Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year!

Gallatin, MO
Goodbye to the sun for the last time in 2011.

For the past several years, on New Year's Eve, I've settled down before the fire with a glass of good champagne, and spent time reflecting on the changes brought by the year past, and what I hope for the new year.

This year I scarce know where to start.  It's hard to think what has not changed in my life this past year, and right now, I'm busy living the dream that carried me through the past few years of struggling against burnout at work.  I can't imagine what more I could hope for, for myself.  For others, it is easier - recovery from addiction, courage to leave a draining job, health for a daughter's friend, struggling with anorexia...

I started last year purposely seeking and focusing on the positive aspects of my job to avoid dwelling on the negatives that threatened to swamp me.  I wanted to sell my house.  I had a dream of taking some time to see some of the beautiful places in our country I haven't yet seen.

I ended the year with the house sold, the job behind me and four months of rest and sightseeing under my belt.

I've had time to notice the sunsets (and sunrises - though I'm generally too bleary-eyed to capture those with the camera).  I've met up up with wonderful friends, new and old.  I've been welcomed as a stranger at someone's Thanksgiving table.  I've met my first grandchild, and watched my son graduate from college.

I've run into a few frustrations, and unfortunately, didn't manage to leave uncertainty and doubt behind with my job.  There are days I wonder what it is I thought I was doing when I threw all the cards in the air and left home.  But then, I smile.  What's done is done, and I wouldn't trade the experiences of the last few months for the world.

A few more days, and I get to hit the road again.  Time to see what else there is to see in this new year.  Time will tell where the road goes - and how the chapter ends.

Does she find a great new job?  Does she linger jobless at the end of the summer and run out of cash?  Stay tuned!

Monday, December 26, 2011


Buckingham, Iowa
I know I'll never be part of the popular crowd thinking this, but my heart always begins its Christmas celebration at winter's solstice.

The busyness of the first part of December always distracts most of my attention from the shortening days, but then one day I wake up in the dark, and it's already dark again before 5.  While I enjoy the beauty of the holiday lights in the evenings, at the same time I pout because I can't manage to be about during daylight hours.  I miss the sun.

Then, just a few days before Christmas, the world turns.  Light returns.  The deep of winter's cold is still ahead, but my heart is cheered when, each day, the morning comes a bit sooner and the evening lingers a few minutes longer.

With the holiday itself, I have a love/hate relationship going.

I love the carols, and the memories they invoke of some of the best Christmases ever:  Of riding home after Christmas Eve mass, the car cold, but warm in my jacket.   The six of us crowded in the back seat of the car (the two youngest in the front with mom and dad), jumping with anticipation, eager for the gift opening which followed our arrival home.  We'd sing carols during the short drive home - as I got older, we sang in three part harmony.

These days, I love it when my family gathers from our scattered homes. But I mourn those who are missing from the gathering.  Some of the faces that made up my childhood memories are missing.

Thus this year, as I have for all of my adult years, I greeted Christmas with both a smile on my face and tears in my eyes; the joy in my heart competing with sadness.

May the season's promise of Peace come soon and very soon - to my heart, to yours, and to this battered world of ours.

Merry Christmas to all.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Ah, Family!

Minneapolis, Minnesota

Sometimes, pictures speak for themselves.  I could type a lot of words and not describe the moment I managed to capture here on metaphorical film.


Monday, December 19, 2011

Goodbye to Mickey D's

Long ago and many years past, I picked up a bad dinner at Taco Bell.  It so upset my stomach that I haven't eaten there since.

I think I may have gotten a similar meal at McDonald's yesterday.

In the interests of healthy eating and lower salt, I haven't eaten there in years.  But on the way back from Joe's graduation, I decided to indulge.  With great anticipation, I ordered my cheeseburger and fries, brought them back to the car, and took them out of the bag.  I was SO disappointed.  I fear my more-or-less healthy eating patterns have destroyed my ability to appreciate fine grease.  I ate the food, but with none of the relish from years gone by.  ** sigh **

and then...  stomach cramps, nausea.  I've still been battling them all day today, subsisting on soda crackers, bananas and water.  The worst part is that my stomach is so upset that the thought of coffee - or caffeine in any form - is making it roil.  True sadness.

The good news is that it's already getting better as the day goes on.  We head to Minnesota tomorrow to celebrate Christmas - at least it's today that I'm sitting around groaning instead of trying to put up with it in the car tomorrow.  (Easy availability to clean restroom facilities is not to be overrated when dealing with such issues.)

We'll be leaving mid-day - which means we'll be able to stop at the Panera's in Ankeny, IA for dinner.  I'm glad they're there - it'll be a very long time before I look for the McDonald's arches again.

