Saturday, April 30, 2016

Homeward Bound


It's April. Heck, it's almost May. It is time to head back to Colorado. Winter is over, and my dad and stepmom would love to have me around to help them now and then. So, Mr. Dreamy turned the wheels of the motorhome toward home. We have driven back and forth, from sea to shining sea, so many times since we moved to Colorado in 2007. We have driven in a car. We have dragged a trailer. We have driven in a motorhome....dragging a car. This year, we promised ourselves, we would not kill ourselves with driving. We would not break the three-thirty rule. Nope. We will drive three hundred, thirty miles or drive until 3:30 PM, whichever comes first. Yeah. It sounds good until you actually get on the road!

Day 1: Jacksonville, FL to Pensacola: 354 miles. Oops. We were a bit over the mileage. But, we enjoyed Avalon Landing RV Resort, and it was just a bit beyond 330. We did get in before 3:30! We stayed at this park at the beginning of our Florida tour in February. I liked their abundant pelicans, who amused us with their "synchronized diving". Come to find out, the pelicans only winter there and they are gone now.

Pelicans at Avalon Landing - February 2016
Day 2: Pensacola to Beaumont, TX: 451 miles. Oops, we did it again. Too many miles in one day. But... we found some sort of justification for this overage. I can't recall what it may have been! But, I'm sure it sounded reasonable at the time. We had stayed at this park before. This park is in crawfish territory, and the dog park has crawfish "chimneys". The dogs weren't impressed. Evidently they don't particularly care for shellfish!


Day 3: Beaumont, TX to Lake Medina, TX: 313 miles. YES! We did it! We stuck by our rules! And, not only that, we planned to stay two nights and really relax. A few years ago we met Carlos and Donna on a camping trip in Colorado. They keep their trailer at Lake Medina. We visited them in 2015, and stopped by again this year. We had a great time and can't wait to visit again.

Carlos is practicing using the selfie stick his kids gave him for Christmas
Day 4: Relaxing at the lake... which is a lake this year! It isn't entirely full, but our friends say with a little rainy weather, it should fill up.

Tucker and Gypsy looking for the lake in 2015
Sitting by the lake in 2016.
The rock they sat on the year before is now underwater.

Day 5: Lake Medina to Lubbock, TX: 354 miles. Oops... we were over. But only by a little, tiny bit! We actually had to stop about 30 miles from our original destination because of high winds and dust storms. As Mr. Dreamy battled the wind, and dust, I looked ahead and luckily found a small campground in Slaton, TX. We pulled off the road and enjoyed a wonderful evening with friends. We planned to spend another day in Lubbock... but then, saw the weather report for home. Uh, oh! We better get going.

Mr. Dreaming measures the wind speed: 27mph with a gust of 48.
I didn't line that shot up very well. You can't see the anemometer in his hand.
It was difficult to see anything in the driving sand!
Day 6: Lubbock, TX to La Junta, CO: 389 miles. Darn, we did it again. Too many miles in one day! Originally we had planned two nights in La Junta, wanting to stop and visit Bent's Old Fort. Because of a predicted "winter advisory", we took off the next morning to "thread the needle" and get home before the snow began to fly.

New snow dusted hills as we drove through mixed rain and snow for part of our trip.
Day 7: La Junta to Parker, CO: 161 miles. Yes! This is more like it! An easy travel day. Well, sort of... we did run into some slushy snow. Luckily, the clouds lifted and precipitation stopped. We finally arrived home just after noon. We had the motorhome unloaded and parked by 3:00 PM. We are both exhausted. Even the dogs are tired!!



Friday, April 29, 2016

Growing Crawdads

As we drove through Louisiana we noticed many manmade ponds along the sides of the Interstate.


Mr. Dreamy thought they might be for growing rice. But, I noticed things that looked like wire cages in lines along the perimeter, or in rows, in the ponds. (If you zoom in on the picture above you can see what I am talking about.) I thought maybe they were feeding crawdads (AKA crayfish, crawfish, mud puppies, freshwater lobsters.)

We were both right! I love it when that happens!

Well, we were both kinda right. It turns out that farmers grow both 'crops' together. I found a brief summary after consulting Mr. Know-it-all (Google) at CajunCrawfish.com.

 THE SHORT VERSION:

1 Grow a rice crop in water from March to July.
2 Seed crawfish in the rice field in June.
3 Drain water and harvest the rice in late July/August.
4 Re-flood the old rice field and it becomes a crawfish pond in September/October.
5 Harvest the crawfish from November to July.
6 Drain, plow, and level the field to repeat the process in July to March.

