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…

After the Flood, a Rainbow…

We managed to get the RV dried out after the Gypsy-induced flood. Water had cascaded over the cook top for an indefinite amount of time, so winding up with only one inoperable propane burner was a blessing. Everything else was soggy but salvageable.

The ‘rainbow’ is a euphemism for of our relaxing stay on Tybee Island. The weather has been perfect. I have managed to run several miles each morning, exploring the entire region on foot. That sounds impressive, but trust me, the island is small. I don’t run marathons. This barrier isle, known as Savannah’s Beach, does not reflect the genteel nature of the charming, historic district of Georgia’s oldest city. It has some grit. It has a downtown strip with bars and bikers and beach bums. It has hotels, condos and a campground. Yet, most of the island is residential with everything from cottages to castles. There are historic sites. Palm trees, pine trees and southern magnolias, covered with Spanish moss, line the streets.

From the North Beach area you can watch large, ocean-going ships enter and exit the Savannah River. I’m not sure why I find this so fascinating, but I could watch these container ships come and go all day.

The beaches are not dog friendly, but thankfully, there is a dog park at the campground. The locals like to congregate there and discuss Tybee politics and the ”code enforcement gestapo” that patrol the island from golf carts. We learned about the local “dirt” while Gypsy made a bunch of new friends. She was even invited to a dog-birthday-party. Although, it would appear in the photos that she is being viciously attacked, she is truly having a wonderful time romping with Luna, Cesar, Rip and the gang.

During this morning’s run, I stumbled upon a very moving ceremony, commemorating the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. A huge, American flag was slowly unfurled from the top of the historic lighthouse, while a bagpiper, atop the 144 foot tall structure, hauntingly played Amazing Grace and Danny Boy. I paused to reflect and remember the lives lost on that fateful day.

“You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.” — John Kabat-Zinn

We spent the rest of the day watching a surfing competition. The air smelled like Hawaiian Tropic. The emcee was blasting beach music and announcing winners of various divisions. There were finned, long-boards, short boards and body boards. Kids with sun-kissed, bleached blonde hair were catching waves and wiping out. It was like being in a 1960’s beach movie. I expected Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello to wander by singing Beach Blanket Bingo.

Obligatory Sea Gull Picture

I am truly sorry to be leaving this place but more ocean adventures await at Jekyll Island.

Stay tuned…

Verizon, Veterinarians & a VERY Naughty Puppy

Sitting Pretty

Just as we were leaving North Carolina, I dropped my iPhone on a rock, at just the perfect angle that it shattered the glass. I have had that iPhone 6S for a frightfully long time, and had an unhealthy attachment to the frayed, Blue Otter Box and the oversized screen. It had totally inadequate storage, and desperately needed updated, but it was like my “blankie”. When I saw the screen, with web-like cracks covering the entire screen, I nearly wept. Yes, I was going to have to find a Verizon store, and spend too much money, in an effort to replace my trusty, old friend. <sigh> Fortunately we found a Verizon Retail store in Murrell’s Inlet, SC and I was able to make a new friend: A purple iPhone 12 with a clear, sparkly Otter Box.

We already had a veterinary appointment scheduled for Gypsy at The Animal Hospital of South Carolina in Pawley’s Island, which was luckily right down the road from the Verizon Store. It was time for Gypsy’s post-spay check up and suture removal. I was totally flabbergasted when the vet removed the stitches, gave her a quick check up, and declared her healthy enough to resume normal activities. No more cone of shame, or inflatable collars designed to keep her from gnawing at her incision. YAY!! And furthermore, the vet DID NOT CHARGE US. That’s right. No charge. I’m still happily perplexed. Needless to say, The Animal Hospital of South Carolina is going to get a great YELP review from me.

After taking care of all of the necessary nonsense, we thoroughly enjoyed a few romps in the ocean at Huntington Beach State Park. Our campsite was right behind the dunes. We could not see the ocean, but could hear the rhythm of the tide. It was a very short walk to the beach. The park is a true wildlife sanctuary. It covers several square miles that include marshland with a myriad of birds, turtles and alligators, as well as a huge stretch of pristine, unspoiled Atlantic shoreline. I could have stayed there longer, but we had reservations at Tybee Island, GA. I will definitely be back for a longer stay.

We had planned to stop near Savannah to have a quick lunch with my brother-in-law’s niece and sister-in-law. Emily was very gracious in finding a restaurant that had a parking lot that would be large enough to accommodate our RV. We would have to leave Gypsy in the RV while we grabbed a quick bite. She had a Kong to keep her busy, and AC to keep her cool. It was only going to be a 45 minute lunch. What could possibly go wrong? She had been left on her own before, without incident. I knew almost immediately upon our return to the motorhome that something was amiss. She was sitting in the driver’s seat, after crashing through a baby gate to get access to the cab of the motorhome. I slid her over, sat down, and heard the unmistakable sound of water gushing. She had managed to jump onto the kitchen counter, turn on the water, and flood the inside of the RV. BAD DOG! My husband, with bath towels in hand, sopping up the mess, was not amused. I, on the other hand, had a hard time stifling my laughter.

