Sunday, April 5, 2009

Home Sweet Home

I'm writing this on myDell desktop computer not the trusty Acer laptop that allowed me to keep in touch with family and friends for the last 10 months. I am home in Calgary sitting in my office drinking my early morning tea. In the last 10 months I have travelled 36,000 kilometres.

I left Heather's on Wednesday in heavy rain mixed with snow. This continued all the way through the Coquilhalla Pass where I ended up driving in slush and on a roadway of compacted snow. I went slowly and tried to keep the anxiety level manageable - I have summer tires on the van. To my delight, the highway was bare and dry once I reached Merrit on the other side of the pass. And the highway remained bare and dry the rest of the way to Calgary.

I stopped in Golden overnight and reached Calgary around 11 am on Thursday. I have been unpacking the van in stages the last couple of days. It is mostly empty now. It is amazing how much "stuff" it can hold!

When I'm not unpacking, I've been visiting my daughter and grandchildren, catching up with friends, getting a long distance plan back on my phone and generally stepping back into my Calgary life.

Today is Palm Sunday and I'll be going to church. Later this afternoon my granddaughers will come over for our annual Easter egg dying (real eggs) and an Easter egg hunt (chocolate eggs and candy).

Over the next little while, I'll be getting the van detailed and ready for sale. Then it's on to some home renovation and fix-up projects. My friend Sari says I'm nesting again. I think she's right. As the curtain comes down on the grand adventure, I'm enjoying the coziness and familiarity of my life in Calgary.

This blog will go quiet for awhile although I'll still be writing. I have some writing projects in mind and I'm looking forward to having the time to work on them. While life on the road was marvellous, I am glad to be home.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Westfield to West 7th

After a lovely week in Sidney, I drove up the Island to Cumberland about an hour north of Nanaimo. I spent two days there visiting with my nephew Jeff and his partner Ivy. I also had a dinner and a visit with my nephew Mike. These young men (well, maybe not so young anymore) are the sons of my sister Nancy. Jeff and Ivy took me to Quadra Island and that meant going to Campbell River to catch the ferry. I had never been to this part of the island or to Quadra before. They also toured me around Comox and Courtney.

I left Vancouver Island on Wednesday via the ferry from Nanaimo to Horseshoe Bay and arrived at Heather’s just after supper. I’ve now been here for one full week. I spent Thursday afternoon with my niece Tara, touring around Vancouver and lingering over a nice lunch at the Boathouse on English Bay.

Friday night I had dinner at my friend Tricia’s in Yaletown. I spent Saturday afternoon with an old school friend, Becki , wandering the streets of Kitsalano. Becki divides her time these days between Vancouver and Westfield, NB. The last time I saw Becki was in Westfield in September just before I embarked on the US part of my trip. Becki lives on West 7th St. hence the title of this blog.

Sunday Heather and I went to Half Moon Bay on the Sunshine Coast to visit Jerry and Bette. This entailed another ferry ride through spectacular scenery. We stopped in Gibson’s to poke in an antique shop and then headed up the coast to Half Moon Bay. It was a lovely sunny day and we ate lunch on the deck overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Yesterday Heather and I drove to Whistler to check out the preparations for the 2010 Olympics. (Somebody has to supevise this job!) We had a great lunch at the Beet Root café and then headed back to the city.

Today I will pack up the van for the final leg of this trip. And tonight I am meeting Jerry and Bette and their daughter Ali for supper.

I’m a bit nervous about driving through the mountains this time of year although I’ve been told that the roads are fine. Soon this trip will be over and while I’m anxious to get home, there is a certain sadness about ending this grand adventure.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Victoria and Sidney

I have been at Patricia's for almost a week. It has been a lovely week even though the weather has been a bit wet.

Patricia and I are having a lovely visit. We figured out that we’ve been friends for 33 years – ever since we met when we both worked at CFAC TV in the 1970s. Patricia’s home is a welcoming place to rest and relax before heading eastward through the mountains. A couple of days ago we decided to spend the day on Salt Spring Island. We took the Roadtrek. What a change since I first spent the summer on the island in 1983. We took Patricia’s dog Libby along with us and she did her share of the driving, too.

Patricia and I have also spent some time poking in the little shops in Sidney. The other day we went into a little antique shop and I found the perfect open salts. I had looked in antique stores throughout my trip and here they were in Canada all along. So I will end my trip with a lovely reminder of Vancouver Island: open salts with silver spoons.

I have finally managed to get in touch with my nephews Jeff and Mike who both live in Namaimo (about two hours away) and I will head up there tomorrow afternoon after have lengthy coffee and catch up chat with one of the women I used to work with at EPCOR in Edmonton. After Namaimo, it’s on to Vancouver for some visiting there.

The mountain roads still aren’t conducive to driving with the Roadtrek so I’m not certain how long before I can make that drive. It was still snowing in Calgary today!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

O Canada!

There is something magic about crossing the border and arriving back in Canada. Somehow it feels different here. I can feel a little tingle in my stomach as I let it sink in that there is only a mountain range between me and my home. After almost 35,000 kms, the drive through the mountains doesn’t seem like much – except that it’s still too cold and snowy to make the trip. Meanwhile, it’s only cool and rainy on the west coast. There are friends to reconnect with, nephews and a niece to visit. I should be in my Calgary home in a couple of weeks.

I drove from Lincoln City, OR to Port Angeles, WA the day before last. I figured that I could make the 4 pm ferry from Port Angeles to Victoria – alas, I arrived at the ferry dock to discover that the 4 pm ferry actually left from Victoria and the next one to Victoria was at 8:20 am the next day. So I gassed up, had an early, tasty supper at a south Asian restaurant and headed for the KOA campground just outside town.

Yesterday I caught the ferry, received a much appreciated “Welcome back” from the customs agent once she discovered that I hadn’t overspent and I headed for Fort Street or Antiques Row as it’s known locally.

My friend Patricia in Sidney was working until 3pm but had thoughtfully hidden a key for me so I let myself in, made a cup of tea and awaited her return. Patricia has a lovely new border collie named Libby so the first order of business when Patricia returned was to take Libby for a good walk.

Patricia and some of her cousins have a weekly family dinner and last night’s dinner was on her cousin Alan’s 53 foot boat. Her cousin and his wife Toddy run whale and wildlife watching tours out of Uclulet on Vancouver Island’s coast and live full time on their boat. It was docked in Canoe Cove so they could do their yearly maintenance. It is a gorgeous ship and we all had great fun fuelled by oysters, pasta and red wine.

Patricia is working again today so I’m catching up – laundry, calls to friends on the island to find convenient visiting times, shopping for groceries for Patricia’s and my dinner tonight, walking Libby.

Ahh, Canadian soil, a good friend and a canine companion – today is going to be a stellar day!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Wind and Rain in Oregon

Today, I am held hostage in Lincoln City by a coastal storm: winds, 70 mph winds and big surf. The winds came up overnight and my little van rocked in the wind and rain. I checked the weather on the internet to find storm warnings with gusty winds and continuing rain so I decided it would be a good day to go antiquing in Lincoln City and leave the coastal drive until tomorrow.

I was in Lincoln City about 23 years ago when it was really just a widening in the road. What I remember most about it is that there were many people on the beach flying kites. This time there are oceanside condos and inns, a Tanger Outlet Mall and a six cinema theatre. And, my favourite: lots of antique shops. So I’ve been antiquing, searching through the beautiful clutter of antique malls and shops for “treasure”. Today I was also looking for a sugar bowl, Johnson Brothers’ Athena pattern for Leslie as hers has broken. It was fun to have something to hunt for even if the hunt was unsuccessful.