Sunday, December 18, 2011


Missouri S&T, Rolla, Missouri
My son graduated from college yesterday afternoon.  I surprised myself by finding myself misty-eyed as the graduates marched in.  For some silly reason, I didn't think the ritual would move me.  The schedule called for a two hour ceremony, stretching across lunch.  The bleachers were old, hard pine, designed for shorter people than myself and the proud parents sitting behind me.

Somehow, once the 667 graduates filed into the gym, all that didn't matter.  I found myself praying that the school had lived up to its reputation; that they had done their job well when preparing these young adults for the challenges of the professional world they are about to enter.

Rolla is an engineering school - over 80% of the graduates are in one engineering discipline or another.  The twin threats of global warming and ever-scarcer resources loom large on our horizon.  These are the people the rest of us are depending on to figure out an response to the threats.  They will design and build us more efficient buildings, cars and airplanes.  They will search out how to use new materials when the supply of the familiar ones runs short(er).   They will figure out a way to do all this without further upsetting the fragile balance of the ecosystem. 

Congratulations!  Go get 'em!  and, Godspeed...

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Good and the Bad News Is...

St. George's Island Florida
The good and the bad news is that there is nothing wrong with the brakes on the camper van.

The mechanic checked them and all the related systems - and pronounced them all good to go.  His theory on the long stopping distance is that because the van has ABS only on the back brakes, it was working properly and keeping me from skidding to the side - but also increasing my normal stopping distance.

I figure there's a lesson or two here.  I've been careful about my following distances, from here on out I will be even more so.  And, if I'm going to drive the van, I need to head south.  (Go south, young woman!)  Which was the original plan anyways. 

I've enjoyed being back in Kansas City.  I know where the stores are, and where things are within the stores.  (It gets tiring to always have to search the store to find the cereal aisle.)  I've almost completed my Christmas shopping already -  my favorite places to find gifts have not disappointed me.  I've been meeting friends, catching up with their lives while enjoying the food at my favorite restaurants.  I'm looking forward to going up to Minnesota for Christmas, and to my son's college graduation this coming weekend.

All the same...  I'm not ready to stop traveling yet.  There's something wistful about the stripped down camper van; the bedding and anything that might remotely freeze are safely tucked indoors until I get back on the road.  I miss the stream of new and beautiful places.  Fortunately, I don't have to face anything I don't want to just yet.  My journey is paused briefly, not stopped.  Soon...

Sunday, December 11, 2011


Spent the last few days mostly lounging about.  A lot like my usual life these days, except that I'm doing it in one place instead of moving about in the camper.

My original plans for the week got changed abruptly when I tried to do a hard stop in the camper van last Tuesday.  I didn't hit anything, but it took me a full city block to get it to stop from 40mph.  Granted, two of the wheels were on spotty ice, but the other two were on clear pavement.

It scared the bejeezus out of me.  Once I got safely back to where I'm staying, I decided I'd stay here until I could get the brakes looked at and fixed.  I'd hate to push my luck.

Since the shop was able to fit me in on Monday, I'll be able to get back to plan next week - right on schedule, actually, since I came back to town a bit earlier than I'd originally planned.  So much for getting ahead of the ball for a bit...

My hosts have been busy with the usual round of work and pre-Christmas doings, so I've mostly tried to stay out of their way, and to be a little helpful.  In between exercise and reading (two of my favorite ways to pass the time these days), I put up the tree and a few other decorations, did a bit of cleaning. 

With the shortest days of the winter upon us, I've been grateful for good company, light and warmth during the long evenings.  Peace...

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Baby, It's Cold Outside...

Dinner!  Gallatin, MO
And the birds need to eat a LOT to keep themselves warm.  I entertained myself for a good while this afternoon, just watching them take turns at the the feeder outside the window.

I love the cardinals.  He always comes first, to make sure it's safe.  She follows to eat her fill.  Often, while she's eating he'll be perched in a tree or bush nearby, watching for danger.  They take off at the first sign of a disturbance.

I love the sparrows.  They come in a flock, landing here, there and all about.  Some perch in the bush next to the table, some hop on the ground, some eat - they trade off, back and forth until everyone's gotten a bite, then take off in a flurry of wings.

For a while, one of the smallest birds in the bunch held the table.  It was funny to watch because he was so busy guarding the seeds from all comers he really didn't get a chance to eat much before his reign was abruptly ended by a blue jay.  Nobody messes with the jays.  Fortunately for all, they don't stay long, and the others seem to figure that he can have his moment.  They just patiently perch nearby until he leaves.

Now, what had I planned to get done this afternoon again????

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Kansas City, Here I Come!

Mississippi River, Memphis, TN
I'm going home.

I'm not tired of life on the road, but I'm ready to start getting ready for Christmas.  And I can't go shopping while I'm staying the camper van, because I have no place to put anything I'd buy.

