Saturday, October 29, 2011

The best things in life are free—yes!

Oct. 29—Free is good, as was proven with our visit to the Warner Robins Air Museum at the Robins Air Force Station.

Yesterday we were disappointed with the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta. Yes, it was nice, but the attraction was overpriced. After spending the evening boondocking at the local Walmart (a good experience and how convenient to get grocery items!), we headed out to the Air Museum, not knowing what to expect. What we found was four buildings filled with aircraft and history, from WWII to Vietnam, in addition to a “yard full” of other aircraft outside—and no admission charge.

The hangars were heated, which was nice, since it was overcast and brisk at 10 a.m. I thought we would be done within two hours. Surprise! We left well after 1 p.m.

Lunch was at an excellent Vietnamese restaurant. We decided it was too late in the day to go to the Andersonville Civil War Memorial, so we found a small RV campsite near Andersonville, where we are spending the night. (No cell phone reception there, however, so this posting will have to wait until we get within Sprint cell range again.)

Not quite free was our tour of the BMW plant in Greer, S.C., two days ago (Oct. 27). Companies are always looking for a way to make a buck (who can blame them?), so the tour cost $7 each. It lasted about 90 minutes.

This plant was nothing like any of the manufacturing plants I had worked in or around during my career in human resources/training. It was immaculate. But what was really amazing was the robotics that the plant uses. Watching the robots lift, turn, and weld the auto frames, you would almost think they were living creatures!

The recession apparently did not hurt the plant, which makes cars for a global market. I believe it employs about 10,000 people. The tour guide said demand has been so great that they are now working six days a week. The business model for BMW is different from that of American car companies. Instead of building on speculation, BMW only builds cars that are already bought and paid for—either by a consumer or by a dealer. The manufacturing plant itself does not incur any risk.

The tour was worth the price of admission.

The old adage says, “The best things in life are free.” I would add, “or almost free.”

We’ll see if Andersonville will be worthwhile tomorrow. I’m told it will be.

Until next time,

Your Reluctant RoVer,

Friday, October 28, 2011

So this is retirement

Oct. 28—I never thought too much about retirement. I mean, I thought I would play golf and write, two things I do at home, when I have time. I’ve found that retired people are very busy! We don’t seem to have enough time to get done everything we want to do.

In the motorhome, time gets really screwed up. I’ve been jotting notes on what time we leave a place, the mileage, cost of diesel, and places that we visit, but it seems that even that is not enough to keep events straight (especially if I get dates confused!).

When I was younger, I never had the opportunity to take real vacations. Forty-four years ago, my first husband and I took a two-week drive across country to California. We also drove down to Atlanta once, to visit his parents. I took a week’s vacation down to Kentucky with my second (short-term) husband. Other vacations? As a single mom, I took my kids on a few trips to amusement parks. I never took a real vacation by myself, except to visit my parents, who were living in Arizona. I don’t consider visiting relatives a “real” vacation.

So here we are, Jim and I, in our motorhome, driving across the Carolinas, free to do whatever. And that is what Jim has in mind. This is a new experience for me. It’s not unpleasant; it’s just new.

After leaving Raleigh Monday morning around 11 a.m., we drove until around 4 p.m. We did stop for lunch and ate Carolina barbeque. (I had smoked beef brisket, not pork like Jim had.) We decided to play golf the next day, so we stayed two evenings.

Golf was so-so. The best I can say was that thanks to, it was cheap ($12 each).

On Wednesday, we got under initially at about 8:45 a.m., but we only drove a few miles. Jim spotted a sign advertising the North Carolina Transportation Museum in Spencer, N.C. The museum is located on the site of what was once Southern Railway Company’s largest steam locomotive repair facility. It has an authentic train depot. Antique autos, and a 37-bay roundhouse that includes 25 locomotives, dozens of rail cars, and other exhibit areas. The facility had its hey-day up the 1950s, when diesel locomotives were adopted by the railroads. Diesels didn’t require the maintenance of steam engines.

