May 24th – Mind Travelling – Journaling through the COVID-19 Pandemic


Another month is quickly slipping by. It’s been a better month for sure. Mothers’ day brought great comfort, with phone calls or chats with all of my children, and gifts from my step-children left at the door, with a distancing visit.

The box of paints, brushes and a canvas were meant to prompt me to try something new. I took that challenge and found an online Paint Workshop that was suggested. I didn’t join it live because the time wasn’t convenient, but I did it on my own time the next day. It turned out that was good, because I struggled at first with mixing enough paint to do big sections, in different shades of blue, but I persevered. Unlike using watercolours (which I’d tried many years ago) my mistakes could be painted over and corrected. Well, most of them, until I ran out of the very important white paint required for mixing. Then I had to improvise. The two-hour class took me most of the day to finish this one painting. But, in the end I felt  good to have completed it, and it didn’t look too bad for an amateur. I enjoyed the challenge and hope to get some more canvas to try another one, sometime.

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Another gift was a jar of sourdough starter. It brought back memories of the delicious and light sourdough muffins that I used to make. The recipe made big batches and, because the starter had to be divided up with some to feed a new starter and the rest to be used in baking, once a week (actually it seems to me it was more often) my freezer was full of frozen muffins of a variety of flavours. My son told me years later how he used to often sneak down to the freezer to grab one or two and eat them frozen. I didn’t even notice the missing ones. I had to wait a week until it was time to feed the starter before I could use some of it, but I kept those muffins in mind.

I had several days when baking was my outlet, creating another (better) lemon meringue pie and chocolate/peanut butter squares one day.

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Another day I recruited Jim to help me make a big batch of perogies, one of my favourite quick from the freezer meals, but that I’d never made myself before. They were a lot of work, and took a long time, but we worked well together.

 

When the day came to feed the sourdough I was having a major pain day, which usually causes some brain fade. That day was no exception. For one thing, the new way of measuring ingredients is by weight instead of volume. Fortunately we have a scale that we used for weighing packages when doing product shipping for our online businesses, but I had to learn the trick for adding multiply ingredients. Then I put the water in before the flour, which made mixing more difficult. I doubted that it was going to work, but the next day I saw that it had.

I made a batch of muffins, not the recipe I used to use. Seems I didn’t keep it, never expecting to be doing volume or sourdough baking again. They might have turned out good if I hadn’t been trying to do something else in the kitchen while they were baking. I somehow tuned out the sound of the timer and they got way over baked. Not burned, but rather dry. Disappointing.

Oh well, the sun came out the next day and the temperature climbed.

We had a few ukulele players over to our lawn to play some tunes one day, keeping our distance and staying no more than an hour. We limited the invitation to only five of us in total. It was a welcome change.

One Friday evening we ordered take out Fish and Chips from one of our local restaurants, a restaurant that had been closed completely for two months and just recently started doing order-ahead take outs. We invited another couple who lives in the building to join us at the twelve-foot table in the Common Room, each of us with our own orders, using our own plates and utensils, sitting at opposite ends of the table. It was nice to chat and get caught up, something we hadn’t been able to do since we’d been gone for six months.

I bought vegetable seeds and planted one of the three planter boxes that our Condo Board acquired so we could have a little community garden.

I’ve gotten used to grocery shopping. It seems to be the new normal for me now. More people are wearing masks, and so far there has been no news of CORONA-19 outbreaks in our small tri-town community. I have to admit that that might not necessarily be a good thing, only because it becomes too easy to forget that we still have to be diligent with our social distancing and mask wearing. I was shocked when, one day after I was introduced to the woman who agreed to rent us parking space for the motorhome, without thinking I reached out to shake her hand — and she reciprocated! That weighed on my mind for a long time. I sanitized my hands as soon as I got back into the car; I hoped that she did too. I didn’t sleep well that night, after that incident and after hearing the latest COVID case statistics. The curve was rising, or at least no longer falling in many places in Canada and around the world. I had another major pain day.

We sat in our car by a nearby beach and watched and listened to the peacefulness.

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This morning I woke up feeling optimistic and planning things I wanted to accomplish. It was to be another sunny day. But the first thing I saw when I opened my iPad was a message from someone who cares, warning me that “take out” food is dangerous unless we’d cooked it again at home for ten minutes at at  least 80 degrees. He’d seen Jim’s Facebook post about our sharing with neighbours. Then I opened a news app and saw huge crowds of people on beaches enjoying Memorial Day  in the US, and I thought “they are never going to get out of this virus if they continue like this.” When I opened an app with Canadian news I saw the same thing happening in a park in Toronto! There goes my optimism and respect for my fellow human beings.

At least the sun is still shining, today.

And the flowers are blooming in the beds.

And a mother robin has decided to build her nest in a corner of the building, on the ledge of our bedroom window! How beautiful is that?

PLEASE STAY SAFE! AND KEEP YOUR LOVED ONES SAFE TOO!

Making Some New Friends, and a Few Mishaps in British Columbia


We’ve been in British Columbia for over a week now. Our first stop was Golden, where we went into the Visitor’s Centre to get maps and take advantage of the free Wi-Fi. While we were sitting in the corner seats, a rather large beetle-like bug landed on my iPad. I instinctively flicked it off and stepped on it. When the area filled with a horrible smell, I knew it was a Stink Bug, also known as a Cedar Bug, the woman at the desk told us. We found a restaurant and had some lunch before moving on.

A couple of hours later we saw a sign for Canyon Hot Springs that offered RV camping. That sounded like a marvelous idea as the weather had turned cool and wet! Fortunately, they had plenty of room since they were closing for the season in just a few more days.