I'm going home faster than I'd originally planned because the weather's turned to freezing.  When I tried to turn the valves to run the camper in winter mode, they didn't want to turn, and when they did turn, they started to leak.  I tried to get them fixed in Memphis (I thought it would be fun to spend a few days there, checking out the city), but the dealers there were all busy.  So, I called one I knew of in St. Louis, and they were able to fit me in, so I came on up. 

Turns out that when you install a valve in a truck and then don't turn it for eight or nine years, it tends to break when you put the channel locks on it to get it to turn.  Go figure.

They'll get me back on the road sometime today. And since I'm already in St. Louis, I might as well head on back to Kansas City.  I have some good friends willing to put up with me there, since I don't actually have a home to go to.  And I'll be able to go shopping and start thinking about Christmas.  Just 24 shopping days left, you know...

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Mighty Mississip'

Mississippi River
West Memphis, Arkansas

I've seen the Mississippi River in Minnesota many a time - one of my favorite ways to get away for a bit when I was in college was to take a walk along its banks.

The power of the river there is clear to see.  Not just in the way it has cut its way through the rock to create its channel, but in the rapid flow of the current.  It flows along urgently, as if there is somewhere it needs to get to, and soon.

Here, the river is wide, and deceptively lazy.  I arrived just before sunset, and entertained myself for quite some time just watching the sky and the barge traffic on the river.

The campground, the Tom Sawyer RV Park, is a jewel in the rough.  It's right on the river flats - the bath houses are trailers on wheels, so they can pick 'em up and move 'em on out when the water rises, as I'm sure it does most every spring.  It could probably use a little whitewash here and there, but that's part of the charm.  It feels as if, if you sat on the banks long enough, you could wave to Huck Finn and Jim as they rafted on down the river.  (At least, you could if it was summer - it's a might bit chilly out there this morning...)

Monday, November 28, 2011

Escatapwa Hollow

Escatapwa River, Alabama
Escatapwa Hollow Campground
Wilmer, Alabama

Solitude, sweet solitude.

For the first time since leaving the Blue Ridge Parkway, I had a section of a campground to myself. Between the weather which turned rainy and cold just as I arrived, and the time of year, those who enjoy kayaking down the river had other plans for the night.

The rain started shortly after I arrived, but the 30 minutes I had before it began was sweet.  The river is shallow and flowed quietly past my vantage point.  I watched the leaves float by and listened to the silence around me.  I could hear the traffic on the road not too far away, but the noise was muted by the trees.  I felt something inside loosen, allowing me to breathe deeply; to notice my breath.

All this, plus a hot shower, for $15.  Gotta love the off season.

P.S.  Love the names of the rivers and some of the towns around here - I couldn't make them up if I tried.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Big Lagoon

Big Lagoon State Park
Pensacola, Florida

Here is more of the arid side of Florida.  Thorny and spiky, the beauty of the desert rather than the beauty of the tropics.

I loved my hike on the 3½ mile sand trail through the park.  I lingered for a long while on the boardwalk near the sign that warned against swimming because there were alligators about – but didn’t see one, much to my disappointment. 

Here is barrier life – it thrives in the harsh conditions of heat, wind and hurricanes, but can’t take the pounding of human shoes.  The storms hit here first, and the islands absorb much of the ocean’s fury, protecting the mainland, leaving it relatively unscathed.

As I walked, my mind turned to my own storm buffers, fragile but strong.  To the faith that I once compared to a dandelion; scrappy and hard to get rid of.  To the people who love me anyways – despite knowing all too well about my thorns and spikes.  And I gave thanks.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

St. Andrew's State Park
Panama City, Florida

Happy Thanksgiving!

Two years ago today, I had a 42 people and a dog coming for dinner tomorrow; 20 or so of them were staying in the house.  Family was coming in right and left, we were sharing lots of hugs, kids and adults alike were wired and tired.  All was ready for the feast to be prepared the next day; life was good.

Today, I am sitting alone at a bar near the beach - no, I'm not sitting and drinking, lonely; internet access can be hard to come by at the state parks and it's free here.  I just had me a wonderful order of fries, which I haven't had since leaving home three months ago.  It's sunny and seventy, and I'm still feeling like I've dropped into the middle of that other woman's life.  Life is good.

An attitude of gratitude is easy to come by today.

Thank you for the friends and family who follow along with my travels via this blog.  (And for those who don't follow, I know they love me anyhow!)  It is good to know I don't travel alone.

Thank you for all who have been so gracious and welcoming when I called with very little notice to say, "I'm nearby, do you have some time to see me?"  The answer has always been, "Yes!"

Thank you for the beautiful places I've seen so far on this sabbatical of mine; it's been all I could have dreamed.

Thank you for the kindnesses I've received from family, friends and strangers alike; from all the help I got moving this spring, to Sharon letting me and Joe stay with her all summer, to the helpful mechanic in Apalachicola yesterday, who gave me the two fuses I needed to get my cigarette lighter (and thus, GPS) working again, and wouldn't let me pay him.

