Sunday, January 31, 2010

Mexican Train!

Well, my brother Ken told me that every day he checks to see if we've posted something new on our blog, so I felt a great desire to satisfy his blog hunger with a post. Thus, this little missive.......

Since the rig is still in the shop and we're stationary here in Georgetown, Texas, this evening we traveled virtually by playing a rousing game of Mexican Train with Mary's parents, Lydia and Bill.

For those unfamiliar with Mexican Train, it's a form of dominoes much preferred by Bill and Lydia and their friends (and many others), and it is truly great fun when one begins to get the hang of the various strategies involved. This particular game is a Rives Family favorite, and this is certainly not the first time that we've spent an evening around the kitchen table, teasing one another and laughing as the dominoes fly.

Traveling takes on many guises
and when the rig is lame
then it's time for Mexican Train!


M and K on a Date!

Here's a photo of us on a sweet date at a wine bar in downtown Austin.........

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Austin Area Update

We'd like you all to know that we have been safely ensconced with Mary's parents in Georgetown, Texas (30 miles from Austin) for the last three days in Sun City, one of the largest retirement communities in the country. No, we're not settling down for a cushy retirement, just resting our weary bones.

Our rig is currently parked at a local mechanic's garage and is in the midst of receiving much needed mechanical repairs to the suspension, front end, axles and brakes. Although a (somewhat) unexpected expense, thousands of miles of wear and tear do indeed take their toll on such an old vehicle, and we're grateful to have found a reputable mechanic who will do what's necessary for our safety and well-being without unnecessarily fleecing us in the process.

Mary's parents are gracious and generous hosts, and we're happy to stretch out and relax in the expanse of a home that's bigger than our bread-box on wheels.

As for Tina, she is happy as a clam, rolling on the carpet, and even playing a little bit with Mary's parents' little dog (who is technically Tina's aunt, although younger than Tina by more than a decade!) Tina loves being in a house, and she seems pretty content the last few days, although somewhat anxious when we go out, of course.

Last night, we were treated to an evening with The Capitol Steps, a hilarious troupe of political satirists who skewer both the right and left with equal vigor, using songs and skits to poke good-natured fun at politicians and cultural icons of every stripe.

The temperatures here in the Austin area dipped into the 20s last night, and today a biting wind makes the temperature feel colder than the mid-40s, although we know that our friends in New England and Canada would gladly trade places with us in a heartbeat!

We're grateful for the kindness, generosity and comfort of family, and we are making plans to continue our journey once the rig is ready for the road once again.

Much love and appreciation to all of you. We will be posting some more photos and videos soon, so check back again when you can!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Of Bilbo and Chainsaws

On our way to the Austin area to visit Mary's parents, we stopped at a curious second-hand store along a country highway near the town of Bastrop.

Attracted by the sign reading "Bilbo's Texas Landmark", Keith had assumed that perhaps this was where Bilbo Baggins had truly gone in his Tolkienesque afterlife, but alas, Bilbo is actually the family name of the current owner. In our conversation with the friendly proprietor, we learned that his building was used as the location for the shooting of the original version of "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre". Apparently, hundreds of fans of this cult horror classic come to pay homage every year, most of them adorned in black clothes, tattoos and other Goth accoutrements.

While we had little interest in the cinematic history of the store, we did indeed pick up a few trinkets, gifts, and useful items while browsing the colorful and cluttered shelves, and if you're looking for an investment property in an interesting locale off the beaten path, look no further!

And here's the sign hanging over the cash register:

Goodbye to Echowood

Today we said a fond "adios" to the kind, hard-working folks at the Echowood Community. As self-professed "pragmatic idealists", the income-sharing members of Echowood grow organic produce, raise goats and chickens, and use their ingenuity to develop cottage industries like selling homemade mail-order string instruments and tofu presses.

Echowood welcomes new members and visitors, frequently harnessing the energy of newcomers to propel previously begun projects forward or to begin new endeavors. We have no doubt that Echowood will continue to thrive and grow, and we look forward to visiting again when we're next in central Texas.

Mary and Maggie the Basenji

Locking horns

The "Chicken God" who guards the chicken coops

Papercrete mixer

Papercrete demonstration project

Our rig surrounded by free-range poultry on the loose!

Texas Narcissus in January

An Echowood sunset

Monday, January 25, 2010

Tina Meets Some Special Friends

Here's a video of Tina meeting two special goats at Echowood who were previously injured and badly neglected. The kind souls at Echowood, who treat their animals with such tender loving care, took them in and offered them a loving home.