Canyon Hot SpringsWhile Jim hooked up the electricity and water, I thought I’d get something out of the freezer to thaw for dinner, but it turned out to be unnecessary – everything was thawed! For reasons that I won’t go into, the fridge had been off all day (or longer), and because there wasn’t much left in the freezer, it didn’t stay frozen. I closed the door, retrieved our swim suits from the bedroom drawer, and thought about what to do. When Jim came in I asked him to get the electric cooler from the outside bin and I put the half-bag of shrimp, four pieces of salmon, and a couple of pork chops into that. The fridge was now back on, but I didn’t want this meat to re-freeze and there wasn’t room for it in the fridge. I knew I’d be cooking more than I’d planned that night, but first things first. It was time to soak in the Hot Springs! Actually, it was two good sized swimming pools that were fed from the hot springs, one much hotter than the other. We acclimatized in the cooler one, and then moved to the other.

While we soaked, we chatted with a couple from California, Robin and Mike, who were enjoying a tour of Canada in a pop-up trailer, but were disappointed in the cool and rainy weather we’d been having the past week. They were glad to get warm in the pool. We learned that they were parked quite near to us, and that they had been camped in Jasper Whistler Campsite at the same time we were. In fact, they had had the privilege of watching the Elk family from their doorstep every day that they were there! I’m hoping Robin will send me a couple of the great pictures that she got. When we’d started to shrivel from the heat, we returned to the motor home and I began to cook. Knowing that there would be much more than we could eat ourselves, and that we would soon be sharing meals with my daughter and her family, we invited Robin and Mike to join us for dinner. I cooked the shrimp in some garlic butter, before adding the fresh stir-fry vegetables I’d bought for that reason. I dumped in the green beans and red peppers that had thawed in the freezer, and cooked some more quinoa to add to the leftover I’d planned to use for ourselves that night. I put the salmon pieces into the oven with a maple walnut coating, and while that cooked we shared a bottle of wine and good conversation with Robin and Mike. It turned out to be a wonderful evening after all, despite the pouring rain.

We hardly noticed the rumble of the trains on the nearby track (that seems to be a common denominator at campsites) that night. We slept well. The next morning we said our goodbyes to Robin and Mike before continuing toward Kaslo.

We stopped in Revelstoke for lunch at a friendly café in the downtown, then fueled the motor home at a gas station, and filled the propane tank a few blocks away. At the gas station I sat inside while Jim pumped the gas, on the driver’s side of the coach. At one point, I recall, I felt some rocking and a little bang. I thought it was the sound of Jim opening and closing one of the outside bins, so didn’t look out. Jim recalls feeling the rocking, but figured I was walking around inside. When he was done filling the tank, he noticed that the truck, with a trailer, that was using the pump on the other side of us, was so close to our coach that Jim had to turn sideways to squeeze past it. When he got out to get the propane ten minutes later, he noticed some major cracks in the fiberglass of the back passenger-side corner of the coach, and a missing light cover. It would appear that the driver of that truck had hit us with his trailer, backed up to re-position , and said nothing!

Coach Damage

Coach Damage

IMG_20150921_151140384Too late to do anything about it, we carried on. We crossed Arrow Lake on Shelter Bay Ferry to Galena and continued along Hwy 23 to Nakusp and then back onto Hwy. 6. IMG_0965 IMG_0966On our way out of Nakusp we saw a well-dressed hitch-hiker on the side of the road. We did something we’d never done before. We stopped to offer her a ride, and were glad that we did. Petra was a lovely young woman from Austria who was making her way around parts of Canada before returning home to finish her thesis. That day she was hoping to reach Nelson. Kaslo was on the way. While we drove we learned a bit about Austria, and told her some things about Canada. She’d never been in a motor home before, and she was grateful for the ride because she’d been standing on the road for over an hour. It was starting to get dark when we left her on a corner in Kaslo, with the promise that if she didn’t get a ride quickly, she’d find us in the campsite and accept our offer of the hide-a-bed for the night. We didn’t see her again, so have to assume that she made it safely to Nelson.

That was the start of a week in Kaslo with family and friends.

A Few Days on Prince Edward Island


The next morning I enjoyed a leisurely shower before Jim and Dave got up. After a stop for breakfast, we had a good ride to Prince Edward Island. Although dark clouds circled around us, we didn’t have any rain until after we crossed Northumberland Strait via Confederation Bridge. On the island, we stopped at the Tourist Centre where we discovered internet connection, so we took the time to catch up on emails and check for orders on our online stores. It was with mixed feelings that we learned there were no orders, which are more difficult to process while on the road, but help pay for the trip.

The sun had been shining when we entered the building; black clouds greeted us upon our exit. We rode for only about ten minutes before the rain started, forcing us to pull into a gas station to struggle into our rain gear, and fill up the gas tanks, and by then the rain had retreated. But, we caught another deluge in a few more minutes. It lasted only five minutes and that was the end of it.

At 4:00 p.m. we were knocking on the door of our friends’ cottage at West Point, and were quickly immersed in Maritime hospitality when neighbours began showing up and bottles of rum or beer were broken open.

The Cottage

Friends and Neighbours relaxing on the porch after a day of renovation work

After dinner we all went for a stroll along the beach and watched a beautiful sunset. We didn’t need to strike our tents for the next few days, as beds were offered in the cottage.

PEI Beach

Beach at sunset

In the morning we decided to ride the bikes to Skinner’s Pond, home of Stompin’ Tom Connors. We visited a fishing harbor, and enjoyed a lunch of mussels and Seaweed Pie at the Seaweed Pie Café. We learned all about the harvesting of seaweed and it’s uses, before continuing on to the Tourist Centre and the Windmill Farm on the most westerly point of the island.