Thank you for the people who had the wisdom to set aside beautiful places for all to share - to leave them mostly natural and unspoiled for us to come and see.

Thank you for the chance to take this sabbatical; to stop and recharge my batteries.  Slowly but surely, it's working.

Thank you for beautiful weather, for children who play innocently and happily in the sun.
Thank you for the cold and rainy days, those are needed, too, in this life.

Thank you.  Amen.

Someone Else's Life

St. George's State Park
St. George Island, Florida

I woke up this morning in the middle of some other woman's life.

Monday morning, just after the 20th of the month, I am at work, making sure the BDI Feeds came in and loaded properly.  I am waiting on the mobility feed to hit my in-box.  People depend on me to get the work done right, and to get it done on time.

This other woman, she woke up with nothing heavier on her mind than what time would be best to take the five mile gravel trail through the Sensitive Nature Area of the park to see the beach on the east end of the island.

She made sure she had air in the tires of her bike, an extra water bottle, her camera, her sunscreen - and took off.

I like her life better than mine, just sayin'.

Yup, I think it's finally hitting me that I'm not just on vacation from work.  I certainly don't regret the time I spent there.  I think I and the company got good value from one another for most of the time I worked for them, but for good or ill, that's behind me now.

I'm trying to learn to live in the moment - to not dwell on the uncertainties of this future into which I've launched myself - but to trust that I will land safely, and to enjoy the flight in-between.

Some days, it's easier than others.  Today is one of the easy days.

Stop.  Breathe.  Relax.


Saturday, November 19, 2011


Atlantic Ocean
St. Augustine, Florida

If you had asked me before I packed up and left home if I had any particular attachment to my shoes, I'd have said no.

After all, growing up, I generally had two pair of shoes - one for everyday, and one for good.

True, I had some 20-30 pairs, but that was for all seasons, and I do like to make a nominal effort to match the style of my feet to what I'm wearing, after all.

After 12 weeks in the camper van, the truth comes out.  I miss my shoes.

There is room for exactly four pair of shoes in the closet here, and I need all I have with me.  In those slots, I have:
  • a pair of sandals, (OK, I cheat and shove a pair of flip-flops for the shower in with the sandals),  the sandals are perfect for walking on the sand
  • a pair of running shoes, for everyday walking around in town and riding my bike
  • a pair of black dress shoes, gotta be able to look semi-professional
  • a pair of workout shoes; the twists and turns of my karate workout will tear the bottoms off of anything but wrestling shoes in less than a month
  • and two weights of hiking shoes.  A heavier pair with really good grips that's water resistant but not waterproof, and a pair of lightweight waterproof ones; I bought those after the second of my treks in the rain.
I know; that's six, not four - I cheat.  The pair of shoes I'm wearing on any given day don't have a slot waiting for them, and the workout shoes live in one of my two drawers.  Picky, picky...

This collection has been more than adequate to keep me properly shod as I traipse around the country.  Or so my practical nature tells my shoe-loving inner two year-old.

The two year-old is not convinced.  But what about the red clogs that are so fun to wear when the weather is gray?  The blue strap sandals?  The comfy bedroom slippers? 

As with most small children, she is not impressed when I tell her the shoes are waiting at home; a treat for when I move back out of the camper van.  She wants them NOW...

Some days, I can be hard to live with.  Just ask me.

Thursday, November 17, 2011


Atlantic Ocean
Anastasia State Park
St. Augustine, Florida

Sunsets... Always beautiful...  God Is.

At the risk of repeating myself, it awes me when I get a chance to stop and notice the sheer quantity of beauty that God manages to pack into a single sunset.

From fiery yellows and oranges to the palest pinks and blues. 

All in the same sky, all cycled through in a quick 30 or so minutes, from bright daylight to darkness.

It amazes me even more when I manage to look beyond my particular spot in time and space, and realize again that the sun is always rising, the sun is always setting.  Every minute of every day, somewhere in the world, this profligate display of beauty is on show.

"Be still, and know that I am God."

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Castillo de San Marcos

Castillo de San Marcos
St. Augustine, Florida

The Spaniards got to this part of the country before the British.  I'd say they got here first, but as one of the plaques within the fort told me, the Native Americans of this region had built a healthy economy, trading with others as far away as present day Ohio, before this guy named Christopher Columbus landed in the Caribbean and threw a monkey wrench into the works.

The fort, built of stone made from compressed shells (coquina), is the oldest masonry and only existing 17th century structure still standing in the U.S.  It gave me a fascinating glimpse into what life was like when.

It looks much as it did when it was first completed back in 1687.  It traded hands six times during the colonial era, but always through treaties.  Its defenses were never broken.  The walls are several feet thick; the interior rooms are dank and cool.  It never served as a permanent home - the soldiers posted here lived in town, and stayed only for their duty shifts. 