A Sunny Afternoon at Echowood

Flashback--Arriving to Texas Ritual!

Written by Mary on January 20, 2010

Here we are, our first night in Texas, having crossed the state line at sundown, yee-ha. A dog is barking in the background, keeping the coyotes at bay. It was less than a week ago that we were frolicking in Santa Rosa Island. Not hard to believe but awkward in my mind that is was several states and a good Gulf storm on the edge of the water ago from now. In an afternoon, we went from the state of half of my genes, Louisiana, “The Wetlands of America” to the state of the other half, Texas, "The Lone Star State". (And my vanity tells me I reckon' its time to get my cowgirl hat out and use it to shield me from these strong sun rays which may keep me from becoming a wrinkled up leather face.)

They say that everything is bigger in Texas, and I used to cringe at the plentiful, enormous trucks whizzing by while visiting via car here, but now that we are becoming Texas residents and sit up high in this here rig, it feels pdg to be riding through the lone star state in a big ol' truck, a powerful diesel at that. We're even sporting our new Texas license plates now and hardly anyone gives us a second look, so long as we don't set foot out of our rig which gives away that we are practically from another planet!

My dad gave me some sage advice about becoming a Texan. To that I tip my hat and welcome our experiences, guaranteed to being interesting here in Texas. 

Sunday, January 24, 2010


We are now on our second night at the Echowood Community near Delhi (pronounced "Dell-High"), Texas, where a small group of dedicated people live close to the land, raise chickens, goats and dogs, and use thrifty ingenuity to maintain a fine quality of life without relying on outside jobs (with the exception of one member who is a college professor).

The Texan winds have been blowing, and our hand-washed laundry dried gloriously in the afternoon sun this afternoon.

Wonderful dogs, animals and people abound here at Echowood. Please stay tuned for a few videos and other descriptive posts during the next few days.


Friday, January 22, 2010

Laughter and New Friendship in Texas!

After a fine day of exploring the area of Spring, Texas and The Woodlands, Texas, we have made new friends, done some fun Laughter Yoga, and taken in some sun and warm weather that our bodies have been craving. We began the day with Huevos Rancheros at a small local Mexican place, Keith had a free healing session from a new-found friend, and we even managed to attend a outdoor Haiti earthquake benefit concert.

Amazingly, our connections here were all made via Facebook, with no face-to-face contact until we actually arrived to the area! The Laughter Yoga session (pictured below) was thrown together almost overnight by a wonderful, giving and wise woman named Annie Linnea Sherwood (pictured in turquoise below). Our new friend Annie is a world traveler preparing to publish a beautiful book about her adventures in the Sahara and beyond. She recently befriended Mary on Facebook and swiftly secured space for our Laughter Yoga session, pulled a group together, and even arranged for us to park in the driveway of an eccentric hair stylist who was open to us plugging in and spending two nights! 

Tomorrow, we head to Rosansky, Texas to visit the Echowood Community, a small sustainable community who have generously invited us to spend some time and get to know one another!

Luckily, Keith's back is feeling about 80% better, and Mary and Tina are simply their usual wonderful and happy selves, but happier since laughing with friends at long last (and a big, plush rug for Tina to nap on while the humans laughed up a storm).

Another stellar day on the road in the Lone Star State, made especially memorable by laughing and enjoying the passing of time with new friends.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Texan Update

After registering our rig and failing to obtain Texan drivers' licenses for technical reasons that will be remedied soon, we were able to open a local bank account and otherwise demonstrate our intent to become legal residents of the Lone Star State.

On a recommendation from the person who inspected our rig, we made our way to a local muffler place to have our tailpipe refastened. Unfortunately, the innermost exhaust pipe had developed massive holes and cracks which were probably contributing greatly to the smell of diesel fumes permeating the rig while driving.

 The mechanic was a veritable philosopher (think Dan Millman's "Way of the Peaceful Warrior") who included us in his work and allowed us to be under the rig with him as it sat on a massive lift above our heads. He regaled us with stories, philosophy, and true words of wisdom as he bent and welded pipes to outfit our rig with a sturdy exhaust system once again. It was great to see the underbelly of the beast (photos to follow) and understand more intimately what's going on beneath us as we barrel down the highway.

Tonight, my back is about 70% better, and we are now parked in the driveway of a stranger in Spring, Texas who Mary met through a Facebook friend, another virtual stranger whom we will meet face-to-face tomorrow when we do a Laughter Yoga session at the local Unitarian Church in a town called The Woodlands.