Yesterday I stopped in Newport at an antique mall and found a bargain: a nice pinwheel crystal footed bowl for $7.50! There was an almost identical bowl in another booth for $65. As I paid for it, the woman working the cash expressed her surprise at the price and then told me that the people who own that booth usually sell primitives and must have been trying just to move this piece on. She also said they had just brought it in the day before. For me, this is the thrill of antiquing: finding something beautiful at a bargain price.

As you can see from the photos, I also went to the beach today. The wind-whipped ocean is also a beautiful treasure. If fact, if I had to make a choice between the antique malls and the beach after a storm, I’d pick the beach every time. It has also become clear to me that if I’m going to become a snowbird at some point, I will need a place near the ocean. I think it’s time to start singing “California Here I Come”.

Saturday, March 14, 2009


Thursday I left Bodega Bay and headed for the 101. I spent the day driving through wine country: acres and acres of vineyards through the valleys of Sonoma County. The vineyards with their lovely geometric precision laced the valleys and stretched up the hillsides. There were tangles of wildflowers along the roadside and where ever there was vacant land. The cherry and apple trees were in blossom. It was a glorious and leisurely drive.

Towards mid-afternoon I entered the redwood forests. I stopped in Leggat where someone had cut a hole (big enough to drive a car through) in one of the trees. And just past Leggat, I stopped for the night at Redwoods RV Park. Like its name says, this campground is in the redwood forest. It was damp there like most old growth forests are and air was heavy with the earthy scent of lush vegetation. The Eel River tumbled through a canyon just behind my campsite.

Yesterday I followed 101 up along the coast reading signs warning of Tsumani danger. I stopped for lunch at a beach where signs warned you not to get too close to the water as “sneaker” waves were common there and would come up on shore and wash you into the ocean. I had never heard the term sneaker wave but I was certainly familiar with the concept. When I was growing up in the Maritimes, we called them rogue waves.

I stopped again in Crescent City where I poked in a couple of antique shops and picked up some groceries. Then it was back on the 101 and into Oregon. I’m camped at the Turtle Creek RV Park and Campground – and I’m within walking distance of the beach. I had a lovely beach walk before supper and then settled in for the night.

Today I will continue along the Oregon coast where giant pieces of rock tumbled into the ocean centuries ago. In a few days, I will be back in Canada.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Big Sur

After two full days of driving on all the twists and turns of the California coastline, I’m feeling a bit woozy! On Tuesday I drove from Cambria to end the day at a small place called Felton just north of Santa Cruz. I drove on the stretch of coast known as the Big Sur and it was, if possible, more spectacularly beautiful than I could have imagined. It makes one stretch for superlatives – and not find one that can capture what the eye sees.

I drove slowly. There is no other way you can drive this twisting stretch of coast – signs announcing 15 miles an hour with scary looking curves are posted regularly. I stopped in Carmel-by-Sea and poked in the shops and soaked up the atmosphere. I treated myself to a nice lunch at a little café. I ate gnocchi with a pesto sauce created especially for me! The gnocchi came with a gorgonzola cheese sauce which I thought would be too strong a taste. My server disappeared and came back to say the chef would be happy to make me a pesto sauce. It was the best gnocchi and pesto I’ve eaten since I used to eat it with my eldest daughter at John’s in Toronto.

On Wednesday, I drove right through San Francisco sticking to route 101 along Van Ness past the gilded City Hall and eventually across the Golden Gate Bridge. Is there a city prettier than San Francisco? I could have stayed there but I have visited it before and will again so I contented myself with driving through. As I entered Sausalito, I immediately headed back to coast and ended the day in Bodega Bay, on the Sonoma coast.

This morning I have cleaned up the van – with all the twisting and turning even my carefully stowed gear had shifted – and done some laundry. I will be leaving here shortly and will head inland and up the 101. I need a break from 15 mile an hour signs and I want to pick up the pace of my journey back home.

Monday, March 9, 2009

A very full day

Yesterday was as busy a day as I’ve had on this trip. Or maybe it just seemed like that because I lost an hour’s sleep with the switch to daylight savings time. In any event I left the gorgeous Morro Bay and headed to San Simeon and the Hearst Castle. And what a castle it was. William Randolph Hearst began building his architectural tour de force when he was 56. By then he had been collecting major art and antiquities for decades and they all found a place in his hilltop home. He collected ornate ceilings from Spain and Italy and had them installed at his “ranch” as he called it. There is statuary that dates back to 47 BC and he amassed a huge collection of religious paintings and artifacts – not so much because he was a religious man (he wasn’t) but because the Roman Catholic church supported so many artists and artisans and that’s the type of art that was available to buy.

The magnitude of this building project is impressive. Hearst continued changing and building it for 28 years until his death at 88. Julia Morgan, an American who was the first woman to graduate from a prestigious architectural school in France, was Hearst’s building partner. Morgan brought to life Hearst’s dream and found a place for his large collections and treasures.

I went on two guided tours, one at 11 another at 2 and also watched an Imax movie about the building of Hearst Castle and the rich and famous people who visited there.

The ranch (at one time it consisted of approximately 250,000 acres and included 80 miles of California coastline) still operates today and is run by the Hearst Corporation.

The coastline in this part of California reminds me of New Zealand landscape, rounded, lush green hills, gorgeous coastline, even the same type of rock poking through the green from time to time. All that is missing are the sheep. Here herds of cattle rather than sheep occupy the landscape. Later I read that, like New Zealand, the landscape here has been formed by ancient volcanic activity.

By 4:30, at the end of the second tour, I was exhausted and headed back south a few miles to San Simeon State Park to spend the night. As I was backing into my camping spot, a man from the next campsite yelled out that I was about to hit the bottom on the van on back concrete curb. In the end I settled on the campsite just below him (the first one was too slanted) and went back to say “thank you” as I had noticed he had an Alberta license plate. It turns out that he is a transplanted Aussie who lives in Drumheller. Later in the evening, he (Paul) came over to invite me to join him and his friends Larry and Larry’s wife Pat for fresh fish and mussels that Larry had caught earlier in the day. So I joined an impromptu California dinner party!

Today I am going to check out the nearby town of Cambria as all three of my dinner mates say it is not to be missed and I will spend another night here tonight. When I’m in Cambria, I will find a WiFi site and post this.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Driving up the edge

I’m camped tonight at Leo Carrillo State Park between Santa Monica and Ventura. As I drove up the coast today, I passed through a myriad of places whose names I had only heard: La Jolla, Oceanside, San Clemente. Then came the beaches: Laguna Beach, Newport Beach, Huntington Beach, Long Beach.

I stayed on the Hwy 1 and drove right by Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), a big refinery and the harbor docks. Then came Santa Monica and I crossed Sunset Boulevard. I wondered if it was THE Sunset Boulevard and, sure enough, when I checked my map a few minutes ago it does run right into Hollywood. If I had known that for sure at the time, I might have made that right turn and driven into make believe land! However, my intention all along had been to avoid LA on this trip and I’m sticking to plan. LA is worth a whole trip on its own at some point.

After Santa Monica I drove through Malibu and stopped there to pick up some groceries. You don’t really see much of Malibu when you drive through – the mansions are gated and hidden with vegetation and the beach houses sit side-by-side with only garages visible from the highway.

It is windy and cool here tonight although there are lots of hardy campers - mostly in tents and a good number of them have surf boards or kayaks with them. There were a group of tenters with a large Alumni Reunion sign so I moved to the other side of the park and found a spot between three families with young children. I'm sure they won't be partying all night!

This is the second time this week that I’ve stayed in a place with no radio or TV reception and no WiFi access. I’ll have to post this later.

Saturday, 3:10 pm

I’m now camped at Morro Bay about an hour from San Simeon. Today I drove mostly on highway 101 which goes along the coast and then inland for a bit. I passed through more of those familiar names: Santa Barbara, Santa Maria, Pismo Beach. I stopped in Pismo Beach, a beautiful little beach town that also had an outlet mall. Sandra would be proud of me – I actually found a bargain: a lovely Izod hoody for $9.99 which I really did need! I’m about to head to the beach which is only a short walk from my campsite and it’s windy so the hoody will get its first test.