Skinner's Pond, PEI

Skinner’s Pond, PEI

Home of Stoppin' Tom

Home of Stompin’ Tom

Fishing Boats

Fishing Boats

Mussels

Mussels

Eating Mussels

Dig in, Jim!

Seaweed Pie

Seaweed Pie, not what you’d expect,

Our last day was a hot one. Our friend Meg and I went into O’Leary to do some grocery shopping before Jim, Dave and I headed out on the bikes again. We left the jackets off when we rode to Summerside to the Tall Ships Festival. Having endured a half-hour of sitting in the blazing sun at a road construction site, upon our arrival in Summerside we were disappointed to find that only two of the ships had docked, one being the Bluenose, which we’d all toured before. So after a stroll along the shore, a light lunch, and another stop for ice cream, we returned to the cottage in time for the delicious scallop dinner that Meg had prepared.

The evening ended with us clapping our hands and stomping our feet at a Gaelic music concert in a nearby church.

Another Camping World/Good Sam RV Rally


Camping World is United States’ largest RV and outdoor retailer; Good Sam is the world’s largest RV owner’s organization. Together they host America’s largest RV Rally. We attended our first Rally in Syracuse, NY in 2013.This year The Rally was held near Phoenix, only an hour away from us, so we had to go.

We signed up for the Early Bird Special and arrived at the venue, Phoenix International Speedway in Avondale, at 4:30 on the Tuesday afternoon. We were very impressed with the way all the rigs were neatly and efficiently directed to the parking spots by volunteers. Once we were installed a friendly lady was at our door with our registration package, which meant we didn’t have to walk to a booth and stand in line like last time. The window stickers with QR codes, which came by mail after we’d first registered online, were a major help, and this time they didn’t have rain and mud to deal with. There wasn’t much happening that first night so we just relaxed with our books – no electricity unless we ran the generator, no Wi-Fi.

When we got up the next morning at 8:00 am we were still the last coach in our designated row and we could look across the massive parking lot right out to the entrance. We watched out the window as a new procession of attendees, in everything from small camper vans to forty-foot-plus luxury coaches or fifth-wheels, began. Over the next few days thousands of RVs would fill the several acres of space.

Rows of RVs under the sunset

Rows of RVs under the sunset

We met our next-site neighbours, Bill and Jan Mains, from Casa Grande, who are avid RVers. Jan had her one leg in a cast, due to a broken foot, but she determinedly got around using a little scooter to support the foot that couldn’t touch the ground.

We got our bikes together and went for a ride around the top of the raceway stands, chatting with people along the way. Our fold-up bikes are always a topic of conversation.

Jim on fold-up bicycle overlooking speedway

Jim on fold-up bicycle overlooking speedway

At noon we were allowed into the Rally area, the infield of the race track. We looked through some new RVs until it was time for a seminar on making your RV more fuel efficient, at 1:00 pm. We got some good information. By then my stomach was grumbling. It was a long way back to our RV, so we chose to have pizza from one of the few food vendors that were open that day. There was a Craft Show that Jim wanted to see, but by the time I’d come back from the restroom next door he’d seen it all; not many vendors and not many customers. We toured through a few more new RVs, just for curiosity sake. These $400,000 to $800,000 luxury models wouldn’t have interested me even if we had the money to spend. They are very pretty and have all the bells and whistles, but most are not very well laid out and they are too big to fit into many campgrounds. We soon made our way back to the gate where we’d left our bikes chained to the fence.

Back at the camp site, Jan and Bill were trying to entertain some friends on the tiny spot of empty space in front of their fifth-wheel. The sites were wide enough for only a rig and a pull or tow vehicle beside it. “Patio” space was practically non-existent. More of their friends arrived so we invited them to join us on our site, since we had no extra vehicle, leaving us plenty of patio space. We all visited until the sun went down and the temperature dropped. Then we retreated to the comfort of our “homes” for dinner and downtime.

Jan and Bill on right

Jan and Bill on right

During the next few days we rode the shuttle trolley back and forth between the rally exhibits and our RV, to take in a few more seminars, listen to afternoon entertainers and view more RVs. The most appreciated information we came away with was the value of having a voltage protector plus surge protector rather just a surge protector on your RV plug-in. We heard horror stories about some campgrounds/RV parks having open grounds or reverse polarity in their wiring systems that can cause major damage to an RV without a voltage protector. The Wi-Fi at the media centre was spotty so posting blogs or anything else other than doing emails was difficult. We managed to spend some money at the huge vendor tent, and dropped $14.00 for two cheeseburgers and $4.00 for a bottle of water at the Food Court, the second day there. The next day I packed a lunch. We saw a few lower-priced RVs that we really liked, but because of our poor Canadian dollar exchange even those were beyond our budget. I was disappointed because I would so like to have more kitchen space and closets.

Smiling in our first "dream" Coach

Smiling in our first “dream” Coach

On Thursday night we sat in the grandstand to watch and listen to the Tina Preston Band. They were pretty good. It was unfortunate that the stage was set up in the infield a hundred feet away from the first row of seats, and the bleacher seating was protected by wire mesh fencing, making it difficult to see. There were TV screens though. On Friday night the entertainment was provided by Ticket to Ride, a Beatles Tribute Band and they had the bleachers rocking and stomping until 9:00 pm.