Things are on the upswing today, although my back is in dire need of rest, more ice, more Valium, more Ibuprofen, and a good night's sleep. Mary is a good caretaker, a nurturing task-mistress, and the love of my life, and it is with gratitude that I acknowledge that the storms of yesterday have passed, mainly because Mary has been there every step of the way.

Bon nuit from deep in the heart of Texas.


Louisiana Flashback: A Swamp Tour on Lake Martin

This is only one of many short videos which we filmed as we floated peacefully on the still waters of Lake Martin in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana. It was a day we will always remember: peaceful, beautiful, and an example of Mother Nature at her very best.

Louisiana Flashback: Jay Cormier and Cajun Born

Here is a video of Jay Cormier and his band, Cajun Born, live at Mulate's in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana. These musicians are personable, kind, talented, and we thank them for their excellent music on a quiet Monday night in Breaux Bridge. Mr. Cormier shook my hand and welcomed us from New England, gently encouraging us to settle in Lafayette. He also dedicated this song to us! (And for those of you who knew our dear friend Woody, do you notice the resemblance when you look at the bass player?)

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Hitting a Low in Texas

Here in Livingston, Texas, we are hitting a low-point as we enter what seems to be the next leg of our journey. On this blog, we try to share the high points and joys of our trip, peppered here and there with hints of the challenges faced along the way. But today, our spirits are low, our bodies are suffering, and we want to share some observations about what's going on with us.

First, my back is out, and even though I live with chronic pain every day, this is an acute low back pain that has been dogging me for several days. Late this afternoon, Mary took me to see a local chiropractor for me to get some needed treatment, and although I didn't detect any chemical aura in the office when I arrived, I became saturated with something during the almost three hours that I was there (two of which were spent simply waiting to be seen in an uncomfortable, fluorescent-lit treatment room). While the treatment was marginally helpful, I often find that chemical exposures make my back pain worse, and this particular exposure may indeed negate many of the positive benefits of the treatment for which we paid out-of-pocket, of course.

Meanwhile, when I returned to the rig, Mary's eyes began burning and she had respiratory symptoms in reaction to the chemicals on my hair and clothes, so I had to take a shower while we were parked right there in the parking lot, simultaneously hand-washing my clothes in the shower. (We can't use laundromats and other people's laundry facilities because of the fragranced and often toxic laundry products that most people use.) For more information on Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, please visit The Canary Report.

As we continue the trip, Mary's MCS is seemingly worsened by the diesel fumes from our rig (and others around us), and we are now contemplating trying to sell it, although we're aware that there are a number of things needing attention, including a slow leak from the transmission and engine block, among other things.

On the bright side, we successfully registered our rig and now have Texas plates, something that will help us to blend in a little more without our tell-tale "Mass-uh-too-shits" license plates. Lamentably, we can't get our Texan drivers licenses until we register our car in Texas, a car which currently lives with our son Rene in Taos, New Mexico. Details, details.......

At any rate, this is yet another low that will no doubt be circumvented and superceded by subsequent highs, but for now, on this evening of January 20th, we struggle with pain, chemical sensitivity, and a sense of rootlessness that, while admittedly self-imposed, is nonetheless disconcerting at times.

Thanks for listening, and sorry for a less-than-entertaining blog post.


Tuesday, January 19, 2010

From Louisiana to Texas!

Just a quick missive to our beloved and appreciated readers that we have left Louisiana behind, and we are now ensconced in the national headquarters of the Escapees RV Club, the very place where our mail is forwarded, and which will provide us with the legal address with which to seek legal Texan citizenship!

Over the next few days, we will be doing the leg-work to get ourselves and our rig official in these parts, and we hope to also regale you with stories of our two days in Lafayette, Louisiana, complete with a swamp tour, an alligator sighting, an evening of live Cajun music, and the resplendence and beauty of Cajun country, also known as Acadia.

Stay tuned for updates in the next few days. For now, the weary travelers are in recovery from their sojourn to Polk County, Texas, our legal domicile and new ersatz home.

A Resplendent Day in Louisiana

Yesterday, Martin Luther King Day, was a simply resplendent day in Louisiana. With brilliant sun and mild temperatures in the 60's, we were thrilled to have a day of sun and fresh air ahead of us, and we packed up and headed out into the Lafayette area.

