very pretty.

Our first actual stop was at Mabry Mill, a grist and saw mill built back in the early 1900's. The Mabry family lived and worked there until the 50's and eventually the state took over and made sure the historic mill as well as the grounds (including a "still") were saved from destruction. We had almost blown right past the spot and are so grateful we decided to stop. It was easily, one of the most authentic, and photographic things we have seen in 6 months!

In order to increase the water flow to the mill, Mr. Mabry had built an extensive series of troughs to catch the mountain stream run-off and divert it to his mill. That, in and of itself, had to have been quite a feat as many of the troughs were made of wood (think of making these waterproof and tight from wood he had to harvest and saw himself) and some of rock-lined ditches (hand picked and placed). An amazing thing to see.

On we drove to Rocky Knob which, other than the scenic overlook, was still closed up for the "winter". As we later found out from a lovely lady at the antique shop in Fancy Gap, the parkway is routinely closed from November through April. In a normal year, there is an abundance of snow and the state of Virginia is apparently freakish about people driving on the roads when it snows (this lady had been sent home from her place of business by the state just because it had snowed!). So the people who live on the parkway are basically locked in (by multiple gates) and are only allowed to drive when the snow melts or is minimal. This means that they can be stuck in their homes for 9 weeks at times and then, only dare drive out for groceries and then hurry back home lest they be locked out.

We turned around at Rocky Knob and on the way back down stopped for a short hike at another scenic area. It was a short but steep hike down to a creek bed. It is definitely spring in Virginia and the trees were budding, grass growing green and everything looked fresh and clean. The water was crystal clear and freezing cold, as mountain streams usually are.

Along the creek bed were very clear paw-prints that we truly believe were Bear prints. Big paws, deep claw marks and a known bear population. Pretty cool to think that a bear had been down to the stream for a drink, and by the look of the prints, probably this morning. Also just a little scary to think he may have still been in the area but I was assured that Jeff was "packing" and would defend me if necessary!

By the time we made it back to Hillsville the sky was really dark and by the time we made it to the outskirts of town it was POURING....and HAILING. Big Time. In fact, I can't remember the last time I had seen so much rain. Enough hail to completely coat the roads and we had to get behind a school bus that stopped at about every other house the entire 5 miles down the road. The temp dropped from 72 to 52 in about 5 minutes. And we had left windows open in the BP so we knew there would be some water where it shouldn't be by the time we made it back.  No worries though...after all. It is just water.
Beef stew is in the crock and smelling really good. We haven't had much desire for winter comfort food, since we haven't really had any cold weather since probably December. But tonight, it will be a great treat and so welcome.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Oh, the Problems!

Yesterday, somewhere between New Bern and Greensboro, North Carolina (where we stopped for gas) the other tire on the passenger side of the BP blew out. Yes, we never heard or saw anything until stopping for gas and even when I exited the truck to go in the station for the bathroom and coffee, I didn't take note of the decomposed tire and new damage to the slide panel. Jeff walked into the station cussing and muttering, "we just can't win". To which I replied "WTF are you talking about?". Nice, huh?
Anyway, God in his infinite wisdom had us stop at a station that was directly across from a Camping World. And the (extremely) nice folks of North Carolina, though the service center was closed on Sunday, immediately came to our rescue, found a tire center that was open and had the tire(s) we needed and supplied us with a weight appropriate jack so we didn't have to repeat the $200 road-side assistance fee! Seriously, these are the nicest, most accommodating people you would ever want to meet. As the fine sale clerk told Jeff,  "Here in North Carolina, we take care of fellow campers". And the clerk who found us the tire guy and supplied the jack said "You find out who your friends are when stuff like this happens".  Who knew we had so many friends in North Carolina? Sure is nice to know.

So Jeff jacked up the BP, removed blown tire, drove it to tire center where it was changed, drove back to BP, put new tire on,  hooked up BP to truck to turn around, jacked up BP again, removed both tires from drivers side (we were freaking about blowing them so decided to get all new tires), drove back to tire center, returned to BP with two new tires, replaced tires and....voila...on the road again for the last 75 miles to Hillsville, Virginia. And it only took 5 hours to get all this accomplished. I, in the meantime, just cried. And cried. And cried. Blame it on fatigue, stress, being a huge pussy....whatever.
So, by 6 pm we were back on the road and making it through one more hurdle, the Blue Ridge Mountains. We have not seen mountains for awhile and that was just fine by us. But we knew we were going to have to cross the Blue Ridge as well as the Appalachians (coming right up). Still, we were less than excited to see this...

Pretty as they are, the Blue Ridge is still a mountain range and if we never saw a mountain again (at least while pulling the BP) that would be JUST FINE! Actually, it was not a big deal, slow and steady up a relatively slow grade. We made it to the Lakeridge RV Resort by 8 p.m. and after an extremely quick hook-up, glass of scotch, and a few smokes (for me anyway), we were off to bed. Of course, it had to storm all night (and I am talking thunder boomers), which made for little of much needed rest.
Truthfully, there is not a lot to do around here, short of a drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway,  and I am just plain tired of playing "cruise director", so we are spending a few days here being complete and total slugs. Today we did go into "town", that being Hillsville, and got some groceries. We also had lunch at a "diner" that has been in operation (in an old streetcar) since the '40's. It cost us a sum total of $11 for one lunch, one dinner (Jeff) and two coffee's. Unreal and utterly charming! We also went to the local liquor store. All liquor stores in North Carolina and Virginia are state run and called ABC Liquors (for Alcoholic Beverage Control). We had a nice talk with the clerk who filled us in on the state rules and regulations regarding alcohol vs. beer and wine. She explained that beer and wine were sold in grocery and department stores... "like Walmart".  Walmart? A department store? Really?????
WOW!!! Well, there is no Walmart in Hillsville but they do have a Food Lion which predominately features Bud and Bud Light. Every single person in the stores here have on either a Bud or a "Deer Hunter" and women alike! That being said, it is extremely beautiful. Rolling green hills, horses and cows (and a few donkeys), lovely brick homes and blooming cherry trees.

We have carefully reconsidered our route from here to Louisville and decided on a slightly out of the way but less mountainous (read risky hills and deadly curves) route through Tennessee and Kentucky versus north through West Virginia. So, I guess I will not get to experience that West Virginia/ Appalachian culture that I was so looking forward to. :(