I just made reservations for two different tours of the Hearst Castle in San Simeon tomorrow. Life on the road goes on…

Thursday, March 5, 2009

San Diego

I’m still in San Diego – it is lovely here. Yesterday I took an Old Town Trolley tour of the city. The tour is a two-hour, narrated drive to major points of interest. What I really like about these tours is that you can get off and back on at different spots along the way. I got off at Seaport Village, an area on the waterfront that has a lovely boardwalk, one of kind shops and restaurants. The tour starts in the old town section of the city and I poked in the shops there when we got back. San Diego is only eight miles from the Mexican border so many of the shops were filled with bright colours and inexpensive goods of Mexico. I had an early supper on the deck of one of the owner-operated restaurants before heading back to the campground. No national chains in this part of town!

Today I’m tired after all the walking and I’m going to extend my stay at this campground for another night. I have “travelling chores” to do: get the propane and gas tanks filled, dump the waste tanks and fill the water tank with fresh water, find a car wash and wash the van, check the tire pressure, etc. That way I’ll be ready to leave tomorrow. It’s raining farther up the coast and I’m not in any rush to trade this sun for rain even though the thought of returning home is pulling me northward.

This morning I checked the internet for vacation apartment/condo listings and finding a place to spend the winter here would be doable. And there is so much to see and do in San Diego. But then, again, who knows lies farther up the coast…. I guess I’ll find out starting tomorrow.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Palm Desert - A Jewel in the Mojave

It’s 3:20 pm and I’m watching the ducks waddle down the Golf Course. The shadows are just starting to lengthen over the manicured fairway in front of the patio. The weather is spectacular; the people are friendly. I’ve had a refreshing swim and a mid-afternoon snack to tide me over until we go out for hors d’oeuvres and drinks at 5 pm. We’re watching the Scotties Tournament of Hearts beamed to us via satellite from Victoria. In the morning we watch the early morning news from Calgary. Such is life at the Oasis Golf and Country Club in Palm Desert. I could spend winters here in a heartbeat.

Al and Shirley are gracious and welcoming hosts. Shirley and I are going to Joshua Tree National Monument on Sunday and now I plan to leave on Monday.

There are a lot of Calgarians here, too. In fact, when I stopped to pick up flowers and wine on my to Al and Shirley’s, standing behind me at the cashier’s line up was Ron Liepert, a man I worked with at Telus and who is now Alberta’s Health Minister. At the last RV Park my next door neighbours were from Braseside, about a ten minute drive from my home in Calgary. It is, indeed, a small world.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Now this is more like it...

I’m back to dressing like it's summer: capris, sandals, tank top. The high today is somewhere between 77 and 81 Fahrenheit, slightly overcast and humid. And I’m still in the desert, for goodness sake!

After I left Lake Havasu, I drove south to Yuma to spend the night there. As I drove south, I noticed veritable RV villages sitting in the middle of the desert. I discovered later that not only can you park there, some of these places charge a $5.00 per day fee and have people come in with trucks to vacuum out holding tanks and fill propane tanks.

As I drove into Yuma the landscape turned green! They irrigate heavily there and as I headed to the Escapee Co-op RV Park, I passed warehouses emblazoned with Dole and Sunkist. A large tractor-trailer loaded with oranges and lemons drove by. The RV park was surrounded by orange groves. Ahhh, yes, it was lovely after almost a month in desert country. And it was warm, too.

The next day I left Yuma and entered California which is just a few miles down the road. The first landscape I saw was, of course, more desert. This desert, however, was comprised of sand dunes and there were RV villages there, too. It was also a haven for ATVs. They appeared mostly to be driven by prepubescent boys (or maybe by those who wished they were) running them up and down the dunes.

Usually just across any state line, there is a large tourist information centre. I’ve gotten used to stopping there to pick up maps and brochures of things to see and do. But I’m beginning to think there are no information centres in California! When I checked in at the Indian Wells RV Park in Indio last night, I commented on the fact that I hadn’t seen one info centre in California. The women at the check in counter couldn’t remember seeing any and didn’t know of any in Indio either. So tomorrow I will check to see if there’s an AAA centre and pick up info there. Today I did run into another woman at PEP Boys Automotive (I was getting a new deep cycle Marine/RV battery as mine has died) and she gave me a 1-800 number that you can phone for information. She was travelling on her own, too and was driving a big motor home and pulling a horse trailer. She says she calls the 1-800 number and asks for the number of the Chamber of Commerce of the city she’s headed to and then calls them to find out where to stay – a little trickier with a horse!

Indio really the first small city you come to when you enter the Coachella Valley – another green visual delight! My next door neighbours here (fellow Calgarians) stopped by for a chat and one of things they told me is that Indio sits over one of North America’s largest aquifers. It is spectacularly lush here: lots of palms, deciduous trees that are in full leaf, bright flowers. And unlike Florida, there are no bugs! Just a few miles up the valley are Palm Desert and Palm Springs.

I also had another woman stop to say “Welcome”. She’s from BC and travels alone in a van the size of mine. She spends five months a year here living in her van – with her dog. As she says, you put out a table and some comfy chairs outside and you’re hardly in the van except to sleep.
So, I’m booked into this park tonight and tomorrow night. So many possibilities to think about.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

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Hi...I've adjusted my comment settings to allow people who aren't registered with Google to leave if your earlier comment didn't post, please try again. Elizabeth

Oatman, AZ

Oatman is an old gold mining town about an hour north of Lake Havasu. When it was abandoned, the miners turned out their burros and they stayed around and kept breeding. Now they wander around the town begging for carrots and other treats from the tourists.
The old buildings now house souvenir shops and the like but are fun to poke around in. And the desert scenery on the way in and out of the town is spectacular. Several times I spotted a lone RV parked out on the desert. You can camp anywhere on the Arizona desert unless there is a sign posted stating the contrary.
I'm still in Lake Havasu but will head south to Yuma tomorrow. Next week I'll be in California. Soon the long west coast drive north will begin.

Monday, February 16, 2009

London Bridge is NOT falling down....

Yesterday I drove over London Bridge, the honest-to-goodness bridge that served the city of London, England. Here’s what some of Lake Havasu’s tourist information says about it.

"For more than 140 years, London Bridge served as a crossing over the River Thames in London, England. It survived both world wars and a terrorist attack in 1884. So why did London want to remove such a significant landmark? And how did the London Bridge end up in Lake Havasu City, Arizona?

The London Bridge had survived many historic events, but not nature's sinking forces. The Bridge began to sink into the River Thames and in 1968, the city of London decided to sell it for 2.5 million dollars to Robert P. McCulloch, founder of Lake Havasu City.

It took 3 years and another 7 million dollars to dismantle, ship and rebuild the bridge. Today, the London Bridge connects Lake Havasu City with an island in the lake. Its massive body of stone brings the essence of England to Arizona."

Lake Havesu is tourist town. I went to the swap meet downtown yesterday and there were three or four out-of-state license plates for every Arizona plate. When I go for groceries or on a shopping expedition most of the people are older than I am – something I don’t experience very often. I always thought of snowbirds as being Canadian but I’ve discovered on this trip that those of us who flock to the south in the winter also come from Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota and other snowy, cold winter states. I can’t help but be a bit envious that these folks don’t have to leave their own country to find a warm spot to nest for the winter. No exchange rate on their money, no extra health insurance – and not as far to go.

Yesterday I went to the Winter Blast 2009, an annual gathering of pyrotechs who get together for a convention as put on spectacular fireworks displays (usually choreographed to music). The manufacturers are there and put on displays but there are lots of amateurs who are there to learn how to build various types of fireworks. I hadn’t realized how much chemistry is involved to get the proper elevation, the right colours, etc.