Our campsite for our two days in Lafayette was located on the grounds of the Louisiana Association for Retarded Citizens (LARC), a day program and rehab facility where one of Mary's cousins worked and received treatment up until his death in 2009. His father, Mary's first cousin, was on LARC's Board of Directors for quite some time, and his family has played a large part in the life of this very special and tight-knit community. LARC also runs a lovely folklife museum--The Acadian Village---which is a reconstructed Cajun village that brings to life the history of the Cajun people of Louisiana. 

Lucky for us, we were able to secure a swamp boat tour on Lake Martin, just six miles from downtown Lafayette, and a funny and kind guide named Norbert led us on a two-hour expedition through the cypress swamps along the age of the lake which teems with birds, snakes, turtles, alligators, and other wildlife. Norbert has been featured on The Today Show, NBC, PBS, and in National Geographic, so we felt like he was the real deal, offering us an expert's view of life in the swamps. He even stopped the boat half-way through the tour and offered us a nip of what he called "moonshine", and which Mary thought tasted like good ol' Jim Beam. Whatever it was, it tasted great on a sunny day while floating on Lake Martin watching the world go by. (It tasted great to Keith, Mary adds!)

Even though there was no promise of seeing alligators at a time of year when most of them are snoozing while waiting for mating season to begin in March, we were very blessed and happy to float right by a 10-foot gator relaxing in the shallow waters!

The lake and its environs are a very special place, and the birds---many species of heron, ibis, cormorant, falcon, osprey, hawk, and others---are simply everywhere, flying gracefully through the air above the water, swooping down as they look for prey, nest on centuries-old cypress trees, and grace the lake with their winged presence.


It is difficult to describe the beauty of the swamp, the cypress trees, the Spanish moss, the wintry bareness of the trees, the birds preparing for mating season, that only hints at the springtime explosion of lush beauty that will inevitably bloom in just a matter of weeks.

 We have a multitude of videos and photos to review and process, and with any luck, some of those will be posted here as soon as the strength of our connection allows. For now, this will have to suffice.

Some Images of Louisiana



Monday, January 18, 2010

Haitian Earthquake Relief

In honor of Martin Luther King Day, we have created two personal fundraising websites for Haitian earthquake relief under the auspices of Partners in Health.

Founded by Dr. Paul Farmer on a shoestring budget decades ago, PIH now works in a number of countries around the world, but has worked specifically in Haiti for more 20 years. With boots on the ground in Haiti for so long, PIH was able to be one of the first organizations to respond to the recent disaster, and we are honored to actively raise money on their behalf.

Our goal is to raise $1000 each in the next week, and we ask that you consider donating today in memory of Dr. King and his historic legacy.

To visit Keith's page, please click here. To visit Mary's page, please click here. If you feel torn, just take the amount of money you would like to donate, and donate half to each site!

Thank you, and in the memory of Dr. King, may all beings live in a world steeped in justice, peace and freedom.

Sounds of Spring in Louisiana

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Louisiana at Last!

This is just a short post to let our beloved readers know that we have arrived safe and sound in Louisiana! Crossing over from Mississippi, the rains and wind continued unabated for most of the day, but that didn't stop us from visiting the quaint town of Abita Springs, just north of Lake Pontchartrain, and we are now happily parked at Fountainbleau State Park.

Tomorrow, with clear weather in the forecast, we will bicycle on the nearby rail trail, go see the lake, and then head a few hours west to the town of Lafayette, where we will have the pleasure of seeing a number of Mary's Louisiana cousins. Mary's mom Lydia was born in New Orleans, and Lydia and Mary's father Bill met in New Orleans while attending Loyola University, so the family history and blood run thick here in bayou country.

More news will be forthcoming as our adventures continue, and please be sure to see the videos and stories in our most recent posts below.

Videos From a Mississippi Storm

Here are two video segments of our stormy morning on the Mississippi Gulf coast. The winds howled and shook our rig all night, and this morning was a continuation of the crashing waves, howling wind, and driving rains.......Note how the wind almost takes Mary and the door away in one fell swoop! The video may not do it justice, but getting out that door was no easy task....

A Mississippi Missive

On this rainy and windy morning, we send greetings from the Gulf Coast of Mississippi. Yesterday, we said goodbye to Florida, made one last stop in Alabama for some minor RV maintenance, moving just a little more westward, crossing the Mississippi line in the late afternoon. We were impressed by the endless and beautiful swamps on either side of the highway, as well as the Mississippi Welcome Center on Interstate 10, complete with fancy furniture, chandeliers, a map of blues musicians around the state, a history of the impact of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and a talking life-size cut-out of Elvis.