Looking at the Band Stage

Looking onto the band stage from our seats in the bleachers

Saturday afternoon the good weather ended and it started to rain as we were riding the trolley back to camp. We didn’t go back for the Neil Diamond Tribute Band that night. It rained all night long. We’d seen everything we wanted to see, so after breakfast Sunday morning we packed up and left for Mesa Regal. It was a fun few days, but if we do another rally I think I’d rather spend more time getting to know some of the other RVers and less time dreaming about impossibilities.

San Antonio, Texas


When we left New Orleans we headed in the direction of San Antonio, Texas. Traveling along Hwy 90 was the worst road we’ve ever been on. It is made of concrete slabs and they have all heaved just enough to cause the RV to thump over the uneven seams with each set of axles. Dishes rattled, doors and drawers that we thought were secured banged open and closed. My body began to ache and my head began to pound. At one point we turned off it to take the much smoother service road that ran alongside it, until that took a turn north before meeting up with 90 several miles later. It was 4:45 pm when we crossed the border into Texas and were back on I-10.

Jim takes a break under the Texas Star

Jim takes a break under the Texas Star

At 6:30 we stopped for dinner at a Cracker Barrel near Houston and called it a day. Most Cracker Barrel Restaurants have parking spots at the back just for RVs and as long as there is space, they are welcome to stay for the night. Of course it’s good for business because we always return for breakfast.

By 2:00 pm the next day we were entrenched in the San Antonio KOA. We unloaded the bike and rode downtown. After finding a spot in a nearby parking lot, we walked to The Alamo and did the tour with headsets that told us the history. It’s an interesting story.

Alamo Alamo5And the gardens around it are beautiful.

Alamo Gardens

Alamo Gardens

Alamo GardensThe sun was hot, so the cooler air that enveloped us after we descended  the stairs to the River Walk was a welcome relief. We strolled on the walkway beside the river banks, and checked out the many restaurants before settling on an outdoor café that featured polish sausages, sauerkraut (or potato salad) and fresh baked pretzels.

Yummy Sausage, pretzel and German Potato Salad

Yummy Sausage, pretzel and German Potato Salad

While we ate we were entertained by two fellows dressed in German-style knickers, vests and hats. One played an accordion, the other a lap drum kit; both sang and told jokes. They quit about the time we were finished eating.

Enertainers

Sign on bucket: “All Donations Benefit the Home for One-armed Accordion Players”

We climbed back up the stairs to the hot pavement, returned to the bike and attempted to find our way back to the campground. We needed a little help from a traffic cop who allowed us to make a U-turn after he told us we were going in the wrong direction. Following his directions we found a much easier route back than the one we’d taken to get there, one that we would use again the next day.

After breakfast we returned to the same parking lot and made our way back to the River Walk. This time we took the hour long boat cruise through all the branches of the river while our captain told us of the history of the building of the River Walk, its main purpose being to prevent flooding. Over time the building of a multitude of restaurants, a shopping plaza, convention centre and two towering hotels has turned it into a major tourist attraction. We spent the rest of the day enjoying the atmosphere, listening to the music being played on the terrace of the plaza, and ending our visit with a fine dinner at The County Line BBQ, after waiting in line for twenty minutes. We were disappointed to see that not all of the lights along the walk had been turned on, but it was a lovely evening just the same.

River Walk

River Walk

River Walk

River Walk Tour Boat

Five & Dime

A good place to purchase t-shirts and other souvenirs

River Walk

The birds found a good place to eat, but we couldn’t get a seat here.

The next morning we were on our way again.

New Orleans – Music, History and Architecture


After we left Memphis we took a little detour into Arkansas to fill up the gas tank, just so we could say we’d been there and could fill in another state on our map. Perhaps another time we’ll visit longer. Back on the I-55 we turned south into Mississippi. By 6:00 pm we were still in Mississippi, but had had enough driving for one day. We found an accommodating Wal-Mart parking lot in Brookhaven, where we joined a few other motor homes and several semis.

At noon the next day we pulled into The KOA French Quarter RV Resort in New Orleans, and I thought “I want to stay here for the winter!” This is a resort indeed, with inter-locking brick streets and RV lots. Each lot is extra wide and has a furnished, screened, wooden gazebo. There are also all the other necessities such as a laundry, pool and hot tub, all housed in a beautiful southern style brick complex. There is even an outdoor ice machine to aid with your refreshments. Sounds rather expensive, right? Well, it definitely isn’t a place that we could stay long term, or return to often. The normal rate to rent a spot is $99 a night. Unfortunately, there were no KOA owned lots available at the time, but there were privately owned ones which go for $114 per night. That’s more than double what we would normally be willing to pay. But it was worth it for a couple of nights for the convenience. It’s situated right on the edge of The French Quarter, within walking distance of all the activity, and we were more than happy to not have to take the bike into the crowded streets or find a safe place to park it.

French Quarter RV Resort

French Quarter RV Resort

French Quarter RV Resort

The first thing we did was book a tour and by 2:00 pm we were on a mini-bus with Sam, a very animated tour guide, easing through the streets of the French Quarter and the various historical districts and parks that make up this interesting city.

We drove by Jackson Square, originally known in the 18th century as “Place d’Armes,” and later renamed in honor of the Battle of New Orleans hero Andrew Jackson. Later we would stroll through it, listening to some of the buskers who try to make a living there, and browse the many artist stalls and shops.

Statue of General Andrew Jackson

Statue of General Andrew Jackson

The unique architecture of the French Quarter caught my eye with it’s many wrought iron balconies and gingerbread scroll work.