I was warned that people start arriving at Sara State Park at 3:30 pm for a show that doesn’t begin until 8:00 pm. So I figured I’d go early. I splurged (calories, that is) on some butterfly chips and sat down at a picnic table. The woman next to me was also eating some. We got talking and it turned out that she had her husband, both retired school teachers, were from Calgary! Mavis and her husband Don were visiting a friend of theirs (a pyrotechnic expert) who was at the event to give a lecture and catch up on what was new. So we all sat together and got a running commentary on what was behind the spectacular display. What a nice bonus for me.

I’m checking out campgrounds here and checked into my second one last night. Prospectors RV Park is a much nicer than the first place, Campbell Cove RV Park. Campbell Cover had very small sites and nondescript, smallish shower facilities, small clubhouse, etc. They charged extra for internet coverage. On the other hand, Prospectors has large sites covered with a lovely gravel mix that keeps the sand from tracking into the vehicle, cement paved roadways, a new large clubhouse complete with a well equipped fitness room. Their TV room is large and comfortable. Yesterday in the huge clubhouse part, people gathered together to watch the Daytona 500. People brought finger foods and the park supplied beer!

WiFi and cable TV are free and the laundry facilities are clean and large. All this for $30.00 per night including taxes. (Campbell Cove was $38.00 plus taxes.) This would be a nice place to spend the winter – if I could get used to the desert. My soul craves lushness and I haven’t found it here yet. There is a lovely spot on the water just south of Lake Havasu that looks like it has lots of trees and I will try that next.

I plan to stay in this area for a week or so then head into California.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

What was I thinking?

Good Heavens! I do know the first commandment of RVing – walk around your vehicle before pulling away from your campsite. But this morning I was distracted. Maybe it was the thought of the Tanger Outlet Mall up the street. Or maybe it was the prediction of a day when the high was going to crack 65. Who knows? But in any event I didn’t walk around my vehicle and by the time I thought about it, I was on the other side of the campground. So I looked in my side mirror and saw what I really didn’t want to see: I was dragging my electrical cord and water hose behind me. Yikes! I jumped out and stowed the hose (with its broken pressure regulator still attached) and the electrical cord with the bent prongs. Then I headed back to my campsite to check out the damage. As I approached I spotted a geyser that would have sent Old Faithful into a fit of jealousy. My puny attempts at shutting it down by turning off the faucet failed miserably so I headed to the campground office where I ran in, fessed up and asked for help.

I was very lucky that the woman behind the counter was totally non-plussed by my fervent “I’m soooo sorry". She said not to worry about it. Evidently my neighbour had already called them and help had been dispatched. Then the genial campground host told me about the time she had done the same thing – sort of. She had driven away from the gas station with the hose still in her gas tank. “Boy, you should have seen that mess,” she told me. So I allowed that maybe the water hose mishap wasn’t so bad after all – at least it was water and not gasoline!

So I left the campground and consoled myself at the Tanger Outlet Mall. I bought a nice Liz Clairborn black and white top to go with the black pants I was wearing (Presidents Day sale - $11.00!) and headed down the road to Salome. The sign as you enter town says: Salome – where she danced.

I booked into the Desert Gem RV Campground that I found in my Passport America listings. According to the listings this place was supposed to have WiFi and cable TV. Not so. Actually, there is WiFi but it is not free. Nope, you have to pay. Well, OK, I told myself, I can wait until tomorrow to use the internet. Then, as I went to plug my cord into the cable TV connection, the manager walks by and tells me that there isn’t any cable TV. “We used to try to bring it on satellite but that really didn’t work so we took it down.”

“Oh, well,” I replied, “I get really good reception on my antenna.”

“Good luck,” he replied. “You can’t get anything here with just an antenna.” I tried anyway. He was right. And this is Grey’s Anatomy night.

So I paid for the internet connection thinking I could watch TV over the internet. I have discovered much to my delight that in the US you can watch full episodes of your favourite TV show for free on the internet. The networks actually supply them on their websites. So I paid up for the internet connection only to discover that the connection is too slow to watch TV.

As I write this, the floor under my feet just started to vibrate – there’s a train passing by. I think I am between the highway and the train tracks. Did I say that today just wasn’t my day? I think I’ll just go to bed!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Snow in Tucson

I know this is Tucson, Arizona but when I got up this morning there was snow on the ground! I’d been trying to find someplace where I might escape the winter weather but alas it caught up with me. Mind you there was only an inch or so on the ground but it was enough to snarl traffic and keep schools from opening on time so I decided to book in for another night and spend a quiet day reading, writing and walking. As I write this, the sun is shining and the snow is almost all gone.

I still plan to go to Sedona and the Grand Canyon but right now they are buried in 18” of snow with temperatures well below freezing overnight. So I will head for Lake Havasu and wait for the weather to clear farther north.

As I was driving across yet more desert yesterday, I realized that I am getting quite ready to be back home in Calgary. I want to spend time with my family and friends, and I have several projects around the house that I want to finally tackle. While I still love the freedom of travelling and living small, I am also beginning to feel the pull towards “nesting” again. How richly blessed I am.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Albuquerque Again!

We had problems finding reliable WiFi sites the last couple of days but now we're safely ensconced at our campsite in Albuquerque with a strong WiFi signal.

We left Carlsbad and headed to White Sands via the back road from Artesia and were treated to a beautiful drive through the Lincoln National Forest: lots of mountainous hills, trees and even a small ski hill. Such a treat after miles and more miles of desert. As we started down the last decline to a wide plain there lay 275 square miles of white sand dunes. We passed through Alamagordo and drove on to the explore White Sands. This wonder is comprised of gypsum sand that the wind has carved into huge sand dunes that can move as much as three feet per year. We stopped for a one mile walk. On our way through the 8.5 mile loop road, we passed a grader plowing the white sand off the highway!

From White Sands it was on to Las Cruces and our campground for the night. Yesterday, we drove from Las Cruces to Albuquerque. After checking in at the campground, we went to Garcia's for some authentic New Mexican food - the best we've had on this trip.

Today, we've taken a "down" day: doing laundry, cleaning, and Annette did her packing. She leaves tomorrow at 10:15 am headed back to the snows of the Canadian winter. Meantime, there is a winter weather advisory in Albuquerque for the next couple of days so after I drop Annette at the airport at 8 a.m. I'm heading back down to Las Cruces and the number 10 highway into Arizona. I'll have to stay south for a couple of days until the rain and cooler weather has passed. Then it's on to Sedona, followed by Lake Havasu. It will be strange to be travelling alone again.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Carlsbad, New Mexico

After we left Taos, Annette and I headed for Santa Fe. Santa Fe is such a gorgeous place one could spend many days poking around in its historical buildings, museums, art galleries and shops. We settled for a trip to the Georgia O’Keefe Museum, the Cathedral, the Indian merchants along the Plaza, some of the many shops and galleries that line the quaint, narrow streets downtown. We stopped for a great lunch at the Plaza Café. We topped off meal with a taste of the apple pie that we bought to take back to the campground with us. The deserts were so inspiring that Annette actually asked for permission to go behind the counter to photograph them! This naturally resulted in our pieces of pie being somewhat more generous than normal. Now this was no ordinary apple pie: this apple pie was laced with pecans and a generous measure of cinnamon, topped with a wonderful caramel concoction. Then it was back to the campground to regroup for our trip down south to Carlsbad and warmer weather - and to eat the rest of our pie.

As we were leaving Santa Fe, we stopped at a Victoria’s Secret – and I survived Annette’s bra shopping expedition. (Her daughters will know what I mean!) New undies in hand, we started down route 285. Route 285 between Santa Fe and Carlsbad can only be described as desert and more desert. As we neared Carlsbad, I exclaimed to Annette, “Look, there’s a tree” which had us erupting in gales of laughter when we realized that sighting a tree was actually an event!