For those of you who read our blog on a regular basis, you may remember that a very kind older gentleman in Robertsdale, Alabama (whom we met for a few minutes in a local restaurant) invited us to park on his land here in Mississippi. Many of the homes on this coast were destroyed by Hurricanes Rita and Katrina, and we are parked on a concrete slab that is the only remnant of what was once his proud beach-front home. Our host apologized for the state of the neighborhood, the condition of which still demonstrates clearly how the legacy of the devastation of those storms lives on, but we can see past the ruined piers and homes to the underlying beauty of this area that received much less attention than the Louisiana coast, even though Mississippi was hit the hardest by Hurricane Katrina.

After finding our parking place on the Gulf (not without some dramatic challenges which shall remain unrecounted), we made our way to an award-winning barbecue joint highly recommended by our host, stopping twice to ask for directions from helpful locals who knew of its reputation for being the best barbecue in the US. Although we only eat chicken and fish occasionally, this was an opportunity for a local experience that could not be missed, and Tina was certainly up for the adventure, especially since her very own serving of pulled pork was in the offing!

Arriving to the gate of "The Shed", the large bearded parking attendant said, "Where y'all from, Massatooshits? That sure is a long way to come for bah-be-cue! Make sure you have the Sample Platter, y'hear?" 

The Shed is a bustling local joint boasting visitors from around the world, live local music, an outdoor stage with fire pit and picnic tables, a dock alongside a swamp most likely populated by alligators and many varieties of snakes, and a generous helping of noisy and welcoming southern hospitality. Tina was invited to eat in the enclosed porch which was such a rare treat. We sat next to a bridal party, the bride herself, still in her wedding dress and veil, was chowing down on ribs as she told stories of drunken (vomit-laden) car rides and trips to the local strip clubs with her pals. Tina inhaled her pulled pork and we enjoyed barbecue chicken sandwiches, a rare occurrence for us (especially since we usually only eat free-range organic chicken once a season or so!) The Shed is a special place, but we were very disconcerted that they serve all of their food in styrofoam containers, coupled with shrink-wrapped plastic utensils and plastic throw-away cups---part of the dark side of a lack of environmental consciousness that we have observed throughout our trip.

As for us, we will push on into Louisiana today, preparing to rendezvous with Mary's cousins in Lafayette on Sunday and Monday. Lamentably, we will most likely bypass New Orleans on this visit for logistical reasons, but we will return to Louisiana in the future and pay our respects to the Big Easy at another time. However, there are stirrings of a plan for us to do some Laughter Yoga for Katrina relief volunteers at the end of this week, so we may return to NOLA for a brief overnight after all.

Lately, we have been connecting with a great deal of joy related to life on the road, but also to the challenges therein. We both experience waves of road weariness from time to time, and the stress of travel and constant movement can take their toll. These feelings are frequently assuaged by our love and support for each other, connections with friends and family, and the healing powers of nature, especially sublimely beautiful oases like Santa Rosa and St. George Islands in Florida.

Although we don't blog about it much here, we both are still struggling with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS), and between exposures to diesel fumes, the fragrances and chemicals in people's homes, stores and other places along the way, our health is frequently challenged. Keith still struggles with chronic back pain, and the cold weather we have experienced over the last few months has certainly not helped him in that regard.

Still, we are incredibly grateful for the privilege and luxury of taking this incredible journey, and despite the challenges, it is still for all intents and purposes an excellent adventure. Thanks for being here, and we'll be posting soon from the heart of Louisiana!

~Mary and Keith

Tina and Mary Frolick on the Beach

Here's Tina and Mary frolicking on the beach at the end of a beautiful sunset somewhere in Alabama. Enjoy! 

Friday, January 15, 2010

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Armadillo Attack!

This morning our dog Tina and I were meandering behind our campsite, just barely into the flora and fauna of the wild. As I stood at the edge of the landscape, I heard a rustling in the tall, dry grass. Deaf as she is, Tina probably smelled what I heard because we both stood very still, watching, listening and (her) sniffing.

At first I thought it was s snake but then I saw a shiny round back and exclaimed aloud, "Oh, it's a sea turtle"! But then it lifted its head toward us, stood up on its hind legs, and I saw immediately that it had a protruded snout and little arms with tiny hands that clasped together as we carefully checked each other out. It looked just like a baby kangaroo, but remembering that I was in Florida, not Australia, I knew it couldn't have been a kangaroo, so I spared myself the embarassment of yelling out, "Keith, it's a kangaroo! Come quick!" But I did manage to yell for him to grab the camera, which didn't seem to phase our little friend in the least.