French Quarter

French Quarter Architecture

P1020998

P1020999

Sam pointed out “shot gun” houses, very long houses with narrow street frontage. Some were single; some were double; most were wood clapboard. We passed Dillard University and were told that it was the very first university built exclusively for the newly-freed blacks in the area. We drove past the new musicians homes, built by Brad Pitt and Habitat for Humanity after Hurricane Katrina, and we saw damaged homes that remain abandoned. We made a stop at the home of one retired musician who has turned it into a shrine in memory of the devastation of Katrina. The tour was to end at 5:00 pm but at 5:30 we were stuck in traffic just a couple of blocks from the restaurants of the French Quarter. We opted to get out and walk there in search of dinner. We found Deanie’s, one recommended by the staff at the RV Resort. We weren’t disappointed. The garlic buttered butterfly shrimp and the baked catfish were cooked to perfection and tasty enough to have us licking our fingers. We were curious about the “appetizer”, a bowl of small red potatoes cooked until just tender and lightly salted on the inside. When questioned, our waitress told us that they had been boiled in sea food seasoning. We had to resist eating them all or we’d have had no room for our entrée!

After returning to the RV for a quick change of clothes, as it was cooler after the sun went down, we spent a few hours walking up and down Bourbon Street, listening to impromptu jazz bands on the street and more soul music drifting from the bars. Young boys danced on the pavement, the metal bottle lids attached to the soles of their shoes clicking out the rhythm. We stopped to watch and a young performer held out his hand for payment. Jim had no small bills so emptied his pocket of change. As we walked away he noticed the lad throw it onto the street! Guess he didn’t need money that badly. When we finally returned home, I was over-tired and over-stimulated. I found it difficult to get to sleep. So it was during the night that I wrote and posted my last blog entry.

The next morning saw us walking the five or six blocks to the French Market where we had lunch while observing the architecture and people, then strolled through the many vendor booths, resisting making purchases. The motor home already seemed to be bulging. The sun was again very hot and I was beginning to fade, but we walked a few more blocks until we found the St. Charles Street trolley line. A $3.00 pass let us ride and get off and on for the rest of the day. We took it to the end of the line in the Upper Gardens District. I admit that my eyes closed and my head bobbed a few times along the way. We admired the elegant colonial homes and gardens, for some of which we had been given the history while on the tour bus. By 4:00 I was really dragging and in need of coffee if I was going to make it home.   We switched to the returning trolley and went back a few stops. We decided we might as well have an early dinner and after a delicious plate of sea food and a cup of coffee at O’Henry’s I felt slightly revived.

Wedding Venue

Wedding Venue

Not enough, however, for the energy that was required to get off the trolley again further down the line to take a closer look at the homes on 4th Street, but I did it anyway. From the street we watched a wedding taking place in the garden of one on the original mansions that can now be rented for such occasions. Back in the French Quarter we spent a couple more hours strolling Bourbon Street before finding our way home. It had been a good day, but I was wiped and my body was reminding me that it won’t be pushed so hard. I was gone the minute my head hit the pillow.

 

 

Leaving the Warmth of Arizona Behind


The last few weeks in Mesa were so busy, and the internet connection so poor that I didn’t get to write about all the new and wonderful things we saw and did. Now we are on our way home, so I will fill in the other stories later, and complete the trip now.

Winslow Arizona

“Standing on the Corner in Winslow Arizona” is where we were late on the first day of our trip home. After battling high winds most of the day, Jim was ready for a break. It was a Sunday so the streets were nearly empty, but we took pictures of the man “standing on the corner” with his guitar and the “girl in the flatbed Ford,” lines from the popular Eagles tune Take It Easy that put this little town on the map. One shop was open, allowing us to pick up a couple of souvenirs before getting back on the road.

Standing on the Corner

Standing on the Corner

Girl in Flatbed Ford

Girl in Flatbed Ford

Amana Iowa

For the last few days we’ve kept on “truckin’”, partly because the weather has been too cold and wet to do any sightseeing, and partly because we have things we need to take care of at home. But today we did make another stop along the way. Jim had read about the Amana Colonies in Iowa, a group of seven villages that were established on 25,000 acres of land by several hundred True Inspirationalists of Germans, Swiss and Alsatians who fled Europe in 1854 to pursue Religious Freedom. They originally settled near Buffalo New York, but when that area became too crowded they purchased their acreage in the Iowa prairies, near the town of Victor. Since we were passing by the turn off from I-80 that would take us to them, and it was lunch time, we decided to make the ten mile detour.

It was well worth the time. We first stopped into the Schanz Furniture woodworking shop in South Amana, where we viewed the beautifully hand-crafted wooden creations and had a peek at works in progress. The friendly staff equipped us with a map and directions to find the several restaurants in the first and largest village of Amana. What a beautiful, old style village! We enjoyed a home-style lunch at the Ox Yoke Inn before climbing back into the already cold motor home, and getting back onto I-80. We managed to get ourselves to Princeton, Illinois before calling it a day.

A Weekend of Music and Entertainment in Phoenix Area


It all began on a Friday night when our new friend, Mary Lee, took us to The Arizona Opry, which is located east of Mesa near the community of Apache Junction. We were ushered into a large hall lined with rows of long tables, clothed and set for the chicken dinner that was to come. On stage was a huge array of musical instruments, including strings, brass and percussions, which would be played for our entertainment when dinner was over.