Yet, in 1702, the entire town of some 1200 people, plus 300 soldiers, were besieged here by the English for two months, until the Spanish navy arrived, trapping the English forces in the bay.  It had to be the most unpleasant two months of those people's lives.  Just the challenge of keeping the sanitary facilities in usable condition would have made life unpleasant.  There would have been little for the children to do; once the fear from the invasion wore off, as it would have within the first few weeks, keeping them from climbing the walls had to have been a major challenge for their parents.

Downtown St. Augustine has some of the oldest buildings in America.  The main corridor is for pedestrians only, and is lined with charming shops, B&Bs and eateries.  It was here that I found my latest pizza fix, at Pizzalleys!  It is the favorite place of one of the park hosts - and is a far cut above your average chain.

As an added bonus, the town is an easy bike ride from the Anastasia State Park, where I've been hunkering down for most of the week.  The weather's been beautiful, the ocean is about a half mile from the campground, there's internet access available at a pavilion within the park - what more could one ask?

Well, maybe the ability to relax as completely as this guy.  I'm learning, but have a long way to go to reach his attitude of complete relaxation and ease.  I'm willing to work on it, though....

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Home Sweet Home

2003 RoadTrek 190 Popular

This post is for those who want to see my new living quarters - I've had several requests...

Did you ever get to make blanket forts when you were a kid?  We did.  We'd unmake all the beds, claiming tables, chairs - anything with a space under it for our temporary homes.  We'd carefully drape the blankets over the furniture, grab our favorite toys, and crawl inside for a wonderful afternoon of make-believe.

My daughter tagged it for me - I've moved into a blanket fort!

Closet, Toilet
Unlike the forts of my childhood days, however, the camper van has all the comforts of home.  It has a closet and a toilet.  (behind the mirror in the picture to the right.)  It has a shower - I haven't used it yet, because the space is a little cramped - but if/when the day comes I need it, I'll be very glad it's there.  Yes, it's in the picture - see the track on the ceiling?  The shower curtain comes out of the toilet cubby and creates an enclosure in the aisle.  The shower head mounts nearby; the water drains into the floor - so you get to shower and clean the floor all at once. Quit laughing.

The closet is about 18" wide and a bit under 2' deep - but does go floor to ceiling - it's amazing what you can cram into a space that size, as long as you don't mind a few wrinkles.  No dry-clean clothes allowed...

Kitchen, Bed
On the other side of the aisle, I have a small but well-equipped kitchen.  There's a two-burner stove, fridge, sink, microwave and about 18 square inches of counter space.  The latte machine and television are in the cabinet to the rear of the picture, behind the microwave.  (All the essentials...)

The bed is good-sized; I keep it made up as a single mattress, which is basically a short queen-sized bed.  There is an option to make two twins with a center aisle, but I haven't tried it that way because  I like to sprawl.  I have a camping air mattress to add a little support in the center of the space, which is where I sleep. 

Much to my chagrin, the sides of the bed have become my dumping grounds - that's where I keep everything that doesn't have another home.   I don't like clutter - but where else to keep the jackets that won't fit into the closet, the books (that's another story) and the extra blankets?  If I pared down just a bit more, I could find places to tuck them away, but...  what if I need it????  Besides, it's not a good blanket fort without some treasures scattered about!

The van fits into a standard parking spot, so I can stop in to visit busier areas when it suits me.  (OK, parking spot plus an extra three feet or so, since I have the bike on the back.)  It's easy to hook up and the mileage isn't TOO bad (13-15 mpg) for a home on wheels. 

I can see where I will be ready to climb out of my fort into a real home by the time I'm done with my sabbatical, but for now, it's perfect.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Highlands Hammock

Now, where was that path?
Highlands Hammock State Park

For me, Florida is turning out to be a mixed bag.  Parts of it do not appeal to me, but then, there are the gems...

Turning north from Ft. Myers (I decided it would be prudent of me to avoid the Miami area completely...), I took the back roads to the interior of the state.  I'd found a state park in the middle of the swamplands, and thought I'd see if I could see some alligators.

I didn't see any, though I was told me they were there.  What I did find was a forest landscape out of time, and some mosquitoes that the Minnesota cousins would be proud to claim as their own. 

I hope it doesn't learn how to crawl...
I take back everything I said about wanting to get off the beaten path.  Not in this place.  The boardwalk was much appreciated - I definitely didn't want to bother any of those who live in the swampy morass beneath my feet.  (Isn't this the ideal habitat for water moccasins???)  I was also glad I wasn't on the installation crew.

The campgrounds are at the front of the park; the nature trails a short bike ride and an entire world away.

Definitely not Kansas...
Once you get off the main road just a short distance, the sounds of the outside world get swallowed in the peaceful hush of the forest.  My footsteps sounded harshly loud as I walked the path; I stopped often as I walked, to let their echoes die so I could listen to the quiet.