By the time Keith got there, I had figured out that it was an armadillo, a smallish one at that, although it has prehistoric ancestors that were as big as elephants! I've wondered before how armadillos ever evolved, and this experience is very telling of this unique creature's audacious survival instincts!

It seems that as soon as Keith and the armadillo saw each other, she rushed at Keith with such fiestiness that I think Keith was a little scared for a moment there. Meanwhile, it was hilarious to me, and you can hear me laughing like a hyena--or a crazy lady--on the sidelines. This really tickled my funny bone, and I can't recall the last time I've seen such a comical site in nature! May it tickle yours too!


Images From Fort Pickens State Park

Our current parking spot

Trees at Fort Pickens totally denuded and killed by hurricanes and storms

A found object beach sculpture by Mary

The swamps of Fort Pickens

Nature coming back to life

Patterns by the sea

 Looking inside a cannon hole at the old fort

Driftwood buried in sand that looks like snow

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Propane Follow-Up: A Comedy of Errors, or "Not-So-Great Minds Think Alike"

Well, we made it through the night, our new portable heater keeping us sufficiently warm. Luckily, the temperature only dropped to 38 last night, avoiding the risk of a freeze. The wind also died down, so we slept fairly well over all, even little Miss Tina.

This morning, after making calls to RV mechanics and a propane service center (all of whom were exceedingly courteous and helpful, I may add), I had the bright idea of lighting a match and just checking to see if, perhaps, the propane valve had been locked in the "open" position rather than in the "closed" position. With Mary watching, I lit a match, et voila, the stove lit! Further testing my hypothesis, we went outside with a wrench and forced the propane valve in the opposite direction we had tried last night, et double voila, I was able to close it! Who'd have thunk it, Watson? We called three RV techs last night who all puzzled over our dilemma, and not one suggested that perhaps the man who filled our propane tank yesterday had erroneously turned the propane tank to the open position, tightening it so much that I couldn't "reverse" the turn even with a wrench. It turns out that we were assuming that the propane was stuck in the closed position, not having the presence of mind to consider that it was the opposite. Go figure.

So, our fatigue, brain fog, and the inability of five intelligent adults to think this problem through in the first place cost us: a) a trip to Wal-Mart, b) excessive fatigue and stress, and c) a bent ladder caused by aforementioned fatigue when we arrived to the campground a second time, thoroughly exhausted and spent and not thinking clearly, and d) Mary's MCS reaction to the chemicals released into the rig by the brand new heater (I'll spare you the details). We will be blogging more about life on the road with MCS (Multiple Chemical Sensitivity) in subsequent posts.

All things considered, we have made it through the vicissitudes of the last few days relatively unscathed, and we now have three days of sun and 50-degree weather forecast for our stay at Fort Pickens. With any luck, we'll post some videos and photos, and regale you with a few stories of a peaceful time here on this peninsula in northwest Florida. Although we're close to an Air Force base and there's the sound of a few jets and helicopters here and there, we have the Gulf of Mexico on one side and the Pensacola Bay on the other, and there is truly nothing about which we need to worry in this present sunny moment.

Monday, January 11, 2010

A Long Day and a Long Story

The day began with us pulling out of the Rainbow Plantation RV Park (so aptly described in Mary's last post), heading for an early morning appointment with a mechanic who came strongly recommended by several people at the park.

We arrived to the mechanic's garage in Robertsdale, Alabama at 8:30 and reviewed our "punch list" of items to be addressed. With Tina in tow, we tried to decide how to pass the next few hours. It was relatively cold (37 degrees F) but sunny, and the temperature was forecast to slowly rise all morning to the low 50's. We chose to spend the morning exploring the town.

Our morning was like something out of a movie by Jim Jarmusch. For those of you not familiar with Mr. Jarmusch, he makes quirky and interesting independent films which are often graced with atmospheric music by musicians such as Tom Waits. Jarmusch's early films, like Mystery Train, feature bleak urban and rural American landscapes filmed in grainy black and white, and the characters move within those landscapes like aliens dropped from a parallel universe.

For several hours, we wandered the somewhat bleak landscape of Robertsdale, walking with Tina in the cool morning air, seeing simple homes with countless barking, unhappy dogs tied on short chains in cluttered back yards. It was simply too cold to leave Tina sitting on her own outside a restaurant, and the "waiting room" at the garage was simply too foul with auto exhaust and other unidentifiable toxins to be comfortable for waiting. So, we wandered and wandered, eventually passing time in a very nice playground where Tina took a nap, I played on the swings, and Mary did yoga and meditated.