Arizona Opry Stage

Arizona Opry Stage

Jim, Judy, Mary Lee at Opry

Jim, Judy, Mary Lee at Opry

At precisely 6:30 pm trays of filled dinner plates began to appear, and within thirty-five minutes all 508 guests were served a sumptuous meal of roasted chicken breast, baked potatoes, vegetables and rolls. The “Opry chocolate cake” that was already on the tables when we arrived completed (or started) the repast. Coffee and lemonade were constantly available from the moment we sat down. By 7:30 the tables were cleared, chairs were turned toward the stage, and the music got our feet tapping. The Barleen Family and Guests perform and choreograph fourteen different shows throughout the year. This night was a Variety Show displaying a multitude of talent and unbelievable energy. When the “Arizona Champion Guitar Picker” was introduced as the evening’s guest performer, he seemed familiar. Sure enough, it was Ryan Martin whom we’d first heard picking and strumming back in 2010 in Cody, Wyoming. What a pleasant surprise.

If you ever find yourself in this area of Arizona, be sure to pay a visit to Barleens Arizona Opry Dinner Theatre. You won’t be disappointed.

On Saturday we rode the bike to the North West side of Phoenix to check another item off our Bucket List – a visit to the Musical Instrument Museum (MIM). Little did we know that one day would never be enough time! It happened that that particular weekend was a special one at MIM, with a Carnival Theme. That meant the price of admission included not only the chance to tour the gallery and listen to samples of many types of music and instruments in the process, but we could choose to experience the spirit of Caribbean cultures by attending workshops, listening to live music in the courtyard, watching dancing and observing the colourful costumes. We could have had our pictures taken wearing some of these costumes, but we ran out of time! There was so much going on that we had time to tour only two rooms of the gallery, between taking in a steel pan making workshop given by master steel drum maker, Ancliff “Ansel” Joseph, and eating lunch while enjoying the courtyard entertainment.

Steel Pan Maker

Tuning a Steel Pan (drum)

Steel Pan Maker

Steel Drum Band Performing

Steel Drum Band Performing

Stilt Walker

Stilt Walker

We were given headsets for the self-guided gallery tour. Once we clipped them onto our pockets, we didn’t need to touch them again. Sensors placed at the front of each display connected with the headsets as we approached, providing us with the music and dialogue for each station, in whatever order we chose to travel.  We oohed over the beautiful guitars and music boxes, and found it difficult not to dance along with the music.

Guitars

Guitars

IMG_3113

Music Boxes

Music Boxes

We left at closing time, with a second-day pass in our pockets. We would return on Thursday to finish our tour, because on Sunday we wanted to experience the annual Renaissance Festival and Artisan Marketplace.

Sunday morning was a little overcast and therefore cooler, but by the time we’d reached the gates of the Renaissance Festival the clouds had moved off and we had to shed the extra layers of clothing we’d donned for the bike ride there. After maneuvering through the long but quickly moving ticket line, we were greeted at the gates by wenches, peasants, monks and lords. Inside we were invited to sit with the “Queen” and her court.

Entering through gates

Entering through gates

Received by Royalty

Received by Royalty

Besides all of the employed character actors in costumes, we were surprised to see so many visitors who melted into the theme with their own costumes. In fact there was a costume rental facility at the gate, and inside there was a store where beautiful costumes costing hundreds of dollars could be purchased for every member of the family. We strolled through the park, listening to buskers performing on renaissance era instruments, watched a stilt walker wander through the crowd with ease, and a vendor selling baked pretzels from a wooden rack.

Lunch

Lunch

We shared a huge turkey leg for lunch, watched a glass blower, and chuckled at the results of hypnotic suggestion at a Hypnotist’s Show.

Harpsichord Player

Harpsichord Player

Street Musicians

Street Musicians

We were amused by the variations on modern day carnival games – axe throw, star throw. We visited the vendors of jewelry, leather, feather and metal crafts. The pretty princess head dresses and skirts, hair braiding and pirate paraphernalia made us think of how much our grandchildren would enjoy this fair.

Then there was the King’s Jousting Tournament! We found ourselves joining hundreds of people in bleachers overlooking the ring. There were to be three competing knights and the crowd was divided into three cheering sections. Our knight was Sir Maximilian. He won many of the challenges, but was defeated in the end.

Maximillian

Maximilian

A personal challenge was issued for a fight later in the day. We didn’t return to find out the results. By 5:00 we were hot and tired and ready to ride home. It had been another amazing weekend.

Thursday we finished our tour of MIM, when we saw some very interesting instruments. I was especially amused by these bagpipes!

Bagpipes

Hmm. These bagpipes might be a challenge to play.

Bagpipes

BagpipesWe also saw how Martin Guitars and Steinway Pianos are made.

Martin Guitar in Making

Martin Guitar in Making

The parts of a Steinway

The parts of a Steinway

Part two – Quartzsite


I’d planned to post this second part within a day or two of the first, but I was forced to take a sabbatical when, the very next day, something began to bother my throat. What I expected to be a two or three day cold, turned out to be five grueling days of laryngitis and sleepless nights of coughing and spitting.  On day six our kind neighbours sincerely suggested I go to a clinic to get checked out and offered to drive us. Riding through the open air on the bike had somehow lost its appeal for me. I accepted the offer. Fortunately the diagnosis wasn’t “Valley Fever,” one possibility that concerned our friends, but I was just as surprised to learn that it was allergies! I’ve been hearing a lot on the news lately about the poor air quality because of the dust, and reports of more cases of allergies starting early this year, probably because of the hotter and dryer weather. But I’ve never been one to suffer from allergies, other than mild hay fever now and again, so I was completely unprepared for this. I returned home with $150 worth of medications to combat this out-of-control problem, drugs that I usually avoid, but embraced this time with the knowledge that the torture would soon end. Next time I’ll pay more attention to the signs and start on the antihistamines right away.