Yesterday we explored Carlsbad Caverns’ easily accessible “big room”. There are no words that I can use to describe the beauty of this awe-inspiring place. On the way down the 850 foot (75 storey) elevator ride from the visitor centre, the attendant called the cavern “nature’s Cathedral”. This was clearly an understatement. We took lots of pictures but, alas, I can’t seem to download either Annette’s photos or my own into the computer. Last night I spent a couple of hours reinstalling the software and actually reading the instructions all to no avail. I will try again in a couple of days when the urge to reject all modern technology leaves me.

As we left the Carlsbad Caverns we took a 9.5 mile loop tour of the desert. The desert can be a very beautiful place and certainly this drive showed it off to its advantage. Some of the cacti were beginning to bloom. It was warm enough to drive with the windows open. It was a lovely way to end our exploring day.

Back in Carlsbad we stopped at a restaurant that was recommended in the AAA Tour Book. We had what can only be described as the worst meal I have ever eaten. In fact, we did not eat much of it at all. Our server was very gracious and agreed that the food was overcooked, tasteless and poorly presented. She sent in the restaurant manager to see us. He was clearly not pleased to see what had come out of his kitchen. We told him that while out server was great, we were very disappointed with the quality of the meal. He took a look at what remained on our plates, assured us that this was not “how we run our business”, promptly picked up our tab and headed for the kitchen. After we finished our tea (we were afraid to try their desserts), we picked up some groceries and headed back to the campground.

Today we are driving north and west to White Sands, an area of pure white sand dunes made of gypsum sand. We’ll spend the night somewhere near there and begin the leisurely northward trek back to Albuquerque tomorrow. Sadly, Annette leaves from Calgary on Sunday.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Pictures from our weekend in Taos

Annette and Grandmother Jean

Tara, Terri (one of our genial hosts), Elizabeth

Tara, Ron, Laurel

Dario and Elizabeth

Laurel and Andre

Bob (one of our genial hosts)

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Taos and Taos Ski Valley

Annette and I have spent the last couple of days in Taos and Taos Ski Valley wrapped in the warm hospitality of Terri and Bob, friends of Annette’s from Calgary. Terri and Bob have a lovely home in Taos Ski Valley just steps away from the ski hill. We were guests number six and seven as five other Calgarians had flown down with Terri and Bob for skiing and the wine festival. The other guests (Ron and Tara, Dario, Andre and Laurel) proved to be a lively and congenial group. We had some great conversations and many laughs while we were there despite the fact that Annette and I did not join them for skiing and wine tasting.

So what did we do, you might wonder if we passed on such wonderful activities as skiing and wine tasting? Well, we started out exploring the historic part of Taos – and then we met Grandmother Jean, a tenth generation Cherokee Medicine Woman.

When Annette arrived in New Mexico she was interested in meeting a native healer but how do you go about that? In the end, Grandmother Jean came to us. As we sat in a coffee shop on the old historic plaza yesterday morning, we got chatting with Jennifer the woman who works behind the counter. Jennifer was giving us lots of information about things to do when Annette asked her whether there were any native healers around. She left for a minute and came back with Frank who said he had done some work with Grandmother Jean. He said she was a wonderful wise woman and he offered to phone her to see if she would meet us. To our surprise, Grandmother Jean was less than a block away when she answered her cell phone and she drove to the coffee shop. She told us about the old Cherokee traditions and healing work that she does. We decided to go home with her for a cleansing ceremony. It was an honour to be part of another culture’s sacred ritual.

I’m not going to go into the details of this sacred Cherokee ceremony but you can check out Grandmother Jean’s website at Yes, even old Medicine Women have cell phones and websites in our modern world.

This morning we said goodbye to Terri and Bob and the rest of the crew and headed back into Taos for one last visit with Grandmother Jean. Tonight we’re back in Santa Fe. We plan to poke around Santa Fe tomorrow then we will head south to Carlsbad to see the caverns there. Tomorrow it’s supposed to be 47 F as a high in Santa Fe; in Carlsbad the high tomorrow will be in the 70s. Carlsbad is calling!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Shivering in Albuquerque

It is late in the afternoon and soon the sun will be going down. Hopefully the wind will go down too. I’m sitting in the van which rocking in the wind – a bitter, cold wind that’s been blowing all day. This morning when I got up I discovered that my water hose had frozen sometime during the night. Thankfully I had water in the tank – which didn’t freeze – and I could use that. Last night I put anti-freeze down the toilet and sink so those tanks wouldn’t freeze. I used windshield wiper fluid and so far everything is still flowing.

I’m actually warm enough in the van but there’s not much room to move around. I’ve been sleeping with both a sleeping bag and a comforter over me, and have not kept any heat on overnight. Tonight I think I will leave the little electric heater on low.

I went out today to pick up some food for Annette and stopped at Sears where I picked up a quilted vest and another turtleneck, both by Lands End and both on sale. The grand total was $22.00, probably the best clothing bargain I’ve managed on this trip!

Annette arrives tomorrow and we’ll be going to Taos probably on the weekend. We’ll stay in a house with some friends of hers – not in the van. This is a good thing as it’s even colder in Taos. Annette and I will spend the next ten days travelling around New Mexico. Despite the weather, New Mexico is a beautiful spot and there is much to do here. And according to the weather reports, it is supposed to warm up soon.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Cultural Curiosities

I’m currently in Santa Fe and will stay here until Monday. Today I met my friend Janet and her husband Bob (from Calgary) for coffee at a neat coffee/news café on Garcia Street. Then Janet and I poked in the art galleries on Canyon Rd. and walked up town to the Plaza while Bob went back to his meetings. Earlier in the day I went to the Farmer’s Market and the State Information Centre where I picked up all kinds of material for Annette and my future explorations around the state.

Santa Fe is gorgeous – narrow downtown streets, lots of one story adobe buildings. In fact, adobe is everywhere. Window and door frames are often painted turquoise or a deep blue and the effect is spectacular.

But on to Cultural Curiousities. On those long desert drives this past week, I’ve been thinking about some of the things I’ve noticed on this part of the trip so here goes:

  • In the “deep south” (Florida, Louisiana, Texas) I was invariably addressed as “honey”, “dear”, “sweetie” or some other term of endearment. This seemed to be the natural greeting of female restaurant servers or sales women. Notice it was women who called me this. Incredibly, these intimate greetings seemed fairly natural when pronounced with a strong southern drawl. Men, both young and old, address me as “ma’am”.
  • Every city or decent-sized town has a Martin Luther King Blvd.
  • There are gun shops and even pawn shops advertise guns.
  • The road kill is very different. Armadillos and wild boar.
  • The ugly billboard is ubiquitous. Then there are signs that must be 200 feet high so you can see them over the tops of the palm trees.
  • There seem to be more adult video stores in Florida than I’ve seen anywhere else.
  • In Texas every other radio station is a religious station or a country and western station – and in parts of the desert there is no radio station at all.
  • In Texas I drove past a small town called Welfare. Just down the road was a town called Comfort. Maybe you really do need a car to get from welfare to comfort.
  • There are fireworks shops everywhere.
  • Seat belts are called Safety Belts. I like that! The signs on the side of the road remind you to “Wear your Safety Belt – it’s the law”.
  • There are crosses along the side of the road where there have been fatal accidents. What is different is that many of them have professionally done signs that say, “Drive Safely” or “Killed by a Drunk Driver”.
  • It was very windy on the desert both in Texas and New Mexico…and I passed several wind farms, interspersed among the pump jacks, turning the wind into power.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Santa Rosa, New Mexico

I left Ft. Stockton yesterday morning and started north across the west Texas desert headed up route 285 to New Mexico – miles and miles of dust and cacti just like the landscape was on Tuesday.