After three hours of passing the time in this way, the word came that it would be several more hours until our rig was ready. We had brought it in for routine maintenance, but a few pressing mechanical issues has presented themselves, and we chose to have them dealt with swiftly and decisively.

As the morning warmed, we made our way to a "down home" local restaurant offering a buffet-style lunch for $8. While Mary had no appetite, I was absolutely famished, and the friendly waitresses and owner guided us to the buffet where I piled a plate with mashed potatoes, navy beans, cole slaw, turnip greens, broccoli, and peach cobbler. It was good old-fashioned American fare chased down with strong decaf coffee, and they even let us bring two hamburgers and a dish of water to poor old Tina who was yelping wretchedly every few minutes from the front porch. Meanwhile, Mary's hunger awoke at the smell of food and I fed her surreptitiously from my plate, returning to the buffet for more beans, greens and potatoes with which to please her.

During the course of our meal, Mary struck up a cordial conversation with two elderly brothers at the next table, and after a fairly lengthy conversation about our lives and travels, the more talkative of the two said called us over to their table.

"Y'know, I'd like to offer you to stay for free for two days on my property on the Gulf of Mexico near Biloxi, Mississippi." He leaned forward, looked me in the eye, and said, "Just two days, mind you." I readily agreed.

"You see," he continued, "my house on the Gulf was destroyed in the big hurricane, but there's still electricity, and I'd like you to feel welcome to park there. In fact, let me write down the directions and my phone number. And if anyone asks you why you're there, just tell them Bill sent you."

I thanked him profusely since Mary had excused herself to tend to Tina, and he wrote down the directions in Mary's journal. He added that "the best barbecue in the United States" was right down the street and we just had to eat there while visiting his property.

Finally, when lunch was done, we received the call that our rig was indeed ready, five hours after we had started. The friendly mechanic presented us with a substantial bill, some good advice, some peace of mind, and news that other work would be needed down the road, hopefully sooner than later.

We returned to the RV park to discuss some other needed repairs with a local RV technician, made an appointment with him for Friday, and headed down the road to the Alabama Gulf Coast in search of a place to stay for the sunny week which was forecast to continue until Friday. Stopping to get diesel and propane, we arrived at a recommended campground on the coast just before sundown, but the park was very unimpressive and depressing, with views of an over-developed coastline filled with big hotel resorts and coastal sprawl.

Knowing that the beautiful and more remote Fort Pickens National Park was only 40 miles further east over the Florida border, we chose to drive into the darkening evening with Mary at the helm. A blood-red sunset washed through the sky behind us, and I spent a few minutes (illegally) laying on the bed and watching the sky through the rear window.

We arrived to Fort Pickens by 8:30pm, tired but happy, having driven through the touristy sprawl surrounding Pensacola. Our elation at finally arriving turned to upset when I discovered that our propane tank's knob was not turning, being for all intents and purposes frozen, making us immediately realize that we were facing the reality of a night without heat. With temperatures still forecast to be below freezing overnight, being without heat is non-negotiable for us, the danger of frozen and burst pipes a very clear reality. With our propane furnace as our only heat source, this was a dire situation in need of a timely remedy.

Anxiously calling our RV technician contacts (and even the kind National Park rangers who responded with a visit!), we were not able to glean any advice that would remedy the situation, so we were faced with the lamentable choice of driving 16 miles round-trip to the nearest Wal-Mart (a store which I have stalwartly boycotted for my entire life) to purchase a portable electric heater, taking into consideration that our campsite was equipped with reliable electrical power that would give us the energy to run it.

Arriving to the local Wal-Mart, I was informed (as I had expected) that there had been a rush on portable heaters for the last two weeks, and every store in Florida was sold out, including this one. Bare shelves confirmed the story, and the very kind salesperson listened to my tale of woe very closely.

"Well, sir" he said thoughtfully, "let me run to the back. Someone returned a heater the other day, and maybe it's still back there. I don't know if it works or not, but let's find out."

He rushed to the stock room and returned with a smile several minutes later. We plugged in the heater, which was working perfectly, and I gratefully paid for it with a gift card that the gracious Latino elders at Mary's old workplace had given to her several years ago for Mother's Day. We returned to Fort Pickens by 11pm, exhausted and spent.

