Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Merry Christmas - 2013!

Christmas 2013It’s hard to believe that it’s that time of year already – although it should be, after all, stores have had their holiday decorations out since before Halloween.  We’ve hauled out the tubs from the storage bays, shook out the balls of tangled lights, unpacked the ornaments,  assembled the tree, and our home on wheels is once again Christmasy and cheery.  It may be hard to imagine for those who live in a “conventional” home, but our Christmas season is full of activities, friends, and holiday cheer. 
Johnson City CourthouseOne area we always try to visit is Johnson City and it’s fabulous light display.  Johnson City SquareThe birthplace of LBJ and his family home, the small town has a Christmas parade and small festival, along with some memorable lights.  The parade  route circled the main square and courthouse, where every building was covered in lights.  The parade was what you’d expect of a small Texas town – lots of antique tractors, fire engines, and a few floats with the 4H club and Rotary club represented.  Still, it was fun – the night was not too cool, the crowd was festive, and the local brewery provided a good meal.  From the parade, we wandered over to the light show that the town is famous for.  The Pedernales (pronounced perd’n-allis in Texican) Electric Company uses over a million lights to create a magical forest.  It’s hard to describe the feeling as you walk under the trees – but it’s magical!
Johnson City Lights
Johnson City Lights3
Johnson City Lights2
Johnson City Lights4
No Christmas season in Texas would be complete for us  without a trip to theShilo's Riverwalk in downtown San Antonio.  Each year thousands of lights are hung from the trees along the banks, and at night the Riverwalk and surrounding buildings provide a beautiful light show.  We started out with dinner at our favorite eatery in downtown; Shilo’s (Shee-lows) Delicatessen.  A landmark since 1927, it provides a real German food alternative to all the touristy, foo-foo restaurants on the Riverwalk.  I decided to go with my old standby – Braunschweiger Liver Sausage with dark rye, pea soup, German potato salad, and a frosted mug of their home-made root beer.  Known locally as the “Lipitor Special”.  Brenda had her favorite, the “Kraut Dog”.  I hesitate to use that name since in this day of politically-correct social media, I may be accused of using a slur – please, it’s short for “sauerkraut” – it’s on the menu.  Really.
Alamo Christmas TreeLeaving Shilo’s, we walked over to Alamo Plaza to see this year’s tree.The Alamo  It was nice, but what was remarkable was the emptiness of the plaza on a warm Thursday night.  The only person in sight was the lady who reminds you that the Alamo is a “shrine” , to speak quietly, and not to believe Billy-Bob Thornton’s  portrayal of a cowardly Davy Crocket in the movie.   I’m not entirely sure about that last part.

Menger Hotel TreeNext stop was the Menger Hotel, a beautiful old hotel built in 1859 and still in use today, for a look at their tree.  This is always a must-see for us when in the area; the huge tree and beautiful setting are sure to put you in the holiday spirit!

Riverwalk MallFinally, we headed for the Riverwalk.  The mall at the head of the river has not changed much over the years, in fact the same South American group is still at the outside entrance since our first trip nine years ago.  After a bit of unsuccessful shopping, we hopped on one of the barges for a nice ride up and down the river.  The lights were everywhere, carolers in boats serenaded the crowds, and  diners crowded the sidewalks.  A perfect holiday evening!
Riverwalk Lights
Riverwalk Choir
Leg Lamp on DashboardAnd now, as Christmas approaches, the leg lamp has been decorated, the tree is surrounded by presents, and we take time to reflect on how fortunate we are to have so many friends and a lifestyle we love.  To all of you out there, thanks for following our travels, and may you have a magical, wonderful, and memorable Christmas!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Thanksgiving in Texas

It’s been a long time since our last blog, but we’ve been taking it easy and haven’t done much of anything to write about.  We returned to Texas this year so that Brenda could have surgery on torn ligaments in her shoulder.  It turned out to be an extensive bit of work – five holes for the arthroscopy, and two and a half hours of surgery.  After the surgery, her doctor came out to meet me and said “Wow – that was a good one!”.  Not so good for Brenda for the first week or so, but she’s gradually getting back to normal – no more sling, but physical therapy three times a week.  She’ll be working on it for another three months, but the good news is that the surgery went well and she’s expecting a full recovery.  Meanwhile I’m honing my cooking and housekeeping skills. 