Not only was the land barren, most of the day Tuesday I was the only one driving on the well-maintained, four-lane divided highway. I drove for a couple of hours and then noticed that my gas gauge was nearing one quarter. I could feel the anxiety start to build: I hadn’t seen a town or gas station for miles and miles. Finally, as the needle slipped close to the empty mark, an Exxon station appeared. I gratefully bought their overpriced gas at $2.19 a gallon. (Should have been around $1.89 or so.) I spoke to the only other travelers gassing up: a couple of 20-something Mexican men who were on their way to Mexico and complained to me about the gas price. And they’d been travelling with their fuel light on.

As I drove I was surprised that the desert wasn’t populated with pump jacks, oil rigs, oil field service equipment or pipelines poking above ground. After all the price of oil is based on west Texas crude and I’d been driving in west Texas for two days by this point and only seen the odd pump jack. And then, yesterday, just south of Pecos, I smelled it: oil, crude oil. West Texas crude. And the fields of pump jacks came into view.

Pecos turned out to be one of those windy, dusty towns you see in old western movies - one story buildings with broken windows, doors hanging open on broken hinges, faded signs advertising businesses that no longer exist. Here and there was a lived-in building or a functioning business. It was bleak and dreary and I couldn’t imagine living there.

As I crossed the state line the first town I came to was called Loving….how lovely - how loving! The desert continued along with the fields of pump jacks. I had never thought of New Mexico as an oil producing state.

I drove through Carlsbad without going to the caverns as Annette and I will go there next week. I spent last night just north or Carlsbad at a KOA campgroung.

This morning it was on to Roswell. I saved the UFO museum for the trip back with Annette but I did stop at a Sears clearance store to buy a couple of sweaters. I was delighted to find out that they were clearing out their winter stock. Temperatures in Santa Fe and Albuquerque are headed to highs in the low 50s with lows below freezing.

Tonight I got my hair cut and the woman who cut it just moved to Santa Rosa after 25 years in Albuquerque. “You do know that you can ski in both Sante Fe and Albuquerque, don’t you?” she asked. Yuk! And I thought I was going south for the winter!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inauguration Day

It’s been a great day to be in the USA. There is something about this inauguration that has brought people together in a very special way. I arrived at a KOA campground in Junction, Texas last evening after several hundred miles of dry, rolling hill country. I was cautioned to be careful about how much water I used as we were on the edge of the desert and there had been an 18 month drought. But wonder of wonders, this little campground in the middle of nowhere had cable TV. I indulged in CNN’s pre-inauguration coverage. When I got up this morning, I did something I haven’t done since I started this trip last May – I turned on the television.

I was mesmerized by the crowds already gathered on the mall. It was early (8 am in DC) and cold but the crowds were as jubilant as they were the night Obama was elected. I decided to wait until after Obama’s speech before I started driving for the day. I went for a walk, did some laundry and returned to the van for the swearing in and speech.

While I was in the laundry room, I met a man (his wife was glued to their TV, he told me, so he was doing the laundry) who said he had voted republican all his life but voted for Obama this time. He said that he felt the US was really changing – even in the Deep South – and that the country was moving from just right of centre to just left of centre. He felt that this was the right time for this move. He headed back in time to watch the swearing in and the speech, too.

When I went to the office to let the folks know that I’d be leaving a bit late because I wanted to watch Obama’s speech, they waived the late checkout fee. They had their TV on, too.

I was a bit concerned as I watched the earlier coverage: the Obamas were late getting to the church, the president-elect looked somber and worried as he walked down the corridor to the swearing in ceremony, he stumbled on the first line of the oath of office. I wondered if he was aware of some threat that perhaps the rest of us weren’t aware of. But then he took the podium and the Obama we had seen stir the crowds during the campaign clicked in. His speech was masterfully written and masterfully delivered. It was Obama at his oratorical finest.

I’m now sitting in the middle of the west Texas desert (Ft. Stockton) at another campground. Somewhere in the drive across the desert, the last radio station faded out. Tonight, despite the fact that the campground information says you should be able to pull three TV channels from the air, my wonderful new TV can’t find anything. While I can find a few radio stations, National Public Radio (NPR) is not among them. And the rest of the stations seem to be religious or country and western. But the campground’s free WI FI is working just fine. So I plan to post this blog and curl up with a good book. There’s a turn off here that cuts up to New Mexico via Pecos. So tomorrow I’ll take that road and be in New Mexico tomorrow night.

Janet, a friend from Calgary is going to be in Santa Fe this weekend and I'll met here there for drinks or church or maybe both!

Monday, January 19, 2009

San Antonio

San Antonio – what a great city! I drove to the heart of downtown yesterday morning and parked within a block of the Alamo - just off Crockett St. Alamo Plaza was already crowded and I joined the crowds walking through the Alamo itself. 189 people died there in 1836 after trying valiantly to turn back the troops of Mexico’s General Santa Anna. The Heroes of the Alamo listed inside what’s left of the fort included their home countries and I was surprised to find places like Denmark and Ireland among them.

San Antonio, with a population of just over a million people, has a vibrant downtown that was bustling on the Sunday I was there. After the Alamo I walked a few blocks to La Villita, the original settlement that is now filled with little shops and restaurants. Then it was on to the Riverwalk – truly a civic masterpiece. The Riverwalk is 20 feet down from street level and lined with restaurants and shops and places to sit and people watch.

Designed by an architect in the 1920’s, the Riverwalk is a wonderful, man-made place that draws people to the heart of the city. It is ringed with hotels that have been carefully designed so that their entry level from the Riverwalk blends with stone work that lines both sides of the river. I actually took many pictures including some of the foot bridges that allow travel across the river but later discovered that I hadn’t brought the proper connection to download the pictures into my computer. I’ll try to pick one up today.

I stopped at a lovely Italian café for lunch on the river. When my order (penne with chicken, artichokes and sundried tomatoes in a creamy garlic pesto sauce) arrived, I burst out laughing at the portion size – easily enough for two or three people. The server gave me a smile and said “But Madam you are in Texas!”) I packed up as much as I ate and will have it for lunch again today. After lunch I took a narrated boat tour of the Riverwalk, a great way to learn the history of the area.

After touring the Alamo, La Villita and the Riverwalk, I retrieved my car and drove to Mission San Jose a restored historic mission that dates from 1720. It is both a national and state historic site and is still and active parish. It is an imposing stone structure that had me in awe of the people who built this sacred site by hand, stone by stone. I sat in the sanctuary for a time soaking up the centuries of prayer that had been uttered there. I added some of my own.

After a day spent mostly walking, I headed out to find a place to spend the night. Today, I will north and west on my way to New Mexico.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

How do you know you're in Texas?

Let me count the ways…..

· It’s windy and it’s warm (I’m loving the warm – no sleeping bag tonight)
· There are pump jacks pumping oil
· You can smell the oil, really
· There are horses in the field beside the campground
· There are cows in the field across the river
· There are cacti growing along the road
· The air is very dry and I need hand lotion again
· I’m camped under pecan trees (no leaves though, it is winter after all)
· I’m going to visit the Alamo tomorrow – Davy Crockett died there. (Does anyone else remember my brother Jim’s Davy Crockett hat?)
· People here are friendly but they sound like, well they sound like the live in Texas.
This morning I’m in Beaumont, Texas and getting ready for another driving day. For me that means a leisurely four or five hours which should put me just outside San Antonio. No sign of those Texas cowboys yet – just massive billboards for casinos and off track betting on horse races. Yikes.

I’ve noticed that many of the RV campgrounds I’ve stayed in have a lot of permanent residents. These are mostly trades people who fire up their diesel pickup trucks at six in the morning as they get ready to leave for work! I’m not sure if these people are just following the work (certainly that could be case in the rebuilding of New Orleans) or whether they are moving into inexpensive accommodation. And there is a surprising number of families with young children.