Unfortunately, to top off our day, I backed the rig into a low-lying branch and bent the ladder at the top of the rig, but no permanent damage seems to have been done and it can assuredly be easily fixed. Oy vey.

When I returned to the rig after plugging in our electric cord and checking on the ladder, Mary was on the phone and in tears, having received the news that her close friend's sister had died of a sudden heart attack just hours ago, leaving two young children and a husband who had all witnessed her death despite the husband's efforts to revive her. 

This life on the road is filled with unexpected twists and turns. As I write, the portable electric heater is warming our space adequately, and our pipes are no longer in danger of freezing. In terms of cooking, we have a small one-burner camp stove that we can use outdoors tomorrow, so we are assured of a warm cup of tea and a hot meal. In terms of the stuck propane knob, we hope that this situation will be easily remedied, and we'll make calls tomorrow in search of someone who can offer us a solution. The propane powers our furnace, hot water heater and kitchen stove, so it is essential to our comfort and self-sufficiency.

For now, we go to bed grateful and tired, and the news of our dear friend's sister's death certainly puts our problems into proper perspective. We will be ready to face the day tomorrow, take in some sun, and determine the fate of our propane tank and our future ability to heat our home, take hot showers and cook. Still, we have a cozy home in which to slumber, we're safe and sound, and this vexing problem too shall pass.

Not having heat or hot water is one thing, but losing a loved (an experience with which we are all too familiar) is an incomparable challenge that truly tests an individual's ability to cope and carry on in the face of tragedy and grief. We give thanks for our relative health and well-being, and we pray for our friend and her family as they cope with a sudden and tragic loss.


15th Community?

We are at an intentional community of a sort, holin' up for the cold snap which is supposed to let up tomorrow. It is a campground called Rainbow Plantation in Summerdale, Alabama. This community within the RV community is one of a dozen or so campgrounds in the US under the umbrella of a special RV club called Escapees.

Not being club types, we belong to this one for more than the great name,  It's mostly because of their excellent mail forwarding service, campground discounts, and for being able to establish our new domicile, a legal address in Livingston, Texas on Rainbow Drive.  :- )  We'll be heading to Rainbow Drive a month or so, as a matter of fact, to check out the rigs and digs there, and maybe even swim in this largest lake in Texas. I know it may be too cold and we are not that bold, but we can entertain the eventuality of swimming in the great outdoors again, right?

Back to Rainbow Plantation. This has been a needed respite from the road and the cold that tends to keep us inside these small quarters that is our only home. What has been a unique treat about this place is the community center where Keith and I have been able to stretch out, take some space from each other, and have some different fun together like shooting some pool, playing ping pong and watching a movie while sitting in cushy arm chairs! It felt like a teen center for elders. I got to chat with friendly full timers here, sit in on a community meeting, offer Laughter Yoga, and bike around the neighborhood, cold be damned! The old folks here thought we were either crazy or from the north, or both!

In the morning, we'll batten down the hatches and bring the rig to a trusted mechanic for an oil and fuel filter change, then go to a trusted RV mechanic for a few important things. The SKPs ("Skips") here referred us to the mechanics, who are themselves reliable Escapee members---a huge relief for us.

After the rig care, we decided that we'll head back to Florida (very close by) to our first national park called Ft. Pickens, which is on the tip of an isolated peninsula. We intend to enjoy some surf, sun, biking and hiking before we drive to New Orleans on Friday. After NOLA we may be pretty landlocked for a while and no telling what the weather will be by then, but it sure looks like 50-60's all week in NW Florida, where you might be able to find us!

Coming a little out of our way to stay at our first SKP campground was an important and timely choice. Although we are of a different generation than the overwhelming majority of retirees here, it has been really interesting for me to check out---and even participate in---albeit briefly, this social experiment of people living in community here. You won't find them listed in the F.I.C. (Federation of Intentional Communities) and they may not have ever heard of IC's, but they are living their dream of community life and I say, more power to 'em!

May you realize how you are living even just one dream of your life and may 2010 be the year that more of your dreams come true!



Sunday, January 10, 2010

Some Images From The Florida Panhandle

With our patience and luck continuing, we were able to upload some photos from our recent time in the Florida Panhandle. Enjoy!

Pomegranate, a stray cat living like a Queen in the Apalachicola Tourist Information Office

Pomegranate's throne

The shifting sands.......

The wind-swept piney dunes of St. George Island

The sun reflecting off of a saltwater inlet

Bird hieroglyophics

The curve of the sandy shore

The endless sea