What I was seeing had food for crawfish, but it is more commonly referred to as "bait"! I was seeing traps for the little critters. Lots of them! In lots of ponds fields. We also saw some fields with rice beginning to grow.

I found this picture showing a crawdad farmer (fisherman? crawdadman?) emptying an orange-topped trap, like those I saw in the fields along the road. Other traps can be seen in the background of the picture.

Picture from http://www.myneworleans.com/Louisiana-Life/May-June-2012/How-to-Grow-Crawfish/
What I found most interesting, which is explained in the longer version of "How We Grow Crawfish",  is that the crawfish burrow into the mud in the summer. That is when the the fields are drained and the rice is harvested. The crawfish stay there until late summer rains 'activate' the crawfish to reproduce. As the fields fill with water, the crawfish emerge with their young. However, during drought, the crawfish will not 'activate'. Even if the fields are flooded, nothing happens. The crawfish react to barometric pressure, not just water. Fascinating!









   

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Who Needs Me?

We Dreamers went back to northern Florida after our glorious trip. Only, this leg of our trip wasn't for fun. Sadly, we had to push (force, cajole, railroad) Mr. Dreamy's mother and stepdad into an assisted living facility just before our trip. They had been living in a CCRC, in a cottage, for the last four years, and they just couldn't handle independent living any longer. Mrs. has dementia and can't remember anything recent, and Mr. is blind. We, along with Mr. Dreamy's sister and hubby, had to clean out their 'cottage', so that the community could pass it on to somewhat younger old folks. What a job! I don't think my mother-in-law threw out ANYTHING!!! A few of the great finds included:
  • enough photos, going back at least 2 generations, to fill two medium packing boxes
  • every letter that Mr. Dreamy's dad sent during WWII, both before they were married and afterwards - enough letters to fill a box 9"X4"X12". (It was fun to read the letters; most of the letters declared his love for her and asked if she would marry him!)
  • business suits and gowns that Mr. Dreamy's mom wore "back in the day"
  • every letter that Mr. Dreamy ever sent during the Vietnam war - a slightly smaller pile - he was not quite as prolific as his dad, but his letters were sent on that lightweight airmail paper!
  • a fan collection, a parasol collection, a gun collection....
  • every notecard ever received, including baby announcements for Mr. Dreamy and his sister
  • 8 complete sets of china  
and, the list goes on....
Mr. Dreamy's mom was amazing at what she could cram into every drawer, on every shelf, and in every hanging space. The garage was packed, floor to ceiling... oh, and in the attic above, with boxes and furniture that came from both of their previous homes. Mr. Dreamy's mom and his stepdad married in 1986, and brought all of their belongings when they finally moved into 'the cottage'. Some boxes were packed around that time...and were never opened!

So, for a week, we Dreamers sorted, and tossed, and packed up the lives of his mom and stepdad, and their former spouses, and their parents, and their grandparents, and aunts and uncles.....

That was the easy part! Visiting his mom and stepdad was the hard part. They aren't happy in assisted living, but at 93 and 94 years of age, they need to be there. To top things off, stepdad came down with certified Influenza B, which mother came down with... which meant we couldn't see them, except from the door of their suite in the new digs. So sad!!!!

So, we turned our steering wheel toward the west and departed. It rained. I was in a major funk. We stopped at a campground near Pensacola, FL. The campground where we began our wonderful tour, only now, there were no familiar campers or friends. Bummer. Then, between rainstorms, I scooted out with the dogs and heard a Chuck-will's-widow. It brought an immediate smile to my face. It erased all of angst from the last week. 

from https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Chuck-wills-widow/sounds
Many years ago we Dreamers lived in coastal SC. Many an evening... and often in the early morning, my sleep was disrupted enhanced by a Chuck-will's-widow. Their song, "Who needs me" or, "Chuck wills widow" is haunting, yet beautiful. After my walk with the dogs, I returned to the motorhome in a totally new mindset. Life is good!

Here is a YouTube recording of a Chuck-Will's-Widow:

Monday, April 25, 2016

See You Down the Road

Our "Southern Adventure" caravan trip came to an end. It always seems to be a bit of a jolt when the folks you have been traveling with scatter to the winds. But, after  a few years of doing this, we know that we often bump into folks we have met along the road. It is never "good-bye" it is simply "see you later!"