And, though I wasn't expecting it to, the quiet worked its magic on my soul.  I'd started the walk in a restless mood.  Now that I'm past the first month of recovery from burnout, I'm not sure what I'm doing on this trip.  My allotted time for travel is going quickly; shouldn't I be gathering an idea of what I want to do when it's over?  I currently have no clue and some days it bothers me.  As I walked and stopped and listened, all that didn't seem so important for a while.  What was important was the beauty around me; creeping into my soul and quieting my doubts. 

Stop.  Relax.  Breathe.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Apropo of Nothings

Cruising, Ft Myers Beach, FL
Ft. Myers Beach

I love it when the birds obligingly pose for the camera!

If women have to wear tops on the beach, some men should have to, too.

Skin that's been around on this earth for over 60 years is not attractive if it's been subjected to tanning for too many of those years.  There's wrinkles, and then there's wrinkles.

Looking for Breakfast, Ft Myers Beach, FL
I got to skip the time change this time.  I'm going to bed and getting up at the same time I did last week, but now I'm getting up way early in the morning, and I get to feel virtuous about it.

I've decided I really don't like going to restaurants alone.  I feel like they're all looking at me like I'm either eccentric or weird.  Carry out or cook in - that's me this trip.

It's about time to get pizza - I managed to miss my monthly fix this last month.  That's one of the problems with being on the road - how do you know where the GOOD pizza places are?

On my way to my current campground, I stopped at one about a mile down the road.  The office was closed (at 3:30 on Saturday?), and the guard shack was empty, so I found a lady in the sales office nearby.  (They also sell park models at the place.)  I asked about staying, she told me to look for the guard.  Then she stopped, looked at me more closely and said, "This is an adult-only park, you know."  When I assured her I was on my own, she added, "For people over 55 only".  It's been a long time since I was too young to get into a place!  Laughing, I headed on down the road.

I can't picture myself living in a retirement community in Florida when I get older.  Especially in the middle of the state.  You get all the storms, but none of the water vistas.  Nope, don't see it.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Florida Drivers

Ft. Myer's Beach, Florida
I have a new least-favorite state to drive in.

It used to be New Jersey.   The drivers there are cut-throat, and take no prisoners.  If they're unhappy with you, they let you know immediately, with a honk and a not-so-friendly wave.  With a truck and out-of-state plates they will allow you room to merge, but only if you punch it.  No hesitation allowed.

The new one is Florida.  I think about 80% of the Florida drivers were transplanted from the upper east coast.  The other 20% are what I used to call 'hat drivers' (because most of those who drive this way are old men, wearing hats). They mosey along, plenty of time, no hurry - in the left lane - until they need to exit, at which time they cross to the right without warning to make their turn.  I'd thought hat drivers were mostly benign, until I got down here.

I was driving in the center lane of the freeway, keeping up with traffic, when one of them cut me off, almost taking my front bumper with him.  He then proceeded to flip me off, for driving where he wanted to be???.  The guy had to be at least 75 years old.  And, yes, he was wearing a hat.

Fortunately for my nerves, just past Tampa as you're coming south on 75, there's a sign pointing to the Gulf Beaches.  The most aggressive drivers exited there, leaving the rest of us to heave a huge sigh of relief and continue our journeys in relative peace.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Ever Surprising

Crooked River, Georgia
Crooked River State Park

When I climbed into the camper van two months ago, I'd not been away from home for more than a week in 20-odd years.  I knew I wanted to see more of this country of ours; I didn't know if I'd get bored with it.

Just when I begin to think it might maybe be a possibility, I turn another corner, to see something beautiful - unlike all the other beautiful places I've see so far on this trip.
Georgia Trees

Crooked River was one such place - when I picked it out, it was a handy stopping point between here and there.  No mountains or oceans, my expectations of the park were low.

Then, I pulled in to find a wide river, marshy in the middle.  Tall pine trees, with the biggest pine cones I've ever seen spread carelessly about the ground, and with an undergrowth like none I'd ever seen.  Not birch or the other northern deciduous trees, but some sort of palm tree - I didn't try wading in for a close look; they looked like they could cut like they mean it if you brush up against them wrong.

The campground was in two parts; one more open with a view of the river; the other part back in the trees.

Sunset, Crooked River, Georgia
I picked the open part, I wasn't sure why.  I'm usually more of a back-in-the-trees kind of gal.  While I was eating dinner, I looked out the window, and knew why I'd chosen the spot I had.

Sunset.  God Is.  Amen.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Relax, Breathe

Hunting Island State Park
South Carolina

With staying on the road and all, I haven't given this underachieving goal of mine the attention it deserves.   It takes quite a bit of time each day to figure out where I'm going, and then drive to get there.

Before I left, I had some ideas of how a perfect day on sabbatical looked.  Yesterday came close.

The high was around 70; my campsite was right next to the beach.

