Sunday, November 22, 2015

The Maiden Voyage of the Dawn Treader!  Last Friday we climbed in the Dawn Treader, our brand-new-to-us RV, and rocketed out of Dallas. Well, perhaps that analogy doesn't quite fit. Our speed was way below the limit, qualifying us as the dad-gum geezers in the slow lane, but my fear and trepidation rivaled that of any astronaut. This, after all, was the maiden voyage of the Dawn Treader. 

Downtown Dallas

Despite all Tim learned from the three days spent with the manager and the mechanics at the service center in Dallas, there's nothing like on the job training for learning new skills. Swing wide, Tim!!!

What We've Learned
1.  Swing wide, Tim!
2.  Take it slow and limit your road time to less than 6 hours. 
3.  Learn to read a truckers' atlas. 
4.  Call ahead to Walmart. Not every store allows overnight camping. 
5.  Practice hitching and unhitching the tow car, preferably when you're not in the heat of the moment after a wrong turn. 
6.  Communicate effectively using hand signals. 
7.  Arrive at your overnight site prior to sunset. 
8.  Squeeze the RV carefully into a parking spot between two semis for an overnight stay in the overflowing lot at Love's Country Store. 
9.  Up your data plan with your provider.  We've used way more than expected.  Of course, it didn't help that Tim downloaded a map or that I've uploaded photos to this blog.
10.  Head south before campgrounds close for the season. Otherwise, practice steps 4 or 9 nightly. 

That's the Top Ten short version.  If you need more details, continue reading to the end of this post. 

Turning a 45-foot bus with a towed vehicle behind takes practice. Swing wide, Tim!  Luckily Tim has had some experience making his turns due to his stints driving the grain semi during wheat harvest. Still, it takes conscious effort and a very slow speed to negotiate a turn, especially to the right. Swing wide, Tim!

There are also other skills we've learned such leveling the coach when stopped, monitoring the water level in the fresh, gray and black tanks, and the all important how to raise & lower the privacy blinds when the button is hidden behind a cabinet door. 

I'm learning my role as navigator and signalman. The navigator reads the atlas BEFORE as well as during the expedition, plotting a course that requires no backtracking or, God forbid, backing up.  That's a direction involving much swearing while unhitching and moving the car away from the bus. 

Prior to departure, the signalman practices her sign language, standing to the rear of the towed vehicle in sight of the RV's rear-view mirror. A wave to the left means the car's left turn signal works. Repeat for the right. Two fists held high tell the driver the break lights are functioning. My favorite sign reminds me of preschool story hours--"open, shut them; open, shut them!  Give a little clap."  Ok, maybe I need to demonstrate that action in person but it signals that the emergency flashers are working.  Thank goodness, I'm a farm girl who grew up in the pre-digital age. I've had lots of practice, waving responses to my farmer father's hand signals from half a field away. 

Spending the night at Walmart felt safe because of all the security cameras in the parking lot. Last night's stay at Love's Country Store initially seemed less reassuring. But there appears to be a truckers' courtesy that makes spending the night cheek-to-jowl with semis on both sides civilized. 

Two more items we've learned on this maiden voyage: 

Memphis' Pyramid Arena

11.  We live in an amazingly beautiful country, albeit with somewhat quirky cities. 

Nashville's nighttime cityscape - See the Batman building?

12.  We are thankful for a safe trip. 

The Dawn Treader has landed in Vonore, TN. There we've scheduled some maintenance on the bus. Wednesday we'll take our car up to Nashville to spend Thanksgiving with our family. 

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Hot Springs National Park

Feeling overstressed by the approaching holiday season?  Frazzled by the thought of the family descending on your home for Thanksgiving?  Wish you could unwind with a soak in a spa?

Bathhouse Row

Massage?  Steam room?  National Park?  Wait a minute!  Surely a National Park doesn't fit in that list!  But it does!  You can find all those relaxing therapies along Bathhouse Row in Hot Springs National Park, a park that begins in Hot Springs, AR and climbs into the surrounding Ouachita Mountains. 

Promenade along Bathhouse Row

For the first night of our RV adventure, Tim & I did not stay in Gulpha Gorge, the park's campground, although it had sites long enough to accommodate our rig. With 30 miles still to go, dusk was rapidly approaching and, being newbies, we didn't want to try backing into a campsite in the dark. 