If you’ve ever gone to an RV show you’ll know that some of these large 5th wheels, travel trailers and motor homes are as well equipped as any apartment. And living in an RV park would be inexpensive: Approximately $400 per month with electricity, water, and sewer included. A small electric heater costs you nothing to run as it runs of the RV parks power and would take care of the cool days in the south. (In fact, I bought one the other day as the heat is more even than the heat from the furnace.) There are no property taxes. By and large these permanent residents have the usual things one expects to find in a back yard: potted plants, barbeques, wooden decks and kids toys. And, while the trades people are easy to explain, I wonder if some of the families have been displaced by the mortgage crisis and the fall of the financial markets. In any event, the mix of people in these parks is an interesting one and one I hadn’t expected.

The weather is expected to warm up slightly today which will be a relief as I really didn’t bring much cold weather clothing with me! By the way, we Canadians get blamed for this cool weather. The weather presenters on TV talk about the “Alberta Clipper from Canada” or just “the Canadian cold front”. At least it reminds people that Canada exists – there’s rarely a mention of anything Canadian in the newspapers. I even had to phone home to find out who had won the election last fall as I was staying in a park without an internet connection.

Time to get on the road again. More later.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

New Orleans

There aren’t many places in the US where I could drive in four states on the same day although perhaps some of you long distance drivers might find many places. But the day before yesterday, I started in Florida, drove through Alabama and Mississippi and into Louisiana. I camped just east of New Orleans in a campground that is still rebuilding its facilities after Katrina.

Yesterday I drove into New Orleans which is much smaller and easier to get around in than I had imagined. In fact, I heard on the news this morning that the population statistics had just been upped to 288,000 by the federal government. Prior to Katrina about 400,000 people lived here.

I took a 2.5 hour, narrated tour of the city that included some of the neighbourhoods that had been ravaged by Katrina. I have found that I can learn much on these tours. Our driver was one of the people who evacuated from the city and he shared his personal stories of what’s involved when one has to leave suddenly not knowing when they could return. His to do list included getting refills on prescriptions, gassing up the car, packing clothing and valuables, making a motel reservation in another state, making sure he had enough cash. All this was done with long lineups as the rest of the city was also doing the same things. His advice included using national drug store chains and banks as they can be accessed from another state. His house was flooded when he returned and he also told us about the trials of getting it rebuilt. It was fascinating to hear this first person account.

Our tour included the lower ninth ward, the hardest hit area. Along with all the vacant lots where there had been houses, there were many devastated but still standing homes. And there some new ones built by musicians such as Harry Connick, jr and by Brad Pitt’s Make It Right foundation.

Our guide told us that many of the still standing but uninhabitable homes have been left as they are because the people couldn’t prove they owned them and therefore weren’t eligible for the government rebuilding funds. Louisiana still operates under the Napoleonic Code of France not British Common Law like most other states. This means, among other things, that when someone dies their “estate” must be probated and inheritance taxes paid. Of course there is a cost to this so most people in poorer neighbourhoods like the ninth ward just don’t file probate. When the parents die, one of the children just moves into the house and lives there. After a couple of generations the paper trail on the home is lost. So many of the people in the ninth ward couldn’t prove ownership and didn’t qualify for government help in rebuilding. It’s a pretty sad situation.

Perhaps the most interesting of the affected neighbourhoods was a 1960s-built neighbourhood of nice brick homes. Except for the brick and larger yards, it could have been my neighbourhood of Lakeview. Here, too, many homes were still vacant but looked like they could be fixed. In this case, though, we were told that most of these people were original owners who had move into their homes when they were new, had raised their families and paid for the homes which cost around $35,000 in the 1960s. These people where now approaching retirement age and their homes were worth about $240,000 before Katrina hit. So their government rebuilding payout was about $240,000. Many people decided just to take the money, leave the house and retire rather than rebuild. Many of these houses will eventually wind up in the city’s hands after they are sold for taxes.

While the Katrina part of the tour touched all of us, the bulk of the tour showcased the rest and best of New Orleans: the garden district, the music district, the French Quarter, the sea front. When the tour was over, I wandered around the French Quarter, poked in some of the shops, had a bite to eat, stopped in an old Cathedral for a quiet prayer. Then I headed back to the campground where I had spent the previous night.

I caught up on some email and bill paying (what did we do before the internet?). My friend Annette called from Calgary to say that she was flying into Albuquerque, New Mexico to meet me on January 28. She’ll travel with me for ten days. How fun!

I will be leaving here shortly and will spend tonight somewhere in Texas.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Gainsville to Destin

Gainsville is a beautiful city composed mostly of the campus of the University of Florida. On my trip to Alice Lake to look for alligators, I drove through the campus. The campus is large and well manicured and the city is very much university centered . I didn’t see any alligators but two excited birders pointed out two wood storks, an endangered species.

From Gainsville I headed west to the coast and followed the coast line to Ochlockanee Bay where I found a lovely campground to spend the night. I camped right on the water where a warm wind blew in a rain squall sometime in the night.

Sunday I continued along the Gulf coast taking the slower, scenic route and stopping frequently. I ended up in Panama City where I discovered that there is a very upscale group of RVers who live in the equivalent of gated communities. This resort, Emerald Coast RV Resort, has signs in the registration area stating that if you are driving an older model RV, it could be visually inspected and refused entry if it didn’t meet the park’s standards! They did let me in though - for a fee of $60.00 a night, the most I’ve spent on this trip. However, I was tired and curious about what $60.00 would buy so I paid up and spent the night.

When I registered I was given a remote control device so I could open the gate to come and go. A veritable army of workers kept the grounds and building in pristine condition, the laundry room had brand new front loading washer and dryers and the community clubhouse was elegantly furnished. All the units parked there were large diesel pushers or fifth wheels and one of them had a shiny, red corvette as its tow car. I filled up with propane before I left in the morning as I am running the furnace more often in this “cool” snap. (I don’t sleep with it on.)

The weather continues to be quite chilly with temperatures hovering around zero Celsius overnight. It’s definitely long pants and closed shoe weather – gone for a time are the days of capris and sandals.

Monday I only drove only a couple of hours, I woke Monday morning with a headache and achy all over and it didn’t get better as the day wore on. So I pulled into a lovely state park around 1:30> I went to a nice walk, reorganized and cleaned the van and managed to create enough space to stow my two folding chairs in the trunk instead of inside the van.

I realize that this is going to be a slow trek west. I like to stop frequently to site see, visit an interesting shop or make a cup of tea. But what’s the point of travel if you just get on the interstate and drive from point to point? Today, I’ll continue along the Emerald Coast to Pensacola, then head for I-10 and ithrough Alabama and Missippi to Louisana. I'll be in four states in one day!

Saturday, January 10, 2009


The night before last I stayed in Ocala, the horse capital of Florida. I discovered this when I was browsing through Upstairs/Downstairs Antique mall and noticed it was full of horse paintings, bronze horse sculptures and horse bric-a-brac. So I asked the owner who told me that Ocala is really the largest home to racehorse breeding farms in the U.S. – something they love to dispute with Kentucky folks . What I found interesting were that many of the paintings had a decidedly British flavour with depiction of fox hunting with hounds and other British-looking scenes with nary a palm tree in sight.

I watched the local news on my new 10” flat panel, digital HDTV and was reminded that only a few miles away, friends and family of John Travolta and Kelly Preston had gathered at their Ocala home to celebrate the life of their son Jett who died in the Bahamas a few days prior. I had heard that the Travolta’s lived in a gated subdivision in Ocala but what I didn’t know was that this subdivision has its own airstrip and that John Travolta parks his plane right outside his house. The TV announcer said that the celebs attending the funeral weren’t seen in town as they arrived and departed right from the Travolta home. The loss of a child is always devastating and I sent them a prayer as I wondered what their Scientology end-of this-life service was like.