Priddy MeadowWe’ve settled in at a quiet little RV park in Wimberley, an upscale small town in the Hill Country between San Antonio and Austin.  The park only has 15 sites, arranged in a horseshoe around a five-acre meadow with an automatic deer feeder.  Each morning and evening we’re treated to a dozen or more deer of all sizes as they arrive for the corn that is distributed by the feeder.  This buck seemed a little surprised when I approached for a picture:Surprised Buck
Wimberley1We’re  happy we found a spot in Wimberley – it has a neat little town centWimberley2er with lots of interesting shops, restaurants, and……the best frozen yogurt place I’Wimberley3ve ever visited. 

There’s a good library with access to e-books for our Kindle, a nice supermarket, and a great park with extensive hiking trails.  The only drawback is that it’s a popular shopping destination and on the weekends, there’s no place to park to get to the yogurt shop!

Cypress Creek

This area of the hill country is especially beautiful – heavily wooded with Live Oak, Cedar Elm, and Bald Cypress along the creeks and rivers. Blanco RiverThe Blanco River runs nearby, and Cypress Creek passes through the heart of the shopping area.  This time of year the Bald Cypress have turned red, adding just a bit of color to the landscape.

Cypress Creek2
We’ll be here for the next four months or so until we head for the Oregon Coast for the summer.  We’ll be visiting new areas, so we’ll have more blogs, more often, down the road.  Until then, we hope you all have a happy and safe Thanksgiving!

Friday, October 18, 2013

Keep Movin’ Brenda Lee, or the Kudzu Will Git Ya!

Kudzu5Heading down the interstate from the Northeast, you don’t need a map to tell you that you’re entering the South.  Kudzu3Cracker Barrel restaurant signs start popping up at almost every exit.  Ordering iced tea with a meal requires stating whether you want it “sweet” or “unsweet”.  “Waffle House” and “Huddle House” diners replace “Steak and Shake” and “Bob Evans”.  And the landscape begins to be transformed by Kudzu (cud-zoo). 
Kudzu was introduced to the United States in 1876 at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Countries were invited to build exhibits to celebrate the 100th birthday of the U.S. The Japanese government constructed a beautiful garden filled with plants from their country.Kudzu Flower The large leaves and sweet-smelling blooms of kudzu captured the imagination of American gardeners who used the plant for ornamental purposes.  As people began to plant it, especially in the south, it became popular not only as a flower but for grazing cattle and erosion control.  Unfortunately, or maybe not, the insects that control Kudzu in it’s native environment didn’t come here with the plant.  Blink your eyes…..and today there are over 7 million acres of Kudzu, growing by 150,000 acres a year, blanketing the Southeastern U.S.  You can understand how it earned the nickname “The vine that ate the South”.
Kudzu4Some people love Kudzu – you can make baskets from the vines, jellies from the blossoms, and it makes great grazing for cattle and goats.  But the good uses for Kudzu don’t come close to the damage it causes.  It covers and kills trees, shorts out power lines, and has been known to smother elderly people if they don’t keep moving (I read it on the internet, so it must be true).  It also grows into some really interesting shapes – click here.
Kudzu6Kudzu vines can grow as much as a foot a day, and it is almost impossible to kill.  One researcher spent 18 years trying to find a herbicide that would kill it, and found that one actually made it grow better, while others took ten years to have an effect.  Goats are the most effective Kudzu control – a herd can eat an acre a day.  So if you’re planning on Rving for extended periods in the South, trade in that dog or cat for a goat or two – it could save your life!
We’re settled in as Winter Texans in a nice park in the Hill Country near Wimberley.  Check back, we’ll be out and about!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Too Hot in Nashville

We’ve always enjoyed visiting the Nashville area, and on this trip we managed to grab a great spot at 7 Points Corps of Engineers Campground, just outside of town on J. Percy Priest Lake.  You can see our review here.  The weather was insufferably hot – mid 90s and humid, and we decided to pass on a visit downtown with the crowds, heat, and very expensive parking.  Instead, we decided to revisit one of our favorite places, the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center.  We had attended a conference here back in my working days, and were amazed then, as we were again, at clip_image002this huge, beautiful facility.  With 2800 rooms and over 600,000 square feet of meeting space, 15 restaurants  and 3600 employees, it’s a city in itself – and all that space doesn’t include the four magnificent “atriums” that cover nine air-conditioned acres.  The largest atrium, “Delta” is so large that it has a 1/4 mile river that meanders through the gardens.  Each Atrium has a separate theme, but all four are filled with trees, flowers, fountains, and waterfalls.  It’s hard to believe that you’re indoors – I can’t imagine the energy cost to keep the entire 9 acres at a comfortable 72 degrees!  Some views of the atriums:Opryland1
The sound of rushing water from the many fountains and waterfalls is everywhere:
Ah, and the flowers; everywhere flowers….
Opryland Flower1
Opreyland Flower3
Opreyland Flower4
Opreyland Flower5
As we were walking around, we were shocked to find a group of Vulcans having lunch.  Turns out there was a Star Trek convention going on while we were there, and many of the attendees came in full costume:
Vulcans at Lunch
Nashville was great, but it was time to move on, so we’ll get back to you with more tales of our travels!