Jet trails over the Walmart parking lot

So we, along with 5 other RVs and a dozen commercial truckers, spent the night in Walmart's parking lot in Malvern, Arkansas. Not exactly our first choice, but, hey!  The price (free) was right!  Plus, the manager gave us an extended stay, allowing us to leave the RV parked there while we paid a morning's visit to Hot Springs in the Valley of Vapors. 

Fordyce Bathhouse

Arriving just as the NPS Visitors Center in Fordyce Bathhouse opened, we stepped back to the turn of the 20th century when bathers believed that a dip in the mineral springs would cure what ailed them. This opulent spa is just one in a row of eight others built between 1892 and 1923 that comprise the Bathhouse Row National Historic Landmark District in downtown Hot Springs, AR. 

The Park ranger at the reception desk in the Fordyce outlined a self-guided tour that would take us from the gender-separated changing rooms through a host of hydro-therapies.  Sadly, the rooms at this bathhouse were no longer offering such treatments.  Despite that, we found the tour entertaining.

Men's Bath Hall

It was quite obvious that men were the masters of that era. The men's bath hall claimed the center courtyard with its stunning stained glass ceiling. 

The women's beauty parlor, massage and state rooms were squeezed into the east side of the building. There was no jeweled ceiling here!  Instead the ladies had to be content with stained glass windows which were still stunning. 

Women's Massage Parlor

And while the Gymnasium boasted a wooden floor, 


the rest of the building, including the Music Room, was intricately inlaid with small hexagon tiles. 

Music Room

I doubt that the workmen who laid all those floors could afford the bathhouse's water therapies, though I'm certain they sorely needed them by the end of the workday. 

Quapaw Baths & Spa

Currently only two bathhouses along the Row offer bathing, massages and the like.  Quapaw Baths & Spa and Buckstaff House which have operated continuously since 1912.

Buckstaff House

Tim & I thought we'd need those services, too, after we hiked a quarter of the park's 26 miles of hiking trails. 

But alas, the earliest appointment we could obtain was mid-afternoon. If we were to drive to the east side of Memphis, that would be too late. 

So we slaked our thirst at one of the fountains and vowed that next time we'd take a plunge at Hot Springs National Park, "The American Spa."

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Home, Sweet Home

After a month of searching with trips to Oklahoma and Texas, we've finally purchased a 2001 Prevost H-3. Yay!!!  We're no longer homeless. And Tim is as proud as punch!

With approximately 380-ft. square footage, we have our very own tiny house!  

This past Sunday we traveled to Dallas and spent the next two days at service centers.  One inspected the chassis of the bus we were considering; the other looked over the house.  Very few problems were found and luckily, the owners agreed to pay for fixing the ones that were identified.  We were very fortunate that the owners were so agreeable, especially when we were able to negotiate a purchase price within our budget.

We moved in Tuesday afternoon.  Then the fun began as I started to stash all our stuff.  Ten boxes of household goods, carpentry tools and quilting supplies needed to be stored somewhere in or under the bus.

Marathon, the company that converted the bus to a RV, squeezed storage space out of every little nook and cranny.  Even the entry steps are hinged with a hidden compartment underneath.  Perfect for storing a tool kit and work gloves!  

Then there are the closets.  Before we left Washington, D.C., I whittled my wardrobe down to what would fit in two suitcases and a carry on bag.  Tim culled his clothes, too.

We kept some of our comfortable old grungy clothing to wear when working on a Habitat for Humanity construction site.  We also kept a few dressy clothes such as a suit for Tim and two dresses for me.  

Tips and Tricks for a Versatile RV Wardrobe

RV Wardrobe:  It's All About the Acessories

Although I didn't become the minimalist that the two web sites above advised, I was able to fit all our clothes into the closet across the back of the bus and one other closet in the hallway leading back to the bedroom.  Still, whatever we don't wear during the next six months, we'll donate to a thrift shop.

While I unpacked, Tim learned everything he could about the systems housed within the RV.  This is a complicated vehicle with its diesel engine, HVAC, water holding tanks, heating and electrical systems.  The 5-inch maintenance binder alone would kill a rat if you heaved it at it.

Yesterday afternoon Tim made a trial trip to the gas station to fuel up.  Along the way he practiced making both left and right-hand turns, not so simple when your vehicle is 45 feet long.  Thankfully, in the middle of the day, the traffic was light; perfect timing for a beginner driver.  What wasn't so perfect was the cost of filling a 235-gallon gas tank with diesel fuel.  Ouch!