The highlight of the self-guided tour, however, was a “ride” on the roundtable.

The facility was spread out; we got a good walking workout.

Lunch was really good barbecue.

We finally got underway at 2 p.m.

That’s the way retirees vacation.

Until next time,
Your Reluctant RoVer,

Monday, October 24, 2011

Cats, dogs, and kids

Oct. 24—Visiting grandkids is always a treat. It’s especially nice when you can go home to your own bed in your motorhome.

I couldn’t get over how big the grandkids are grown! Jackson is now 9 and Maddie 12. Jackson was thrilled that we would be able to watch him play in his flag football game. I’d never seen a flag football game before and learned that the rules were considerably different from “regular” football. Nevertheless, I was able to follow (more or less) the action, especially when Jack was passed the ball and ran for some first downs. His team won, incidentally.

After the game, he wanted to come back with us to get our RV; he wanted to be first to see it and become an “expert” on its operation. When we got to the motorhome, he said he needed to use the bathroom. The toilet in a motorhome is different from a house toilet; there is no tank, and flushing is done by stepping on a pedal and letting water into the bowl. Jack went into the bathroom and immediately asked, “How do you flush the toilet?” I answered, “I’ll show you when you’re done.” He replied, “It’s OK, it can show me now. I haven’t done anything yet.”

Later, as we were enroute, he asked, “What happens if someone needs to use the bathroom when you are driving along?” You just get up and go, I said, unless you are driving, of course. With that, he got up to go. I think he just wanted to use the john “for fun.”

Later that afternoon, after we had parked, he and a friend rang our doorbell. (Yes, we have a doorbell.) I think he wanted to use the john again. Anyway, he asked about hauling the “toad” and problems we might encounter. I told him the story of our getting stuck in the sand while we were sightseeing the Imperial Dunes in California. He politely listened, then got up and said, “Thank you for the story time, grandma.” It was hilarious.

Maddie is also growing up to be a young lady. At 12, she is tall and lanky, much as I was at her age. She remains a shy girl, but we had a few “moments” together, especially after she and I teamed up against her Mom and Grandpa Jim in a game of bean toss. We won.

I miss them already. I wish I could have a real relationship with them. Once or twice a year doesn’t really do it. Far-flung families, however, are a product of today’s mobile and global world.

Maddie and Jack have two dogs, Penny, a mixed Lab, and Howie, a poodle mix. Both are good dogs, but I am especially fond of Howie, a friend lap dog, who is the spitting image of my long-gone Poochie. 

Yesterday, when Rob brought his family to the camp site, where we played bean toss and later cooked out and then enjoyed a camp fire, the dogs also enjoyed the out-of-doors. It was a great family time.
I wish I had a lap dog like Howie. I threaten to steal him every time I see him. Jim doesn’t want a dog, and of course we still have the cats. Cats are easier, since they (most of the time) use the litter box and can be left on their own for several days at a time. But they are not affectionate, except at night, when they (at least Charlie) decide he wants to cuddle for a few minutes.

Our cats are not getting better about traveling. Now both of them jump into the “hole” left behind the kitchen cabinet when the slide is pulled in. Jim was afraid to put the slide out until they decided to make an appearance. One night, Xena didn’t come out at all! Bu yesterday, he discovered that the shelf under that cabinet can be lifted up and out. And with that discovery, he found that there was sufficient space for the cats to remain hiding, without getting squished when we put the slide out. He just takes a drawer out so they can get out of their little den. I guess that’s easier to do than trying to patch up all the open spaces where they can crawl into.

We’re staying at an RV park with complete hookups outside of Charlotte, N.C. Right now I’m doing a third load of clothes. It’s really nice having a washer-dryer in this rig. Tomorrow we are going to play golf at an area course, so we’ll stay here an extra night. Then on Wednesday we’ll head out toward Atlanta. I don’t know if we’ll spend another night in South Carolina or Georgia before hitting the aquarium or not.

But, I guess that’s the beauty of being retired and having a home on wheels.