Here is a poem I shared with the group:

Pretty soon forty days will have gone by,
"It's hard to believe," she says with a sigh.  
In just a few days we will all be alone.
We'll have to make reservations 
and plan routes on our own. 
No one to thump tires. No one who cares
When we leave and when we get there. 
Ah, but Bill and Carol will get to stay in bed,
They don't have to leave early to get there ahead,
They don't have to count and map every camp site
And determine who will fit and for whom it's too tight. 
Charleston was the last stop for Gayle and Wes.
They are on their way back to Lubbock, Texas.
Sandy already left us and she's on her own,
Taking care of the things in her yard that have grown. 
We've been all through Florida and we've seen a lot
Of alligators, azaleas, large homes and big yachts.
John and Joyce were almost always first on the bus
And they often got out of camp before all of us. 
If you wanted to walk you could go with Marie or Fran,
You could also take a hike with Mike and Jan. 
Karen and Speed went out on boats to fish,
And treated us at the potluck with a yummy fish dish.
And as you know, the exit of most every stop
Involved going through some sort of gift shop.
You could count on Ceil to be shopping there;
She bought candy and cigars and at least 
one stuffed bear. 
At happy hours Sylvia had the most interesting drinks,
And Mike always had a wisecrack, quick as a wink. 
I have to admire Dell for sticking with his plan;
He's kept losing weight, 
does that make him less of a man?!
And Judy is there, to help him decide
What he can eat and what's best put aside. 
Our weather was near perfect. We had lots of sun,
For the most part the rain came after our fun. 
We saw planes and forts and artillery
And lovely homes and gardens and a distillery.
Our travels went well with only a few bumps in the road,
Ron and Mary lost a wheel and a new camper was sold!
Drew had low oil as he forgot to replace the cap,
And John and Joyce experienced a flat. 
Jim and Cherril lost their AC, and a mirror as well,
If it were me, I'd tell that mower he could go to....well,
This poem is getting far too long,
It's really time to get moving on.
I won't say, "Good bye", because one thing I know,
I'll see you again on a trip, at a rally or show.
Travel in health and may God be on your side
As you travel down the road, 
I hope you have a smooth ride. 

I made note cards for everyone on the trip, copying my attempts at art onto paper I brought along for the purpose. After creating the cards last year, cutting and pasting bits of paper, I investigated options for printing directly onto cards. I purchased a sample kit from Red River Paper, then ordered their 60 lb paper canvas notecard paper. I was very pleased with the finished look.



Each notecard depicted something we saw on the trip: alligators, this pencil sketch from The Everglades, an orchid in colored pencil from RF Orchids in Homestead, a sunrise in pastels from The Forgotten Coast (but in Florida could be a sunrise or sunset on either side of the state), a sunset during a cruise in Key West in water color, a heron at Magnolia Plantation in SC in water color, and my favorite, Doc and Duke, Percherons in Ocala, FL who took us on a carriage ride, created in gouache and white charcoal.  I had a lot of fun making the drawings/paintings and our new friends from the trip were very appreciative. 

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Asheville #2

The best part of our trip to Asheville came just after our trip with Adventure Caravan came to a conclusion. Our son, daughter-in-law, and our granddaughter came for a visit!


Alexis turned 10 months old on her visit. 


She has become a little person.
She is no longer a baby!


She eats real people food, for the most part.
Here she is telling me the strawberry was a bit tart!


And, since she is walking,
it was time to get big girl shoes!


However, she is still young enough to take a nap when a nap is needed!


We walked around downtown Asheville and stopped in a few shops here and there. We stopped by Lexington Glass Works. This was a fun stop, as the owners, Billy and Geoff do the art, but also want to teach and inform. They filled us in on everything they were doing as they crafted a large vase.

It begins by shaping clear glass, before colored glass is added.
Here the glowing glass, which will cool to red, is pressed around the clear glass.


Glass blowers work in teams on larger pieces.


Geoff is blowing in the tube while Billy rolls and shapes the glass.


The globe is flattened


Temperature is key to glass blowing. 
The internal temperature and the external temperatures
of the piece need to be carefully monitored and adjusted.
Sometimes the piece would be turned in the furnace,
other times they would use torches to heat only one area.


Even Alexis is captivated by the process.
Or, maybe, she thinks the guys are kinda cute!


Asheville has become an artist community. Many of the warehouses have been turned into artist studios, forming the "Arts District". It was fun to stop at a few of the studios to see the art and meet the artists. 





