“Dogmations” and the Pavilion of Misfit Toys

Dogmation

When my precious granddaughter was a wee, little thing, she thought that those cute, spotted dogs who rode on the back of firetrucks, or hung out with Cruella Deville, were called “dogmations”. When Gypsy emerged from her rampage through a particularly muddy creek, it struck me that she looked much more like a dogmation than the yellow lab that she is.

It all started out so innocently, with a 10+ mile hike in Poinsett State Park. It was a sunny, albeit chilly day, and the trails were wide and well marked. In my mind, we were wandering through Poinsettia State Park, I mean, it’s Christmas time, right? All was beautiful and picture perfect, then SPLASH. Gypsy apparently does not seem to care how cold the water is. I thought she had more sense. She doesn’t. In fact, it invigorated her. It was a catalyst for a severe case of the hyper-zoomies. She ran like a dog possessed, up and down the stream, splashing mud everywhere. There would certainly be a bath in her future.

Undeterred, we continued our holiday hike, looking for natural reds and greens along the way. With no real Christmas tree this year, nature would have to provide reasonable facsimiles.

Poinsett State Park has been around for a while and it has seen better days. The road in and out is, shall we say, challenging for large motorhomes. The buildings, which were erected by the Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC) in the 1930’s have not had much updating. The acreage is beautiful, but the park could use some infrastructure work.

There was an old, screened pavilion in the campground area. There was a hole in the roof, covered by a tarp, and moss was growing on the chimney. It appeared abandoned, and perhaps a bit spooky. Naturally, I wanted to explore. Curiosity often leads to strange discovery.

Inside the dilapidated structure , I encountered THE PAVILION OF MISFIT TOYS. Headless dolls and crumpled stuffed animals hung from the rafters. Cabbage Patch creatures were covered in cobwebs. A Christmas reindeer was cavorting in the fireplace with a naked Barbie. I was flabbergasted, and fearfully waited for Chucky to creep out of a dark corner. Rudolf’s Island of misfit toys, with it’s Charlie-in-a-box and ostrich-riding cowboy, could not compare to this oddity.

Creepy. I’m ready to move on to our Christmas in Coastal Georgia.

Stay tuned…

Ozurie

Feeling torn between the life you want and the life you have

My sister, Beth gifted me a book entitled THE DICTIONARY OF OBSCURE SORROWS. Yes, it’s an odd title for something intended to bring Christmas joy, but it is a book about new words that attempt to define emotions, moments in the human condition for which there are not already adequate, descriptive phrases. This is how I stumbled upon Ozurie: It is the story of my life. I am torn between what I want and what I already have.

I have always wanted to live on a lake. Be careful what you wish for. We have the lot, replete with beautiful views and a developing neighborhood. We do NOT have a house. Not yet. I’m not sure that I fully grasped that making this dream come true would entail selling our home, moving away from our family, and living in a truck for a year or more, while the architects and builders mess around with site maps and permits. Well, yes, I guess I knew it would have to be done, but actually doing it is a whole different ballgame. Ozurie. <sigh>

We have been living in Big Bertha (pet name for our often troublesome motorhome) for over a month, but we were cheating. We were cozily snuggled into an RV park that was close to our old home. We could still go to the gym, shop at our regular stores, see our friends, get the kids on the school bus each morning, and spend time with our extended family. We were thoroughly enjoying the luxury of having our cake and eating it, too.

The holidays were approaching and I was vehemently opposed to starting our RV voyage before Christmas. My husband, let’s just call him Ebeneezer, wanted to head south before the weather turned wintery. He claims that he never wins. He won.

Christmas would just have to come a bit early. I did not want to be the guy with garlic in my soul or termites in my smile. I needed carols, and candles, and twinkling lights. Fortunately, Cherry Hill RV Park also rented cabins, so we procured one, put up our cheesy, white, dollar-store, mini-Christmas tree, and prepared to ‘make merry’ in a very minimalistic way. We had no room for wrapping paper, large gift boxes, frozen turkeys or real trees. This year would be a Bah-Humbug year.