Until next time,
Your Reluctant RoVer,

Hip,Hip, Hippie

Oct. 24, 2011—I lived through the hippie era, but I don’t remember much about it. I didn’t even know about Woodstock, which happened, I think, in 1969, until 1975!

I guess I have no memories of those times and those people because I was in a different world. I entered college in the fall of 1963 and was able to attend, provided I maintained my academic scholarships, which required a 3.3 grade point average. My concentration, therefore, was on studying, not “having fun.” And I was poor. Back then, I had a budget of $5 a week for spending money, which had to go for laundry as well as an occasional movie or hamburger and coke.

Unlike the kids today, who have all kinds of electronic toys, I didn’t have a stereo (that’s what they were called, and they required a phonograph record player and speakers). I had a clock radio, a gift from my grandparents, which I used for the clock more than for the radio. When I did listen, it was usually to classical music, unless I could pick up some folk music. I didn’t know the names of the pop artists of the ‘60s.
I did know (barely) The Beatles. I lived in a girls’ dorm at Indiana University. Back then, the women had “hours.” We had to be in at 11 p.m. on week nights, and as I recall, 1 a.m. on Friday and Saturday. The men had no hours. The powers-that-be assumed that once the fellows took their dates home they would have no place to go except back to their dorms.

Nobody had televisions in their rooms. Televisions back then were humongous affairs that aired programs in black and white. (Color was just coming on the scene but was very expensive, with only a few programs aired in that format.) The TV was located in the rec room, where girls could entertain their dates. (Men were not allowed in the dorm proper.) The problem was, the rec room became a “make-out” room, and it could be rather embarrassing for single girls to go down there to watch TV.
The dorm counselors decided to do something about it. They made a rule that couples always had to have one foot on the floor. That was supposed to take care of the heavy petting!

A number of girls (my very attractive roommate included) decided the rule was ridiculous. So, they arranged a protest. On Feb. 14 (Valentine’s Day), they stood outside the dorm, and at the stroke of 11 (when they were supposed to be inside), they kissed their boyfriends to the accompaniment of “I Wanna Hold Your Hand.”

The local newspaper took a picture of my roommate and her boyfriend smooching. It made front page.
Nothing changed, including the situation in the make-out room. But that was how I became aware of The Beatles.

Hippies actually arrived on the scene a little later, in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, when a lot of social protesting was going on. I missed a lot of that, too, because I spent 1965 in South America, studying in an IU Junior Year Abroad Program.

When the hippie movement began and protests were a regular part of the extracurricular agenda, I refrained from engaging in them. I was going to be a teacher; I didn’t want anything to mar my “record.” And I was already into an adult world, since I was married my senior year in college. My life had a different focus.

When Jim and I received an invitation to attend Rob’s 40th birthday party, we were told we had to come in costume—a hippie costume. So, we researched that era, and dressed up as well as we could.
I think, though, the young people at the party (we were the golden oldies), knew more about hippies than we did! My son looked like John Lennon.

The music was great! It was everything I had missed while I was growing up—and everything I love now! They don’t write music like that anymore.

The party started about 7:30 p.m. Jim and I left and walked back to our motorhome, parked on a cul-de-sac around the corner from Rob’s house, around 10.

We had had enough of nostalgia, and let the kids enjoy themselves, until, we were told, about 2 a.m. I’m glad Rob had a great 40th birthday party.

Until next time,
Your Reluctant RoVer,

Friday, October 21, 2011

Hmm, hmm, good

Oct. 21--Jim's uncle Webster and aunt Dot live in rural North Carolina, two hours north of Raleigh, almost to Virginia. It is low country, farmland. It is very peaceful, if you like country living.

We arrived last evening, and Dot had (of course) waited dinner for us. And this morning she made us a nice country breakfast. Good eats, all around. We never leave there empty-handed. Webster has been retired from farming for many years, but he still gardens and supplies a local restaurant with such "goodies" as green peppers and collards (yuck!). Whenever we visit, he insists that we leave loaded with garden goodies, and if we want, many home-canned goods. This time he sent us home with home-canned green beans, jellies, and assorted other goodies, as well as red and green peppers. Next week (or maybe while we are on the road), I'll prepare some stuffed peppers.