So what am I allergic to, and when did it start? When did the itchy ears begin? Was that at Quartzsite? It could very well have been.  Let me tell you about Quartzsite.

There’s a story among some seasoned RVers that a visit to Quartzsite during the first two months of the year is an absolute must, while others who have gone don’t understand the attraction and will never go again. I think it compares the Friday the 13th Bike Rally that started out with a few bikers getting together on a Friday the 13th in the small Ontario town of Port Dover many years ago. They made plans to do it every Friday the 13th and the invitation spread. Now, the town is completely taken over by bikers and spectators on those days, especially on the warm summer ones. There’s music and vendors and long lines at the restaurants. Bikers go just because it’s the place for bikers to be. Quartzsite is the same for RVers, but it’s not for just a day, it’s for a couple of months. They start rolling in the first week of January. Most are snow birds, looking for an inexpensive and warm place to spend the winter; others, like us, are just curious and plan to spend only a day or two, just to say we’ve been there.

I have to say that I was feeling very disappointed when we arrived late in the afternoon. We’d watched a DVD about the great migration to Quartzsite and I’d envisioned one very large tract of desert land that slowly transformed into a mass of RVs and vendors. I thought that the restaurant and book store were also moved in and under large tents, and likewise the RV Show that was scheduled for the weekend we were there. That wasn’t the case. We drove through town, where we saw the restaurants and book stores and gem shops, and out toward the last exit to Hwy. 10. There we found a barren looking patch of sand and gravel where a couple of dozen RVs were set up. There was also a large tent and a sign that read “Revival Tonight.” We circled through the area until we found a fairly level spot not too far from the road, and set up camp. Looking at a map we discovered that the RV Show was back down the street and across the highway. By the time we got the bike unloaded, rode over there and found a place to park, it was 4:45. We were told that the doors closed at 5:00. We had just enough time to find a vendor of the LED light bulbs that we were looking for to reduce electrical usage in the motor home. We’d have to return the next day. When we were leaving, so were hundreds of other vehicles, spewing clouds of desert dust into the air. I imagined what it was doing to my lungs! I wished I had a face scarf with me.

Quartzsite dust

Quartzsite dust

Something for Everyone

Something for Everyone

We returned to camp for a quiet evening. It seems that most RVers travel in groups, or at least plan to meet up at predetermined locations. When we arrived, most of the RVs that were already there had formed wagon circles of four or five motor homes. We were on the outside. A walk over to the revival tent in the hopes of hearing some good gospel music proved disappointing. There were no television stations available either, so we decided to read in bed, but we were soon asleep.

IMG_3028

Desert Sunset

Desert Sunset over our campsite

Desert SunsetThe next day things looked a little better. We went back to the RV Show and roamed around for a few hours. We found several things to buy for the RV, including one set of bulbs for the ceiling to try, different that the one we’d picked up the night before, as well as some others for the wall lamps. After a brief rest and a sausage on a bun, we continued through the outdoor flea markets until we had only $1.00 left between us, not even enough to buy a much needed bottle of water! We did find an ATM and water on the way back to the bike, enabling us to seek out Sweet Darlene’s Restaurant for a home cooked meal and fresh baked sticky buns for our bedtime snack. At the table we met Jan from Oregon (I think) and exchanged stories and tips of the RV life. On the way out we chatted with a couple who were also wintering somewhere near Mesa, with a group of Ham Radio buffs, and only visiting Quartzsite for the week. More examples of the interesting and friendly people we meet.

We spent our last day back at the RV Show to get the rest of the light bulbs, and finished our tour around the Flea Market. We learned of the many other things available in the Quartzsite area, but we had tickets for a show back at Mesa the next evening so had to be on our way in the morning. We had to stop in at the famous Reader’s Oasis Books store, where we spent an hour perusing the thousands of used books and magazines. There is a sign on the door warning of the “nudist” on site who wears only a G-string.” Since Paul Winer (the nudist) had been interviewed on the DVD, we quickly recognized him when he passed through the store wearing only a black felt hat and what appeared to me to be something even less than a G-string! Sorry ladies, I didn’t take any pictures. Let’s just say that his days as a porn star are long past, although he is still pretty lean. It could have been worse.

We went to Times Three Family Restaurant for dinner. The parking lot was full and there was a line up at the door, a sign of good food, we figured. We got seated quite quickly, but the place was packed. Our table was close enough to the two on either side of us to be considered one long one, but everyone was friendly. A cute little lady with out-of-control white hair and bad teeth, but sparkling blue eyes and a lopsided smile, and her husband kept us entertained with their  views on American politics and their displeasure with the Utah government who had just passed a law to allow gay marriage. I just smiled and nodded. I wasn’t getting into that, but when she suddenly asked Jim if he was gay and he said, with a serious face, “yes”, the look on her face was precious. Jim quickly told her that he was joking with her.

Our waitress began to apologize for the poor service that was to come from the moment she took our orders. She said it was very busy and she had ten tables to wait on. We said we weren’t in any hurry. When we had sat down, the people on the other side of us were eating their salads. An hour later we still hadn’t been served our salads, nor Jim his iced tea, and the others still didn’t have their entrees. They complained when they watched other patrons, who had come in after them and been served by a different waitress, already on the way out. Soon our meat loaf meals were on the tables, the special of the day, but we had to tell the waitress that we didn’t get our salads, or the bread that our neighbours told us we all should have gotten. We were nearly finished our meals when the waitress brought us our salad in to-go boxes. We never saw the bread or the iced tea. She took the iced tea off the bill, but Jim let the manager, who was working the cash, know that we’d received the worst service ever experienced. He tore up our bill. I wonder if that waitress still has a job.