The cabin table boasted a maximum seating capacity of six. A sit-down, formal dinner was impractical. No roasted goose or figgy pudding for us. Instead, we opted for seafood snacking. It was a watered down version of the Italian Feast of the Seven Fishes. With only crab, salmon, shrimp and stuffed clams, it turned out to be the feast of the four fishes. Who’s counting? At least there were plenty of cookies.

“The best of all gifts around any Christmas tree: the presence of a happy family all wrapped up in each other.” – Burton Hillis

Perhaps this gathering will not be featured in any upcoming Hallmark, Christmas movies but we played lots of games, drank lots of wine, stuffed our faces full of food, and shared a great deal of laughter. I love this crowd. Family is everything, which is why it was so difficult to get into the motorhome and pull away the next morning.

I hope Santa fills my stocking with lots of Facetime.

It was a tearful departure, raining both inside and outside of the cab as we headed down I-95. I was staring ahead, feeling empty, when a car pulled up beside me, frantically waving in an overly emphatic pantomime, indicating that a door was wide open on the passenger side of the RV. It was the door that was just fixed under warranty. That’s right, folks, the Griswolds are back in full force, and Bertha continues to plague us with her menu of maladies. Thankfully, we were able to force it closed and get on our way.

After a rainy evening, we awoke to a clear, crisp, cloud-free dawn. It was good to enjoy a long hike, clear my head, and focus on the discoveries to be made on the journey ahead of us. They say there is a reason that the windshield is so much bigger than the rearview mirror. I will concentrate on looking forward. That is my resolution for the upcoming new year.

Did I mention that I always wanted to ramble endlessly in an RV? Be careful what you wish for.

STAY TUNED…..

Advent Adventure

“The holly and the ivy, when they are both full grown, of all the trees that are in the woods, the holly bears the crown.” – traditional English carol

Advent is about preparing for the arrival of something wonderful. It is about patiently awaiting renewal. It is about new beginnings. It is about finding joy and beauty in the process.

Crisp, morning walks give me time to reflect about what lies ahead. I wrap myself in warm, memories, and trudge onward. If the dog is with me, I am pulled onward (but her discipline issues can wait for a new blog post.) I am doing my best to put bygone moments in the past, where they belong. It is time to participate in my own, personal advent. It is time to prepare, with eager anticipation, for the coming of a new day… a whole new adventure, a whole new lifestyle.

What has been holding me back? Simple. I suffer from Christmas Syndrome. I am obsessed with stockings and wreaths and candles and fireplaces. I want to bake gingerbread with my grandkids, build a snowman, put marshmallows in my hot chocolate and chop down my own fir tree. I want to sing carols, sip eggnog and wrap gifts that I cannot really afford. I WANT TO LIVE IN A HALLMARK MOVIE, not in a truck.

I love Christmas. Fa-la-la, deck the halls, city sidewalks, etc. I may not have my mantle filled with greenery, or my shrubbery lined with symmetrical lights. I may not have a welcoming candle in every window, or a decorated tree in every room. (Come to think of it, I don’t even have rooms!) No wrapped piles of presents lie hidden under the beds, waiting for Santa to delivery them. Bah Humbug!

Because I’m a fan of the Grinch, however, I know that Christmas cannot be stolen. So, with my RV gently snuggled in its Whoville site, I began my search for a camping Christmas.

I’m a snob. I admit it. I prefer highbrow holidays, with real garland, and tasteful white lights, tartan prints, and silky red ribbon. I want canapes, Crosby crooning, champagne, pate de foie gras, and solo piano music.

Looks like that may not be in the cards this year. So, I have chosen to embrace the colored lights, the inflatable lawn ornaments, a can of Bud, and the strains of Grandma being run over by a reindeer. I vow to shed my pomposity and to be more like George Bailey, running around the campground, yelling “Merry Christmas, inflatable flamingo! Merry Christmas, inflatable Grinch! Merry Christmas, you wonderful old, problematic RV!”