Retired and rambling is not always a vacation.

We have arrived at Tybee Island, but have laundry to do, a new screen room to erect, and a wet mess to deal with.

Stay tuned….

Tunnels, Trails, (Edward) Teach and Terrible Table Service

The Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel is a bridge-tunnel combination that is nearly 18 miles long and takes you from Virginia’s Eastern Shore to Virginia Beach, VA. I’m not a huge fan of navigating Big Bertha through ‘challenging’ segments of highway but I was determined to conquer the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel. At first, driving through traffic with a large RV is not so bad. The bridge is low with a wide shoulder area and two-lane, one-way traffic UNTIL you are funneled down to the tunnel portion, which has a precariously pinched, single lane with oncoming traffic that seems hell-bent on sideswiping you. If you squint your eyes, grit your teeth and grab the wheel until your knuckles turn white, you can make it without incident.

Happiness is a long walk with a dog.

We wound our way to Goose Creek State Park, near the Pamlico River in North Carolina. The park is on swampy land that features 8 miles of trails, canoe launch ramps and swimming/beach areas. Wildlife is abundant and the turtles are gigantic! Surprisingly, even with all of the areas of stagnant water, there are amazingly few mosquitoes or biting flies. The campground is small, but brand new, with full hook-ups and 50 amp service. My initial reaction was one of mediocrity but this park has really grown on me. I absolutely love the tall, long-leaf pines covered in Spanish moss and the bright expanse of visible, celestial bodies at night.

“On your way, now. And tell the world you set sail with Blackbeard.” ~ Edward Teach

While in the area, it was a must to visit the town of Bath, where the legendary pirate, Blackbeard once resided. The town is pristine and chockfull of historical markers that educate visitors about everything from the Old Post Road to the childhood home of Cecil B. Demille. There are breathtaking views at the Point and many architecturally interesting waterfront homes to oogle over.

We did not see any dog-friendly spots at which to stop and have a bite of lunch, so we moved on to Washington, NC, another, larger, waterfront community that we felt certain would be a good place to find a Fido-friendly restaurant.

The first red flag at The Captain Cooks, Waterfront Restaurant, should have been when we asked if Gypsy could join us on the patio. The harried waitress asked how big our dog was. When we responded that she was a 45-pound Labrador Puppy, she said “I guess so” in such a hesitant voice that it was clear she did not know the actual policy. We sat down and were promptly and continually ignored by the wait staff, which appeared to consist of two, semi-frantic young women. We asked for water on three separate occasions, but it never came. I was willing to be tolerant. They did seem to be understaffed, and the waterfront ambiance was nice, so my husband fetched our drinks and a couple of menus. Still, no service. My inner-John Taffer was beginning to emerge as it became painfully aware that The Captain needed a serious BAR RESCUE. Eventually, we flagged down a server and placed an order, that 40 minutes later, still had not arrived. My husband went inside to refill our drinks, and decided to follow up on the food. It was then that we were made aware that the cook was absent (I suspect he quit) and that one of the two servers was also attempting to prepare the food. Our order ticket had never even made its way into the kitchen. Needless to say, we canceled our order, grabbed our 45-pound pup, and left.

I made ham & cheese on rye when we got back to the RV. It’s a poor substitute for seafood on the waterfront, but, since the server was also the chef, perhaps it was a blessing in disguise.

Thinking that perhaps we had been unfair and overly judgmental, we thought we would give waterfront dining in Washington one more try. What a mistake. We were seated outside at the Mulberry Street Brewery, and were provided an abbreviated menu. Twenty minutes later we were given two glasses of warm, not tepid, not lukewarm, but actual WARM water. Ten minutes later, we still had not placed an order. We looked at each other, nodded in agreement, and made a hasty escape.

We were famished. On the way back to the truck we stumbled upon The Grub Brothers Eatery. It looked like a local dive bar. No water view. No ambiance. It took an HOUR to get two wraps but at least the water was cold. In truth, the sandwiches were quite tasty and I had a side of good, southern stewed tomatoes and okra instead of fries.

Moral of the story. If you want a great meal on the waterfront, avoid Washington, NC. If you need a job go to Washington, NC. They need servers, cooks, hostesses and bottle washers.

Onward to Murrell’s Inlet, where I hear there is good waterfront dining…

Stay tuned…