Tomorrow we leave for Tennessee, our maiden voyage in the Dawn Treader, the name we've chosen for our bus.  That name doesn't mean we're leaving at dawn however.  Instead, it reminds us of a favorite author, C.S. Lewis, and an early-hour Sunday School class of friends from the years we lived in Colorado Springs.  

We'll be spending Thanksgiving in Nashville with our daughter Jillian who lives there and our son Richard who is flying from D.C. to join us.  

Warm wishes from our family to yours for a Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 16, 2015

Oklahoma City Remembrance

Oklahoma City Memorial
Reeling from the horror of Friday night's terrorist attacks in Paris, why remember the bombing of Oklahoma City?  We remember in order to honor the dead and to renew our commitment to preserving democracy wherever it is found.  We remember in order to stand with the survivors and victims' families whose lives were forever changed.  We remember in order to pay homage to the first responders and other heroes who struggled to save and succor those caught in the violence.

Leaving Stafford, KS and the farm behind, Tim & I drove south to Dallas yesterday. There's a 2001 RV that we are serious about buying.  However, before signing on the dotted line, Tim wants to have it inspected by the Dallas Prevost Service Center to see if everything is working as it should.

Along the way we stopped in downtown Oklahoma City to attend worship services at St. Paul's Episcopal Cathedral, a church built in 1904 and now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  The Cathedral with its square Norman Tower, its gabled roof and its Tiffany stained glass windows was a triage station in the aftermath of the Oklahoma City Bombing.

On April 19, 1995, the compression wave from the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building explosion lifted the roof of the cathedral and bowed out its walls. One section of the Celtic cross on top of its roof fell to the ground. That broken cross has become a symbol of the city, "a message," says  The Reverend Canon Susan Joplin, "that even though destruction happens, grace and love have the final word.” 

After services, Tim and I walked two blocks to the Oklahoma City National Memorial set on a grassy knoll where the Murrah Building once stood.  There a quiet reflection pool is bracketed by the Gates of Time.  The east gate has 9:01 engraved upon it; the west one reads 9:03.  In between was the moment, 9:02 a.m., when the explosion occurred that forever changed this city and the nation. 

Laid out in 9 rows for the 9 floors of the Murrah Building, the Field of Empty Chairs marks a metal chair for each of the 168 victims of the bombing.  

Nineteen of those victims were young children who were in the building's day care center at the time of the blast.  More than 650 people were injured in the bombing which damaged 300 buildings in the city's core.  One can read their stories in the nearby museum.

The shock wave of the explosion shook not only the city, but the nation, especially in the early hours following the attack when the bombing was thought to be an act of international terrorism. Worried that the attackers could target President Bill Clinton and members of his cabinet, protection details for these leaders were increased.  Particularly worrisome was the safety of the Attorney General since Tim McVeigh's motive for the bombing was to retaliate against the Department of Justice storming the Branch Davidian headquarters in Waco, TX.  My husband Tim was one of the FBI agents who, for the next three months, escorted Attorney General Janet Reno everywhere she went.

The Survivor Tree, an American Elm, withstood the full force of the attack and though it leans at an odd angle, it still stands today as a symbol of resilience.  Like the tree, Oklahoma City and its residents were bowed by the blast but they remain steadfast.  I'm praying that Paris will do the same.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Where Everybody Knows Your Name

Sometimes you want to go
Where everybody knows your name, 
And they're always glad you came;
You want to be where you can see, 
Our troubles are all the same;
You want to be where everybody knows your name.
~ lyrics from Cheers TV Show's theme song

Unlike the anonymity of an urban Starbucks, coffee shops in rural Kansas are where everyone really does know your name--and the names of your parents, your siblings and cousins, your aunts and uncles and often even your great-grandparents.   You get the picture!

There are no lattes, cappuccinos or expressos here but there is a bottomless cup of coffee and a lot of friendly banter.  The coffee shop is a gathering place for the community and Stafford boasts two of them.  Joan's is the one out on the highway and the other on Main Street is called, well, it's called The Gathering Place.

Pictured are Tim Jacobson, Phyllis & Willard McClure

At either location, you can get a cup of coffee and a cinnamon roll for less than two dollars.  But even more important is the comaraderie you receive from the other patrons.

Pictured are Randy Fritzmeier, Bob Minks and Kenny Sewing

Before farmers head to the isolation of their fields, many gather at the coffee shop to discuss the falling/rising price of their crops, the equipment and labor problems of their operations and, of course, the weather.  The coffee shop is the equivalent of the urban dwellers' office water cooler or the school's teachers lounge.  Social media?  Not so much but why chat with someone online when you can do so in person.