After stopping by the cemetery to view the final resting places of Jim's mom and dad (and a lot of other relatives), we stopped by a little butcher shop where they prepare fresh pork sausage twice a week. Today was one of the days. We purchased both ground sausage and links, hot and mild, of this wonderful sausage. I have to admit: Nothing "store-bought" beats its taste.

We finally got on the road, and around Rocky Mount, we decided to have a late lunch. Carolina bar-be-que was what we wanted. We saw a local restaurant advertised and headed toward it. We had eaten there before, and we liked the fare.

Real local bar-be-que
But, as we were ready to pull into the restaurant, we saw a group preparing bar-be-que in a parking lot and decided to try "really" local stuff. Turns out it was a group raising funds for a stepping team who were going down to Jacksonville to compete. Small world. Unfortunately, they did have pork, only chicken and fish. We opted for the chicken and weren't disappointed.

After lunch we finished our trip to Raleigh and checked into the state park where we had preregistered. It's a wonderfully secluded area on a lake, only about 20 minutes from Rob's house. Our only disappointment was to find that we had a curfew! The state park locks its gates at 8 p.m. and they do not issue pass codes. Our choices: Get back by 8 p.m. and be able to drive to our site, or come back late and park on the street and hike 1.5 miles to our camp site. I'm not much of a hiker, so we had a short visit with Rob, Corky, and the kids this evening.

Corky fed us well with her special chili. Excellent.

Tomorrow is the birthday party, and the "kids" are wondering if we indeed will be in costume. We will be. Our biggest dilemma will be how to deal with the curfew. I think we drive Baby to Rob's and park in the cul-de-sac for the evening--either that or a nearby WalMart.

Until next time,
Your Reluctant RoVer,

Smart connections

Oct.20, 2011— I love my smartphone. It is indispensible.
On our last trip, which took us from Florida to California and back, I had a semi-smartphone. It was only 2G, but it could access the web, e-mail, and text. But it was slow, and it couldn’t use apps. (I guess there were a few, which I had to buy and for which I could see no need.) I actually didn’t see any need for ANY apps, so I was content. For a while.
As we traveled, to look up the price of diesel and to find information on camp sites, I turned on my computer and accessed the web via my Virgin Mobile Broadband2go, a very economical way to stay connected. The Virgin Mobile plan is a pay-as-you go. I had bought unlimited 3G access for one month at a cost of $50. The nice thing about this plan is that there is no contract; so, in the months we don’t travel, I don’t have to buy any access. However, when the computer is sleeping, it disconnects from the Internet. Every time I wanted to look something up, I had to reboot, which took time. I also had to get up from my seat and take out the computer. Not always convenient.
My smartphone has changed all of that.
We expect to be gone about two weeks this trip. I bought 20 MB of broadband time (good for up to one month). I expect that will be plenty to check e-mail and do assorted other tasks, such as posting this blog. A lot of what I would have looked up on the computer, however, I can now do on my phone—and do it quickly.
I round three apps for the Droid—Gas Buddy, Trucker Services, and Trucker Tools. All of them are free, and all of them are quite indispensable.
Gas Buddy is especially good. I can look up gas stations (and choose a default to show diesel prices) by location, according to where I am currently, or I can plug in a zip code or a city/state and find prices there. The app even allows me to look at these prices on a map. When we were leaving Jacksonville, I wanted to determine if it would be less expensive to fill up in Jacksonville or wait until we reached our usual fill-up places in Georgia, where gas is usually cheaper. I pulled up the map, scrolled along I95, and found the prices for diesel. I re-employed this technique when we were in South Carolina. Thanks to Gas Buddy, we filled up in Dillon, S.C., near the North Carolina border.
The app isn’t infallible. The price on the web site for the station in Dillon was listed at $3.59. All of the prices are reported by users, and this one was 24 hours old. Well, you know how fuel prices are. When we got to the station, the price of diesel was $3.65. (I updated the information!) Although it was more than we hoped, it was less than other stations, and at least 10 cents a gallon less than diesel was selling for in North Carolina.
The Trucker Services app is also good. It offers a lot of information on truck stops. It also provides information on the nearest WalMarts and rest stops. This was very helpful last night. After dinner in Walterboro, S.C., I looked up how far away the rest stops were, and we calculated how much farther we would travel (about another hour). We boondocked at a rest stop on the other side of Santee, S.C.
I still need my computer, but I don’t want to give up my smartphone. Incidentally, I have a very economical plan for it, too. I purchased the smartphone from StraightTalk (a division of TracPhone, sold only through WalMart). It is 3G, cost $149, and for less than $45/month (because I bought several months at one time), I get unlimited talk, text, and data (web). Any limitations? Yes, users cannot download movies or tether their computers to the phone, but other than that, no. So, for us, it is a good deal.
Until next time,
Your Reluctant RoVer,
P.S. I will be posting this sometime on Oct. 21. We are in a remote area of North Carolina where there is no cell phone coverage. Unbelievable. In this area of N.C. there is one cell-phone company, and apparently it has no reciprocal agreements with any of the other companies, not even Sprint or Verizon.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