Asheville #1

Our caravan experience ended in Asheville. We had a tour of the Biltmore, then a farewell dinner. Biltmore has always held some fascination for me. The grandeur, the furnishings, the size, and the incredible wealth behind it are almost too much for me to take in. Several times I have experienced a bit of melancholy upon leaving the estate and heading back to my little ranch house and my basic, humdrum life. This time, that didn't happen. In fact, I hated the tour of the Biltmore home! It was so crowded, I couldn't even get into the rooms, or if I did, I was wedged in and my field of vision was limited to what I could see over someone's shoulder, and past their ear.


I love the craftsmanship and the detail. I can't even begin to imagine what it would cost in today's dollars to have a home built with this sort of attention to detail.... if you could even find the craftsmen! Several years ago Mr. Dreamy and my son attended some classes at the College of the Building Arts in Charleston. This college was started in response to Hurricane Hugo (1989) when it was realized the artisans just aren't available to do the level of work required to repair or rebuild older buildings. My men took classes in ornamental blacksmithing. The college had a hard time holding on to their students because the kids would take a year or two of classes, and then would be offered jobs before they even finished the program!

Oops, I've wandered again... back to Asheville!

So, I didn't enjoy the inside of the Biltmore, but we Dreamers enjoyed a brief saunter through the gardens. The flowering trees and shrubs are just waking to spring. They are lovely.


The walled gardens was a riot of color.



As we strolled through the garden beds I wondered how many bulbs they had planted. Now that I have access to the Internet, my question was answered:
96,000
Wow! That's a lot!






We took a few moments to thaw out fingers visiting the greenhouse.
One of the garden photographers was there, shooting flowers for the "What's Blooming Now?" report and the Biltmore Blooms web page. Wouldn't that be a fun job?

She captured this incredible orchid.
One of the gardeners had tipped her off, letting her know how spectacular the blooms were.

Here's another orchid. 
The blossoms seem so delicate.


When we stepped outside, I noticed this guy.
He was singing to the glory of spring!


Do you blame him?!






Thursday, April 21, 2016

Of Teas, Trees and Booze

The coastal area of South Carolina is comprised of a series of small islands. In many instances you don't even realize that you are moving from one island to another. Our tour bus took us out to Wadmalaw Island, SC.


The first stop was at the Angel Tree. It is reported that the Angel Tree could be 1500 years old. It is so large, I couldn't get it all in the frame of the picture!


Then we made our way to the Charleston Tea Plantation.


This is the only tea production farm in the US. Tea plants were first cultivated in the Charleston area around 1800. Cuttings from those plants were brought to the current plantation in 1963.


Today all of the shrubs, a type of camellia, come from cuttings of ancestors of the original plants. I knew that tea came from tea leaves, but I was clueless about how it is produced. Cuttings are rooted in the greenhouse, and remain here until they have well established roots. The taller plants on the right will be planted as soon as the temperatures begin to warm up.

The small shrubs are planted 18" apart. They have irrigation until they are well established.


Mature plants that are just beginning to show new growth. 


The leaves that are used come from the new growth on the shrubs. A unique machine runs down the rows and 'mows' the top of the shrubs when the new growth is 4"- 6" high.


They will get up to four cuttings each year, but the best tea is made from the first cutting. The mowed leaves are dried and chopped up in the production area.

So as not to be considered teetotalers, our last stop was at Firefly Distilleries and Deep Water Vineyards. First we participated in a wine tasting. The wines are produced from local grapes. In the sultry south, the only grapes that grow well are various Muscadine varieties.


These grapes are much larger than those grown in California, and they must be harvested by hand as the grapes don't all mature at the same time, so workers hand pick ripe grapes, day by day. The wines tend to be on the sweet side. I enjoy sweet Riesling wines, but I didn't particularly care for wines made from the Muscadines.


The history of the winery is rather interesting. A couple, entering retirement, decided it would be fun to open a winery on this SC island. They did some research. They planted the vines. They began harvesting the grapes and making wines. They worked for several years to develop their share of the market, and to market their wines. Then.... they sold the winery, and opened a distillery. Perhaps they grew tired of picking the grapes!

We moved from one venue to the next. Here is our group, waiting for our turn in the tasting room.


Firefly Distillery seems to specialize in flavored vodka and moonshine. Our hostess was very enthusiastic and let us taste anything we wanted. She ran down the list, "Who likes peach vodka? Here, taste this." Then, "Who likes tea flavored bourbon? Here, taste this." We had many tastes. I liked the sweet things, like coconut vodka and Red Velvet Cake Vodka.

We hopped back on our bus, and I happened to spy this:


Perhaps it was a good thing the bus driver was behind the wheel. I must have consumed more alcohol than I thought, as surely, a goat on a spiral staircase in the middle of nowhere must be some sort of hallucination!