Pictured are Phyllis McClure, Cindy & Tim Jacobson

This week Tim & I tried cinnamon rolls, pecan rolls or caramel rolls at not only Stafford's two cafes but also two other area restaurants.  We had to take my mother to an eye doctor appointment in the big--when compared to Stafford--city of Hutchinson.  Along the way we stopped at the Mennonite-owned Dutch Kitchen.  

Later in the week we traveled to Wichita to have a tow bar attached to our Jeep in preparation for our RV adventures.  As we passed Yoder, KS, we paid a visit to the Carriage Crossing where the cinnamon rolls are as big as an apple pie and the Amish patrons arrive in horse and buggy or seated on a tractor seat.  

It would be impossible to rank the rolls we consumed in order of their taste.  All places served delicious offerings.  But as this plaque on the Gathering Place's wall proclaims--

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Quivera National Wildlife Refuge

"Does anyone need a rest stop?"  That's a question that's often repeated on long road trips. But I could just as easily imagine the lead duck in a migratory V-formation asking the same question as the flock flew near Quivira National Wildlife Refuge in south central Kansas.

Located near Stafford, KS, Quivira is less than 20 miles from my family's farm.  It's a popular stopping point for birds who travel the Central Flyway.  Because yesterday was such a beautiful fall day, Tim, my mom and I decided to visit the refuge to see who else had stopped by. 

As early as 1929, biologists realized that the marshes of Quivira were an important layover for countless migrating waterfowl, but it wasn't until 1955 that the acquisition of the refuge's 5,000 acres was approved by the U.S. Department of the Interior.  Today Quiver National Wildlife Refuge is one of a system of 550 refuges administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Of all the refuge's visitors yesterday, I doubt there were any more ill-equipped birdwatchers than we.  Our binoculars were buried in a box somewhere within the crates of our belongings stored in my brother's basement.  Our cell phone cameras were inadequate to the task of capturing birds in flight.  And our collective knowledge of bird species is abysmal.

The center black dots are a covey of small black birds that were roosting in these cattails.

Still, November is prime migratory time. Almost any human visitor to the refuge will spot many feathered guests.  More than 300 species of birds have been observed within the refuge.  From September to December, up to 800,000 ducks and Canadian geese pass through Quivira NWR on their way to wintering grounds along the Gulf Coast and in Mexico. 

Posted signs alerted us to the presence of endangered whooping cranes, but we failed to find them.  The birds we did see outmaneuvered us whenever we attempted to photograph them.

See the wakes left by the ducks who escaped my camera's shutter?

The marshes of the refuge have receded due to the extreme drought of the past three years.  Hopefully, the promised rain and snow of this winter's El Nino will change that.  It would be a shame if this waterhole drains away.

Yesterday evening when we returned to the farm, I took our dog Chet for a walk.  As we turned and headed home, five squadrons of geese flew over our heads in V-formation.  It was an amazing sight and sound!  You could hear them honking madly, making me think that several individuals in the flock were already asking "Are we there yet?"  "I'm hungry!" and "When will we reach the next rest stop?"

For a more in-depth study of Quivira National Wildlife Refuge and for some terrific photos, visit my friend's blog, Kim's County Line.  


Thursday, November 5, 2015

Church Collection

Don't worry!  I won't be passing the plate.  But I want to remember some of the places where we worshipped during our travels in the coming year.  So I'm starting a collection of churches beginning with Madisonville Presbyterian Church in Madisonville, TN.

Madisonville, TN

One of the volunteers at Fort Loudon State Park mentioned Madisonville Presbyterian Church when I asked if there were any historical churches in the area.  Since Tim was tied up in his Prevost seminar class, I decided to attend the 11 o'clock service there on my own.

The Madisonville Presbyterian Church was built in 1897.  Its two bell towers are quite distinctive.

Stained glass windows flooded the octagon-shaped sanctuary with a rainbow of light while the reading of God's Word illuminated our souls.  In her lilting Southern voice, Pastor Crosby read Amos 5:24, "But let justice roll on like a river; righteousness like a never-failing stream."

Quoting Martin Luther King, Jr in his Letter From Birmingham Jail, she urged us to try to right the wrongs of our world, beginning in our own community. 

"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly." ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

So what wrongs can I right?  I'm hoping that in some small measure Tim and I may assist families out of poverty through our work with Habitat for Humanity. That's our goal!  And maybe along the way we'll be changed as well.