I woke with the dawn; was able to watch the sky lighten from my bed.

Atlantic Ocean
Once I got up, I took myself down to the beach, and went for a nice long walk while the tide was still out.  (When it's in, there's only a narrow strip of sand along the edge of the beach to walk, and it's littered with fallen trees.  When it's out, you have a good 30 yards of packed sand to wander along.)  Came back, did some stretching to loosen up from the last several days of driving, and enjoyed me some lunch.

After lunch, I got out my thus-far neglected art supplies, and went back down to the beach to draw a picture of one of the fallen trees.

Finishing that, I found a handy tree to lean against, and spent some time just watching the tide roll in.  (humming, "Sittin' on the Dock of the Bay", to set the mood properly.  The location's wrong, but the words are otherwise perfect.)

Getting hungry, I went back to the camper, talked to my son for a while (phone reception was good, but like most of the state campgrounds, Internet was unavailable), fixed me some dinner, then ate it while watching the sky darken as the sun went down.

I spent the balance of the evening enjoying a trash novel under the light of my new task light.    

Ahhhh.  Life is Good.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011


Santee State Park, South Carolina
Some dates are just too fun.  Today ranks right up there for the year with 9-10-11, and just behind 11-11-11!   Just ask me.

I realized there is a flaw in my plan the other day.  I've been heading south, thinking to escape the cold, but it's not the cold that bothers me about winter.  (At least, it doesn't bother me if it's cold outside as long as I am warm and dry.)

It's the dark.  Without my fireplace, comforting candles and bright lights, I'm afraid I'm not going to like the next few months very well.

And since I can't drive far enough south to outrun winter's darkness, I'm going to have to grit my teeth and deal.  I did take one positive step this weekend - I bought a task lamp for the camper.  The lights in the van work for reading or watching TV, but are not quite bright enough for me to work on art or other crafts.  The room is certainly cozy enough; perhaps it'll be easier than I fear...  I can only hope, because right now, winter's looking like it'll make this trip feel like it's lasting FOREVER - and not in a good way.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween!

Croft State Park, Spartanburg, SC
Not that some people go overboard for Halloween, but this was just part of one display at the Croft State Park in South Carolina where I landed after the October storm that hit the east coast managed to also hit Asheville, NC, where I'd planned to spend a few days after getting chased off the Blue Ridge Parkway by the same storm.  Got all that?

I've been spoiled by the series of almost-empty campgrounds I've found on my trip thus far, and when pulling in, didn't figure this small state campground would be any different.  What I didn't know was that Saturday night was the annual park Halloween party - and if it weren't for a couple of late cancellations, I'd have not gotten a spot at all.  (I found out later that people reserve the spots for this night eleven months in advance.)

I was amazed and amused by the amount of work people put into decorating their campsites - for just one night!  The photo above wasn't even the winning entry in the site-decoration contest; that was reserved for the people who brought in a load of sand to create a tableau of skeletons sunning on the beach, complete with swimsuits, sunscreen, umbrellas and camp chairs.  It was great fun for all involved.

Except for yours truly.  I didn't have any candy with me, and the first couple of people I talked to weren't too friendly, so I spent the evening with the front curtains drawn and the lights dimmed, so I wouldn't be disappointing any children.  I felt like a real Halloween Scrooge; alone, very alone.  (Though I did keep the back curtains open so I could admire the costumes on young and old from afar.  It was quite a parade.)

I had to do laundry and run some errands on Sunday, so I stayed at the park a second night.  It was a whole new scene.  We were back to the 1/3 full conditions I've become used to, quiet reigned, the weather was late-fall perfection.  When I heard someone playing bluegrass down the road, I wandered by for a listen, and got invited to stay for dinner.  Thus assured my social cooties from the previous evening had worn off, I stayed for a spell, and had a great time.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Fog, Ugh!

Mabry Mill, Blue Ridge Parkway, NC
Winter has won.

The forecast is for snow and freezing temperatures, and it has swept me off the Parkway a day or two early.  I am now headed for regions south.

Yesterday's drive didn't start too badly.  It was cool and rainy but as I've found in the past, the gray skies intensified the colors of fall, and I enjoyed the first part of the drive immensely.

Blue Ridge Parkway, NC
But then the fog rolled in - at first, it was beautiful.  As I drove along, visibility was still around 1/4 mile, and the trees and curves would loom out of the mist like the spooks in a good Halloween movie.

But then, as the fog lowered, the drive became an exercise in concentration.  I thought about bailing from the Parkway, but the surrounding roads are just as winding, and have a lot more traffic and stops on them, so I stayed put to reach my original goal of Asheville, NC, before nightfall.  (There was snow forecast for the higher elevations - and I don't think I want to try the camper van on ice!)  It was an intense couple of hours; not fun at all.  I was not feeling kindly toward those who forgot to turn on their headlights.  They'd pop out of nowhere in the murk, and startle the heck out of me!   The fog was thick enough to completely obscure the views - which made the occasional spots where the fog lifted seem extra beautiful; the lower part of the parkway was showing some wonderful color, where it could be seen.