Yesterday morning I left the campground and headed for another Antique mall (this area seems to be full of them) and scored a treasure: I found a silver gravy boat for $6.00. No one wants silver anymore and this had been marked down several times. I was delighted to find it as I’ve wanted one for years. So it’s carefully wrapped in bubble wrap and stowed away for the trip home.

My 10” digital, HDTV is another big score: $138.00 at a post-Christmas sale at Walgreens, a large pharmacy chain. Fellow Canadian Bill Giles, one of the people I met at the Tarpon Springs campground, had one and took me to Walgreens so I could get mine. The U.S. goes totally digital in February and, unless you are hooked up to cable or satellite, an ordinary TV with an antenna will no longer work. I have donated my 13” boxy TV to a Goodwill store already. And there’s an additional bonus: I now have an additional square foot on storage space!

Last night I spent in Gainesville a college town just north of Ocala where I visited Lisa and Sameer Paranjpe and their new baby Rohan. Lisa tells me that there is a pond at the college where alligator live and that they often sun themselves on the banks during the day. I will check this out before I leave town later today.

The weather had taken a cooler turn as a “cool” front has come through. While we Canadians deal with “cold” fronts, Floridians just have “cool” fronts. Last night, though, I did wake up and dig out my sleeping bag as I was decidedly cooler in the van.

Today I will head west from Gainesville and then north towards Talahasee. The leisurely trek west has begun.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Life as a Snowbird

It’s 8:30 am; I’ve had a shower; I’ve eaten breakfast. The early morning fog is lifting and it’s supposed to be 80 F (26C) today. I have made friends at the Tarpon Springs RV campground: Bill, Ray, Ruth & Rick, Carol and Toby, Lynn and Gary. There’s usually someone around to have a chat with if you’re in the mood for company.

Today there are acquasizes at the pool at 1 pm. I have discovered where I can take a long walk without having to drive there. There is a grocery store just down the road. And the the lovely Greek town of Tarpon Springs just minutes away. Today the young men will be diving for crosses at noon to celebrate Epiphany.

Yesterday I drove round to check out a couple of other RV parks here and then went shopping in Tarpon Springs. I bought a few pieces of new clothing as my new eating regime is resulting is much needed weight loss. (While not yet svelte, I have had to cull the larger clothing from my wardrobe. ) I ate a delicious Greek salad on the sidewalk of a small Greek café at noon.

On Saturday, I went to "antique row" in Tarpon Springs and poked through about 15 antique stores. When I arrived home, Ray dropped by for a chat. Then Bill came by as Carol had told him I was thinking of finding a spot somewhere in the south to spend upcoming winters and I would need a larger vehicle or trailer. Carol told Bill who is a retired lawyer from Ontario – and Bill came by to go over the pros/cons/legalities of buying something in the US vs. Canada. The conclusion: keep it simple – buy in Canada and take it home after the winter.

I will say good bye to these new friends on Thursday and head to Winter Garden to get the dash air fixed yet again. Hopefully it will hold this time as I will driving on to Gainsville to visit Lisa and Sameer. (Lisa is my brother-in-law Dave Banks’ daughter. ) Then I will head to the Florida panhandle on my way west to Alabama and Louisana.

Life is good, very good.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Christmas at the Beach

It’s 8:30 a.m. on Christmas Day and I’m sitting in the van drinking my morning tea while Toronto Daughter (TD) catches up on her sleep. We’re staying at the Sheraton Beach Resort at Clearwater Beach for two days as our Christmas treat. Miles of white sand beaches, a beautiful pool complete with rows of lounge chairs, an outside café, and an outside bar where we sat and had a drink before supper last night.

Supper was in the van – in the parking lot – as we had lots of food in the fridge that needed to be eaten before it spoiled. Tonight we are booked for a 6:30 p.m. sitting at the Sheraton for a Christmas buffet.

We’ve been camping at Fort DeSoto Park, a magnificent county-run campground that has large private camping sites. We sit surrounded by palm trees in our own little semi-tropical world. We used my little tent for the first time. I was able to set it up myself and blowing up the air bed with the $4.95 gizmo that I bought at the Superstore in Saint John was a breeze.
Next on our agenda is Sarasota and the Ringling Brother’s circus museum and a highly recommended state camp ground. Then we’ll return to Fort DeSoto Park.
January 2, 2009 -I’m back in Tarpon Springs sitting at the picnic table as I write this blog. Who knew life with a grown up daughter could get so busy? We left our luxurious accommodation at the Sheraton on Boxing Day and headed back to DeSoto Park. The Park was full as we knew it would be but the Ranger Mike said to keep checking back as people would probably be canceling throughout the week. TD took over the job of checking in with Ranger Mike (he was cute as well as nice) and we secured a spot for each night for the rest of our trip with the exception of the one night we spent at Oscar Shearer state park near Sarasota.

TD even got up New Year’s Eve morning at 5:30 a.m. to line up at the office to make certain we got a spot. She was 8th in line! It turns out that the good natured Mike (did I mention he was also good looking:)) had made a mistake with our booking for that night and later in the day managed to secure one of the best sites in the park for us. (Did I mention how charming TD could be when dealing with Ranger Mike?) Ranger Mike’s explanation was that it was “Be nice to Canadians Day".

I can’t say enough about how wonderful Fort DeSoto Park is. Three miles from the campsite is North Beach – miles and miles of white sand heavily treed along the edges so there is lots of shade for people like me. North Beach was voted the No. 1 beach in America in 2005. We managed to get there for at least an hour on most days.

Fort DeSoto campground and North Beach are a favourite spot for Canadians although most of the Canadians spoke French. I always knew that Florida was a favourite winter vacation spot for Quebecers but the numbers become really apparent when you hear French constantly. At one point TD went to inquire about renting a kayak and, when she said she was Canadian, the person in the booth told her that she didn’t sound Canadian.

We had several Quebec neighbours at the campsite and when you asked them where they were from, they replied “Canada”. When I commented to TD that it was nice to see that they identified as Canadian first, she told me that my prejudice was showing and that most Quebecers are happy to be Canadians. The polls prove that she is right, of course, and she did live in Montreal for several years.

TD also made friends with a nice couple from Ontario who suggested that she borrow their kayak and try kayaking. Actually they were quite insistent that she not rent one and that she use one of theirs instead. So she did. And she loved it. She loved it enough to get some sore muscles!

Our trip to the Ringling Circus Museum in Sarasota was one of the highlights of the trip. John Ringling, one of the five Ringling Brothers, donated 66 acres, including his summer home to the state of Florida when he died. He had already built – and filled – a fine art museum and built his summer home. Several buildings have been added since then including one 3800 sq. ft. building that houses a miniature circus as it would have been in the 1920s/1930s, built to scale. The man who spent a good part of his life building this wonder says there at probably 50,000 pieces in the display.

I was equally taken with the opulent yet elegant home that John Ringling built right on the waters of Sarasota Bay. He would park his yacht out front, hire a band to play on the deck and people would spill out from the living and dining rooms and dance on the large marble terrace.

Ringling entertained many of the world’s rich and powerful business leaders trying to convince them of the potential of the Sarasota area and tried to convince them to build winter homes as well. He was so convinced of the potential of the area that he invested most of his money in land in the area. Alas the boom that John had anticipated didn’t materialize in his lifetime and he died broke and alone. His wife Mabel had died several years earlier and a brief second marriage ended in divorce. When you stand on the terrace of John and Mabel’s house you can see the development that John had anticipated across the bay.

Yesterday TD left for home and I came back to Tarpon Springs to a friendly RV park that I discovered earlier in December. More about life amongst the snowbirds and full-time RVers later……