It serves us well to remember that Christmas is also about some other weary travelers, whose accommodations were far more meager than those that we are currently enjoying. I guess it helps to keep it all in perspective. We have warm beds, soft sheets, plenty of food, and there are no cattle lowing inside.

We will miss our traditional Christmas gatherings this year, but our blessings are many, and, if the fates allow, we will make up for it next year.

Oh, there’s no place like home for the holidays,
‘Cause no matter how far away you roam,
If you want to be happy in a million ways
For the holidays you can’t beat home, sweet home.

Grasping at Gratitude

November is supposed to be all about Thanksgiving, and being filled with appreciation, and counting your blessings. Looks like this pilgrim missed the Mayflower. I have not exactly been brimming with gratitude. I miss my house. I dislike cold weather. Most notably, however, I am totally fed up with RV warranty repairs, dealerships, and motorhome service in general. Waking to a leaky bedroom ceiling started this specific tirade. Cold is bad enough. I draw the line at wet. I am quickly becoming a cantankerous, crotchety crab.

“In the time of test, family is best.” – Burmese Proverb.

My (dour) general outlook was not improved when I learned of a death in my husband’s family. I was already playing hide-and-seek with thankfulness, and did not need more sorrow introduced to the stew. Begin with a base of homelessness. Simmer. Add November wind chills, then gently fold in a funeral. It’s the perfect recipe for a self-pity party.

It was during the solemnity of the funeral service that I opened my eyes and discovered a genuine reason to be grateful: family. There were tears but there were so many shared memories of happier times. The supportive love of family members was apparent and abundant. Like the Grinch, my heart began to grow as I acknowledged how truly grateful I am for strong family ties. RIP, Aunt Ras.

It is said that home is where the heart is. My beloved, brick and mortar house may be gone, but I realized that to grow in gratitude, I would have to make new memories in my existing home, the one with the wheels. Because grumpiness and grandchildren cannot coexist, I grabbed my grandkids and introduced them to our new, albeit temporary, neighborhood. They seemed perfectly content to explore the park acreage and to cozy up in our confined space. There is much to learn from the adaptability of children. I am truly grateful to be able to share special moments with these prodigious progeny of mine.

Author, JK Rowling said, “Family is a lifejacket in the stormy sea of life.” She is so right. My very capable niece generously hosted this year’s feast. It was not easy to pass the baton, but I conceded. I could not bake a turkey and all of the trimmings in my toaster oven, and the RV dinette only seats four comfortably. We’d have been a tad squished. After a few days with family, a perfectly browned turkey, a few pounds of butter and plentiful pie, my attitude shifted towards bona fide gratitude. I was no longer looking for reasons to be thankful, I was surrounded by substantiation.

The furry family member…

Lest I neglect to mention the obvious, I am also grateful for my four-legged child, Gypsy.

She’s not only lovable, she’s smart.

She has decided to get her degree in advanced dog obedience at the University of Maryland. She had better take the accelerated course, as our time here is soon coming to a close.

In closing, I am deeply and genuinely thankful for family and friends, near and far. Thanks for “having my back” as I continue this crazy lifestyle. I am warm, and fed, and comfortable. I whine too much at times, but I do know how blessed I have been and how lucky I am to have a year of adventure ahead.

Next: Ho, ho, ho…. Christmas travels.

Stay tuned….

Vagabond Vicissitudes

I sobbed out loud when I closed the front door for the final time. I loved my home and will always treasure the memories that reverberate within its walls.

It’s real. Our beloved home has been sold and we have taken up residence in a truck. It’s a nice truck, with plumbing and refrigeration, and heat. Okay, to be fair, it is really a class C Recreational Vehicle named Big Bertha (which is nothing more than a truck with a fancy semi-trailer attached.)