It took an extra hour or so, but I made it safely through the mist.  My shower felt wonderful.  I fell into bed exhausted, but still a little jittery from the drive.  I'd stay here another day, to enjoy the town as I'd originally planned, but the forecast is for freezing temperatures here tonight; I need to get to a lower elevation to avoid them.  (The camper van doesn't do freezing temps well...)

Not looking forward to driving today. I had my fill of behind-the-wheel time yesterday, but I'm sure I'll be fine.  I only need to drive for an hour or two to get ahead of the cold.  On the road I go! 

Peaks of Otter

Peaks of Otter, Blue Ridge Parkway, VA
I could get into this concept of choosing campsites by the number of deer calmly grazing as one pulls into the campground.

I had interrupted my journey down the parkway for a night; I needed to have my cell phone working because there was a family emergency.

I've been divorced for years, but that was long ago and far away and I bear no hard feelings towards my ex-husband.  The emergency was his - he landed in the hospital with an aoritic dissection and was undergoing emergency open-heart surgery. (Apparently the aorta has several layers - his had broken through the first one; he felt the classic chest pain that signals a heart attack and they were able to catch and fix it before it broke completely apart.)    For my kids, I wanted to be there in case I was needed.  Fortunately, the surgery went well, and I was able to head back up into the hills knowing he was on the mend.

SharpTop Mountain, Blue Ridge Parkway, VA
He and his journey were understandably on my mind as I went hiking up the mountain the next afternoon.  Our paths have diverged greatly in the almost two decades since we split up.

As I huffed and puffed my way up the hill, more in tune with my pounding heartbeat than I would otherwise have been, I pondered the forces that lead us to the paths we take.

My choices led me to a mountaintop that afternoon; his to the recovery room.  But I was not gloating, rather wondering about the whys.  Why do we make the choices we do?  In matters of exercise and heart strength, I have kept in mind my family history of heart disease, and have done what I could to lessen my chances of it hitting me at a young age.  But there are plenty of other areas where my choices have not been so wise; where I have taken the road that seemed easier at the time, rather than the one that challenged my limits - but probably would have led to a better life.

With any luck, this trip will clear my mind enough so I can figure out which choices will lead to beauty in my after-camper-van life.

Skyline Drive

Skyline Drive, Virginia
It's a twisty and winding road; much of the time the speed limit is 35 MPH - but since I wasn't in any hurry and had time to stop and enjoy the views, I was in my element.

Rain threatened, but held off, and the views were spectacular.

Finally, I found that fall foliage I'd been either just ahead of or behind since I left Wisconsin.  Ahhh....

Loft Mountain Campground, Skyline Drive, VA
I stopped for the night at the Loft Mountain campground on the Drive.  The campground was almost empty.  The deer were a bit perturbed by my intrusion into their space, but not enough to run off; they finished dinner before moving on a few minutes after I pulled in.

Dawn, Loft Mountain, VA
I woke up in time to catch the dawn - it was spectacular.
Cold - but fortunately for me, I could prop my head up on an extra pillow and enjoy it from the comfort of my cozy warm bed!

Sunday, October 23, 2011


Jamestown Map
Jamestown Fort Reconstruction
Jamestown Island Swamp
Jamestown, Virginia

I dimly recall the history classes of my youth; trying to memorize the names of colony leaders and the locations of the early colonies.

Dry, dull, boring stuff.

As I walked through the bones of the reconstructed Jamestown settlement, I found myself rethinking the history I'd learned.

I knew 104 men had settled the original colony.  What I had no foundation to try to picture before walking the grounds was the close quarters in which they had to live, or the flimsiness of the rough palisade surrounding their small camp.

That first fence they built encircled little more than an acre - call it a good city block.  Outside the fence were enemies - on two legs and four.  Ordered to choose a defensible site, they'd not chosen a good location to feed themselves; the surrounding land is swampy, there is little fresh water available.  Available game on the small island was quickly hunted to extinction.

Most of the original settlers quickly died from famine or disease - a mixture of 'gentlemen', boys and laborers, they were not equipped to fend for themselves in the wilderness.

One of the graves they've uncovered at the site contains the bones of a fourteen year-old boy, who died from complications of an arrow wound.  As one trying a bit of adventure myself, he caught my heart. I have a mental picture of him boarding the ship back in England.  In my mind, he is a bit cocky, as are most young men of that age.  He is thrilled to be getting on the ship, ready to see new places, eager for the journey ahead.  Fast forward a few months - he is hungry, tired, scared, wounded, disillusioned.  He misses his mother.  And shortly after that, he dies, far from his family and home; his name never made it into the history books.  May he rest in Peace.