On the road again

Oct. 19, 2011—Yes! We are on the road again. This time to Raleigh, N.C. to celebrate my son’s 40th birthday (something I cannot believe!).
Our intention was to get underway by about 3 p.m. Jim had an appointment for his semi-annual doctor’s visit at the V.A. in the morning. I went with him and we picked up “Baby” on the way back home. It didn’t take us as long to load the bus as it did last time, although I am certain we overpacked clothes and probably forgot some “necessities.” Time will tell.
I initially wrote down 1:55 p.m. (ET) as our departure, but that wasn’t exactly accurate. We stopped several times as we inched down the street, to adjust the side mirrors. (We have a new windshield, and the mirrors got moved during the installation process.) Then we had to get diesel; we were well below a comfort zone.
After putting in about $120 worth of diesel, we headed out—only to detour one more time. Who can pass up Steak ‘n Shake’s Happy Hour when you are passing just a block from the restaurant? A take-out chocolate shake and malt in hand, we finally hit the road at 2:55 p.m.
We weren’t concerned about the late start, nor about darkness. Jim fixed the headlights, so we can travel at night now. I consulted Garmina (GPS) and discovered that we were well within drive time to have dinner in Walterboro, S.C. at our favorite stop—the Blarney Stone.
We discovered this restaurant by accident three or four years ago. When we are traveling, we like to eat at local establishments. We turned off I95 and drove into Walterboro and found this restaurant and discovered its wonderful shrimp and grits, the best we have ever eaten. (Actually, it was in this unlikely restaurant that I had my first taste of this low-country favorite.)
Garmina dutifully directed us to the restaurant, and we found ample parking in a public lot a half block away. Imagine our surprise, though, when we found that restaurant was no longer the Blarney Stone! Remodeled and under new ownership, it is now called the Main St. Grille. However, the waitress told us the chef remained with the restaurant. He came out to talk with us and to assure us that the shrimp and grits were gluten-free. He even made them mild for me and spicy for Jim. Excellent! Well worth the stop.
Charlie went into hiding when we first started the engine back in Jacksonville, and he did not come out until we stopped at a rest stop for the evening. He is not a happy traveler. Xena is better, but not much. They are just going to have to get used to it.
One more thing, before I close: It is cold. The temperature dropped to around the mid-40s. We had heat on until we went to bed, then we snuggled down under the warmth of a down comforter. There is something to be said for traveling during the summer.
Until next time,
Your Reluctant RoVer,

Back home again...

Rob and I hit the road about 1:30 p.m. on Thursday, June 15. The movers were incredible: They had everything loaded into the huge moving tru...