In the morning we strolled through the rocks and gemstones shop next door to our campsite before leaving for home. They were all so beautiful and fascinating that it was difficult to leave, but leave we did.

The Rock Shop

The Rock Shop

Rock Shop

Jim admiring some of the rock gems

Jim admiring some of the rock gems and minerals

Calcite

Calcite

More Calcite

More Calcite

Malachite

Beautiful! But not within our budget.

On the way out of town we made one last stop at the Hi Jolly Cemetery to read about a bit of Arizona history.

Hi Jolly Cemetery

Hi Jolly Cemetery

Hi Jolly Cemetery

Hi Jolly CemeteryHi Jolly Cemetery

We got “home” to Mesa in time to shower, change, and eat before walking over to Regal Hall for “Dancing with the (Mesa) Stars.”

Trouble in Paradise


Wednesday evening a note was posted throughout the park warning that the water would be turned off on Thursday morning from nine until noon, for needed repairs. Not even the park staff knew that that would be the least of the worries.

Thursday morning everyone was up early getting showers over, coffee made and breakfast dishes done while water was still available, when the power suddenly went off. Of course, because we have battery back-up, our lights only flickered. Almost immediately I heard two people talking on the street:

“Did your power just go off?”

“Yes.”

“The transformer just blew up!”

Blew up was an exaggeration, but the recently newly installed transformer had indeed malfunctioned. Soon, a congregation was assembling on the street corner, and work crews were pulling up to the big transformer located a half block from us.  The rumour mill began. Most people hadn’t yet had their coffee, so there was lots of grumbling. We learned that only half of the park was affected by the power outage. By ten o’clock, when we walked up to the park entrance for a curious look at the new park model homes on display, we found that a large crowd had gathered to take advantage of the free coffee and donuts promised during the Open House. The outage was the topic of conversation. Some were already worried about the food in their fridges and wondering how they’d keep warm if the power wasn’t back on after dark.  We were thankful for our generator, something that fifth-wheels don’t have, unless they carry one in the back of their tow vehicle, and certainly no park model has.

As the sun came out to warm things up, people began to go about their daily business, except if they had something planned for indoors.  There were no lights and no computer or internet access. Some people made use of the pool and hot tub while they were still warm; others gathered on the patio to chat with friends. Somehow they managed lunch, either at home or out at restaurants.

When the sun went down, the temperature dropped quickly, as is usual here. The grumbling began anew. Work crews were still on the scene. The water was turned back on, but it looked like the power would remain off for a while.  The rumour mill said it wouldn’t be back on until Saturday. That night most people were in bed very early because there wasn’t much else to do in the dark and bed was the warmest place to be.  Even though we had heat from the propane tank, and could turn on the generator for electricity, we had to conserve, so we too turned in early.

Friday morning we shared our coffee and toast with our new neighbour and friend, Mary Lee, before going to see if The Country Store (a weekly market of local vendors) was in operation. It was, but only with enough vendors to fill the outdoor lounge. It was too dark inside the hall for the others. At the office there was another notice posted: Power would be restored by 2:00 pm, if not earlier, and there would be free hot dogs given out for lunch on the patio. As we were walking over to get the free lunch, a tractor and trailer pulled in, carrying a new transformer and a huge generator.

Transformers and generators moving in

Transformers and generators moving in

A large crowd enjoyed lunch with friends while sitting in the sun listening to the resident Dixieland players, who had moved their Friday morning jam session outdoors. The atmosphere was far more positive.  Two o’clock came and went; then three and four. The atmosphere changed. Crowds began to form around the work area again. Free pizza delivered in the back of a Cal-Am (the parent company who owns the resort) pickup truck was offered to the spectators. It was a good way to get to know our neighbours, at least. Gradually everyone drifted off to the comfort of their beds when it became apparent that there would be no power again that night. The generator was running, but for some reason it couldn’t be connected to supply power to residences. Again, rumours as to why spread around. Sometime in the early hours it was turned off and the workers went home.

Early Saturday morning our back-up propane tank was empty, so our heat went off. Fortunately there was still enough gas left in our main tank to heat the place up once more.  We called to get the backup tank replaced, and were informed that they could come on Monday! We again shared breakfast with neighbours and Mary Lee later loaned us her car so we could go to Home Depot to purchase a small propane tank that would last us for the weekend.

A new posting appeared in various places around buildings and parking lots of Mesa Regal.

Posting

The line was long, but moved quickly and we appreciated the pulled pork sandwiches, chips and fruit salad.

In the afternoon we gathered down the street for a block party, where we shared a pot luck meal of fruit, raw veggies, crackers, dips, cookies and cupcakes, and lots of laughs. We met most of the new people who had arrived after Christmas.

Block Party

Block Party. No electricity needed!

Best of all, when we got home at 5:30 the power was back on. I wonder how many went next door to Tower Point (another Cal-Am property) for the free dinner.

Everywhere we went during this ordeal people had opinions, stories and criticisms. I heard of one woman telling someone in the grocery store that it had gotten so cold in the night that two people had been taken to hospital by ambulance because of hypothermia! Fortunately another Mesa Regal resident overheard the conversation and set the record straight, but that’s how rumours get started and spread and become more exaggerated.

Yes, the outage was inconvenient and stressful to many people, and yes perhaps there might have been ways to prevent it, but sometimes shit just happens and there is no way to be prepared for everything. What’s more important is how it is handled.  In my opinion Mesa Regal worked hard to fix the situation and to make amends as quickly as possible. These things take time.