Sunday, September 01, 2013

A Little League of Their Own

We’re watched the Little League World Series on TV for a number of years and enjoyed it; so, we said, why not attend some year?  LL World Series4And this was the year!  We spent time in Northeast Ohio visiting friends and relatives (more on that later), and then headed east along I-80 to Williamsport, PA to attend the games.  It’s a beautiful area of rolling hills (although they call them mountains back here), green forests, and pretty farmland.  Williamsport is a medium-sized town along the Susquehanna River and has been the home of the Little League World Series since 1947.  Here, 11-13 year olds come from all over the world to play in the double-elimination tournament deciding the champion.  But it’s more than that.  The 16 teams (eight U.S., eight international) that have made it this far are housed in a special complex where they learn about each other’s cultures, work with their coaches, but mostly just have fun.  All transportation, housing, and food costs are free to the teams thanks to private and corporate donations. 
LL World Series3As you walk through the stadium complex, you get the feeling that this is more a festival than a baseball playoff.  Carnival-like games, food vendors, and souvenir stands abound, and everywhere are smiling kids in their team shirts. LL Scoreboard There’s no admission charge to see the games, although getting a spot in the 3000-seat stadium involves an intricate lottery system that we didn’t bother with.  But no problem, as you’ve seen if you watched the games on TV, there’s room for 30,000 or so fans on the grass beyond the outfield, and even more room above. 
LL World Series2What impressed us most was the sound – even in the farthest reaches you could hear the team parents cheering and the sounds of the game.  The biggest difference in being there was how fast LL World Seriesthe pitchers were throwing –  the “pop” of the ball in the catcher’s mitt was loud and clear!  We learned later in the museum that because of the shorter distance, the ball gets to the plate faster than a major leaguer’s LL World Series790-mph fastball .   The kids have picked up all of the major leaguer’s mannerisms  while batting – the adjusting of the helmet, tightening of the batting gloves, hand outstretched behind to signal time, digging a hole in the batter’s box……all that’s missing is the cheek full of “chew”. 
LL World Series5It was a great afternoon, but after watching Japan defeat Mexico, we had to call it a day.  A long uphill walk from distant parking, temperatures in the mid-80s, and bright sun made the car’s air conditioning and a cold drink a must.  We realized that we weren’t up to an early morning trip back to the stadium to claim space for the championship game, but we agreed that our trip was well worth the lifetime memories.
LL MuseumOn our walk back to the car, we stopped at the museum, a modern facility that had an interesting mix of history and interactive exhibits.  Here, kids could run an indoor track simulating home plate to first base and get their Helmet Guntime and the best time of the day; look through a catcher’s mask at a 3-D pitcher fling fast balls at them, and search for teams around the world using a high-tech touch screen console.  We also laughed at the “helmet gun”, a cannon built to shoot baseballs at batting helmets to see how they’d perform.  I think I‘ve known a couple of people who were used as test subjects…..
And so another bucket list items has been scratched off the list.  Truly a memorable experience and one we recommend for everyone – the joy of the kids is contagious!
Our RV park for this visit was located well out into the farmland, and as we traveled back each day, we were greeted by this beautiful sunflower field:
Sunflower Field1
Sunflower Field2
Keith and LorrieOne of the great joys of traveling the country is to be able to reunite with friends.  In Ohio, I met with a high-school buddy, Lorrie,  that I hadn’t seen for 48 years – you can imagine how old that made us feel.  But within minutes the time slipped away and we were reminiscing about our time together as if it were yesterday.  We had a great afternoon together – another connection made possible by Facebook!
Keith & SandyIn Pennsylvania, we visited with an old Air Force friend that we hadn’t seen for eight years.  Now a retired Colonel, Sandy has an incredible home in the mountains.  We had a great visit and managed to avoid spending the day telling “war stories” from our military lives.  And, managed to leave with Sandy’s hand-crafted kielbasa and pierogi!  What a deal- good friendship and free food!  We’ll plan on returning as soon as Sandy finishes building the RV pad for our extended stays….
We’ve left Pennsylvania and are wandering around with a final destination of Texas for the winter.  We’ll be stopping at some interesting places, so c’mon back and see where we’ve been!