The bed is cozy. The recliners are relaxing. The kitchen is compact, but functional. We are not starving or freezing but we have been known to step on each others toes; frequently. In some contexts being close to your spouse is a wonderful thing. This is not one of them. Because our four-legged friend is taking up more than her fair share of space, we are even more confined and constantly covered in fine, white, dog hair.

I do miss my home (the one without wheels) but cramped spaces and canine fur aside, the experience, thus far, has been surprisingly positive. Of course, we are only five days into this insanity, so time will tell.

Cherry Hill Park, near College Park, Maryland is one of the finest commercial RV parks that we have ever stayed in. The amenities include a well-stocked store, a cafe (that delivers to your site), a perimeter hiking trail, pools, hot tub, playgrounds, laundry room, dog park and a tour bus that regularly departs for our nation’s capital. The sites are level, the park is well maintained, clean and loaded with conveniences like multiple, large, warm, sanitized bathhouses. It is located near the junction of I-95 and the Washington Beltway, so it is impossible to completely escape the traffic noise, but it is far from unbearable and easy to forgive because Cherry Hill is truly a gem.

Gypsy, poor pup, has no idea, what on earth, is going on. She thinks we are crazy, and she may be right. One day she had an entire house and yard to zoom around in. The next she was living in a big rig. Thankfully, she has been working out her anxiety at the dog park, perfecting her agility skills. This mutt will do anything for food.

“Push up the score, keep on fighting for more,
For Maryland, GO TERPS!”

The Paint Branch Trail connects Cherry Hill Campground to the University of Maryland campus. Because there was a home football game, we knew our dear friends (die hard Terp fans, poor souls) would be tailgating. We jumped on our bikes and rode to the parking lot to surprise them, and to enjoy some great food, a beer or two, and the company of some of our favorite folks.

It was a chilly ride, but well worth it!

Thanksgiving is looming and it is the first time in decades that I will not be hosting the feast. I have always enjoyed the preparation and the large number of guests. It will certainly be different, but the success of the holiday is now in the hands of my eldest niece. She will do an excellent job and I am looking forward to my new role as a guest…

We have embarked upon a voyage in which everything is new. Virgin territory can be somewhat intimidating.

Travel along with us. Stay tuned…

Bittersweet Beginnings

I knew that the time would come, some day, to say goodbye to my home of fifteen years. It is through tears that I reminisce about the joyous days that I have had here. It is here that I became a grandmother. It is here that I took care of my ailing mother. It is here that I hosted Thanksgiving, and Christmas dinners, and regular Wednesday night dinners for my grandkids and great-nieces and great-nephew. It is here that my dear, late Uncle Frank, as a tradition, helped us to decorate for Christmas; always on the day after Thanksgiving.

I will miss my yard, my gazebo, my neighbors, my neighborhood, and my pond full of fish. I will miss being a short drive away from my sons and their families. I have loved it here, and will miss it every day. I am unendingly grateful for the time spent here. Yet, a chapter is ending and a new one is beginning. Retirement is like that. Time to move on. I have reservations, but am compelled to move forward. Life is not static. To everything there is a season.

The Magical Room.

I cannot believe that his room is virtually empty. This basement room served as a family room, a guest room, an efficiency for my mom, a playroom (complete with trampoline), an office for my son as he launched his business, and a virtual school room as Covid chased kids from their classrooms.

When my mom was living here, we respected her privacy, and kept her room closed. When she went to an Assisted Living, we allowed my grandson to explore the basement. He was just a toddler, and because it was new to him, he declared that it was a “magical room”. It was. It is. It is so hard to part with these memories.

My life is neatly packed away in boxes. It is impossible to digest the magnitude of this undertaking. We do not have a home. We will be moving into Big Bertha for over a year, while our retirement home is being built. I will not see my “stuff” for at least fifteen months. It’s unnerving. I am a living, breathing, anxiety attack.

My sweet puppy, Gypsy is about to resume her vagabond lifestyle. Here we come RV parks, State Parks, and open road. The journey truly does continue.