Sunday, April 17, 2016

From Charleston to Vietnam

On our tour of Charleston we visited Patriot's Point Naval and Maritime Museum. Who knew that we would step from the shore of the Cooper River in South Carolina, directly into Vietnam?!

We walked into the brown water Navy support base. There was a river patrol boat in the shallow water ahead of me, tied up to a dock. It's engine was running, water was bubbling up from under the stern.



It made me wonder what it was doing there and where it was going. Then, I heard the sound of an approaching helicopter. I could almost feel my lungs react to the concussion of the blades.


As I turned the corner there was a jeep, lying on its back, with smoke drifting from the undercarriage. I suddenly felt vulnerable. There was a spate of gunfire. The whistling of outgoing armament stood the hair up on the nape of my neck.


This is all part of the Vietnam Experience Exhibit at Patriot's Point. The museum claims it brings the Vietnam War to life. It seemed that way to me! The exhibit pulls you into the war experience with its sights and sounds. There are a number of buildings that would have been found on a support base.


Some of the buildings house exhibits, others have video experiences that give the visitor a first person perspective of action during the Vietnam war.

*I was so in awe of this exhibit that I didn't even think to take a single picture.  The images I have posted are all from the Web Site for the Vietnam Experience at Patriot's Point.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Batteries

Our tour took us to Charleston, SC. We lived 90 miles from Charleston for 34 years, and saw things on our tour that we had never happened upon when we lived so close! That always seems to be the way.

Adventure Caravans arranged for a short city bus tour. We had a delightful guide who was the epitome of a southern belle: accent, hat and all. She shared all kinds of stories with us about this lovely old city.

We took a boat ride out to Fort Sumter, where the first shots of the Civil War were fired. We had a fantastic park ranger on board who told us the history of the fort with such animation, the audience couldn't look away. The fort is on an island in Charleston harbor, and was a formidable structure in its day. However,  shelling during the early battles of the war left much of the fort in rubble. The old brick bastions couldn't stand up to the heavy armament and the 'new' technologies of the day. The fort was reconstructed in 1870, with modifications, and then, following the Spanish American War a concrete battery, or gun emplacement, was put into the center of the old fortifications to house long rifled canon. This was part of a major coastal defense network.

Fort Sumter and the battery emplacement.
The walls of the fort are a bit lower than they were during the Civil War.
Picture courtesy of boatingtimesscnc.com
On our tour of Fort Sumter, the ranger explained about the network of forts that formed the harbor defense system during the Civil War. She pointed out Fort Moultrie on Sullivan's Island, on the north side of the Charleston harbor. We Dreamers later hopped in the car and took a brief tour of that fort. We were surprised (as we were uninformed or had forgotten this chapter of history) that there were bunkers, or batteries at Fort Moultrie as well.

One of several batteries on Sullivan's Island
This one is at the corner of Fort Moultrie.

Photo courtesy of burgis.org
As we left the fort, we found more batteries, along the beach of the island. A little poking around led me to discover that the lower tip of Sullivan's Island had been purchased to form the Fort Moultrie Military Reservation for coastal defense around 1900. This was closed after World War II as it could no longer play a significant role in defense, but the batteries were never removed. Some of the batteries are visible from the road, and are owned by the town.


 Others are shrouded in wild muscadine grape vines, and can barely be seen poking out from the trees. It seemed a perfect venue for a haunted house in the fall! One end of one of the bunkers has been repurposed as the town library!


One can't help but notice the Sullivan's Island lighthouse. We could see this landmark from Fort Sumter, in the middle of Charleston harbor. Once we were on the island, we had a better view of the lighthouse. It is not your usual lighthouse! This is one of the most modern lighthouses in the US. Instead of rebuilding a typical cylindrical structure, this one was constructed in the early 1960's in a triangular shape. At 140' in height it looks very tall, but there are over 20 lighthouses in the US that are taller. What this may have over them is that due to its more modern date of construction, it has air conditioning and heating... and an elevator!


In 1989 Hurricane Hugo came ashore near Sullivan's Island. The category 4 hurricane brought winds of 135 mph and a storm surge that was 13 feet high. It destroyed 15 percent of the homes on the island, in some places wiping out 3 rows of beach homes. It severely damaged 40% of the remaining homes. 
Courtesy of customersthatstick.com
While driving through the island we saw many lovely homes. The newer homes are constructed on pillars to be above the flood plain. 

This post has gone much like a pin-ball game, bouncing from one topic to another! Perhaps it is time for the ball to come to rest!