I feel like I am getting ready to jump from a plane. I am unsure about my parachute. Adventure + Apprehension. I’m a mess.

Stay tuned…

Amish Buggies and Lifetime Buddies

We had not planned on taking a short, camping trip to Pennsylvania’s Amish Country. I am from that area, so we get there fairly often for various events with friends and family. As a result, it is not often an area that we seek out for an RVing adventure. However, my husband was made aware of a fraternity reunion that would be held near the convergence of Lancaster and Chester counties. These reunions began a few decades ago and became affectionately known as The-Mint-Gigs, as in “That was a mint gig, dude.” (Translation: awesome party with some alcohol involved.) As the years have passed, the time between ‘gigs’ has expanded. My husband had not seen some of his fraternity brothers or little sisters in over three decades. (He was actually decked out in a tee shirt from the 1986 Gig!) He decided that he was not going to miss this opportunity to spend some time with some valued folks from his college days. I am so glad that he made this choice, even if it meant rearranging some prior engagements. The day was superb. Autumn was in the air, the rural setting was picture-perfect, the company was congenial, and the conversation was uplifting. Is there anything more heartwarming than the laughter shared by old friends?

The hostess of this ‘gig’ is an avid horsewoman, and she very graciously introduced us to her draft horse, her show horse, and her itty-bitty horse. I hope to bump into her at Fair Hill International one day. It seems I know multiple people who are horse lovers, so the possibility certainly exists.

Amish Country is pristine, and wholesome. Fields are kept in neat rows, which are harvested by large draft animals. In autumn the colors are bright and vibrant. The sky is blue and speckled with migrating geese. The fields are golden and littered with bright orange pumpkins, and green and yellow gourds. The apple trees are brimming with delicious, red fruit. Amish buggies ramble the roads, hugging the shoulders, making clip-clop noises as they go about their daily routines.

We stayed at Muddy Run Recreational Area, which, in my youth, had been one of my dad’s fishing holes. The weekend was filled with deja vu moments. Many parts of the park were unchanged, and vivid memories of happy times gone by kept flooding my senses. Muddy Run is scenic and the hiking is quite nice. My lifelong friend, Melissa stopped by for an evening of conversation around the campfire. All in all, it was an idyllic stay with the exception of an imperfect camp site. The sites are not level and there is no Verizon cell service.

No voyage is complete without an “issue”. As we were preparing to leave, it became apparent that the slide-out would not slide in. Uh-Oh…. Of course we could not call for assistance because we had no cell service. My dear husband, who is fed up with RV warranty problems, got into the tow vehicle, drove to a less remote area, and called the motorhome manufacturer.

It turns out that you have to drive off of the leveling blocks in order to retract the slide. Who knew? At least the solution was a simple one. This time.

And NOW the REAL voyage begins as we go through the process of selling our home. The angst is building.

Stay tuned.

The Fungus Among Us

The final leg of this particular journey was at Douthat State Park in western Virginia. We were back in familiar territory as we hiked through the mountainous Mid-Atlantic. It was clear that we were in the midst of summer’s swan song, as the bright yellows, reds and oranges of autumn were beginning to make their presence known. The leaves demonstrated only subtle changes but the mushrooms and toadstools were robed in a vibrant fall palette.

Douthat, located in the Allegany Highlands, has four separate campgrounds, one of which caters to equestrian campers. The park has over forty miles of hiking trials, most with elevation changes that lead you to scenic summits and stunning vistas. The trails are well marked, challenging but not difficult, and we stumbled upon a rustic, swinging bridge that was fun to traverse.

Among the woodland creatures you may have the good fortune to encounter, is our friend the black bear. We did not have the joy of meeting Smokey or her cubs, but a fellow hiker warned us that he had just escaped a close encounter with a bristly, mama bear and two of her offspring. We did not venture further forward. Suddenly, the campsite seemed a much better place to be.

The end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started.

T.S. Eliot

Each ending is also a beginning. I am sad to say goodbye to another odyssey but delighted to be home and hugging the stuffing out of my grandkids.

There are new journeys in the planning stages.

Stay tuned….

Running in the Rain

We arrived at Lake Wateree State Park in Winnsboro, SC and were delighted with our campsite. Situated overlooking the lake, with lake access for the dog, it just could not have been more perfect. Gypsy has become quite the swimmer. She’s a Labrador, with webbed feet, so swimming should be second nature. It took some frantic thrashing and splashing at the beginning, but after being encouraged to go deeper into the lake, with each toss of a stick, she soon segued into a graceful, swimmer’s rhythm

“Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass. It’s about learning to dance in the rain.”

– Vivian Greene.

We have been spoiled with perfect weather for most of the journey. So, it was a bit of a bummer when the rain began to fall, but I decided to dance in the rain. I put on my running shoes and took off for an amble through the park. The showers were initially cool and refreshing, but by the time I returned, I was drenched and a bit chilly. The hot shower and warm clothes felt like being wrapped in a warm blanket.

It’s not going to be an active stop but it’s perfect for reading, blogging and playing a few games of Scrabble.

Next stop: Douthat State Park, Virginia

Stay tuned….

From Hikers to Hackers: Something for everyone at Jekyll Island.

Dogs Dig Driftwood Beach

Savannah is amazing with the town squares and the hanging moss and the French Colonial houses. It’s brutally romantic. ~ David Morrissey

When we departed Tybee Island, we did not expect to drive the motorhome through old, downtown, Savannah. These historic towns have streets that were designed for horse-drawn carriages, not behemoth busses. We should have asked our GPS to stick to the highways, but hindsight, as they say, is 20-20. We managed to squeeze through town unscathed, making it to Jekyll Island without incident.

Living amongst the live oaks.

Jekyll Island State Park is on the north end of the island. The camping area is heavily treed and shrouded with Spanish Moss. It is spotless, quiet, and has surprisingly few mosquitoes.

The park also has extensive fishing piers, a horseback riding stable, and a nature trail that is a birdwatching paradise. It meanders through the marshlands for a little over a mile and ends at Driftwood Beach; a hauntingly beautiful piece of ocean front that is strewn with ancient driftwood. It is both magnificent and other worldly.

The south end of the Island includes three golf courses, resorts, high-end hotels, a shopping district and an historic area that housed many of the robber barons during the late 1890’s and early 1900’s. There was a great deal of wealth and opulence. Private residences were erected on the grounds of The Jekyll Island Club by the social elite of the time: Rockefellers, Astors, Cranes, Goodyears and Macys were known to arrive via yacht to spend winter months at the exclusive club.

The island is roughly 7.5 miles in length and the optimal mode of transportation is bicycle. There are bike paths that circle the entire island. The trails take you along the ocean front, through the marshlands, and to the various points of interest. Motorized vehicles are allowed but many opt to ride bikes or rent golf carts. It is at this point that I give a plug to Red Bug Motors Golf Cart Rentals. I was running on the trail one morning, with Gypsy. We do not run together like a well-oiled machine. Sometimes I drag her, and sometimes she drags me. She was panting like crazy and I noticed a cooler on the porch of Red Bug Motors. I planned to buy some water and beg for a cup so that my incorrigible running partner could have a drink. The gentlemen at the rental store invited Gypsy in, filled up a dog bowl with fresh water and gave her a dog biscuit. Rich, who may have been the owner, even invited her to come back, to run around the fenced airport, which is directly behind his store! Now, that’s good, old Southern hospitality.

If you pedal around the island, you cannot escape the beauty. From large, live oaks, to colorful marshland, to spotless shoreline, to Spanish moss, the scenery is amazing.

I think that the Jekyll Island Department of Tourism should hire me. I am enamored with this delightful and dog-friendly isle.

All good things must come to an end. Time to turn around and head back to reality. Next stop Lake Wateree, SC.

Stay tuned…