Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Malia's Second Birthday

We made a quick extended-weekend trip to Denver to celebrate Malia's second birthday. The trip was extended in that we took two days each way driving to and from Denver. We've taken the I-25 route so often that we wanted to take a little more time and enjoy different scenery, primarily the mountains.

The forecast for Friday, 12/14, departure date was for snow all through Colorado. It was snowing as we loaded up and left Cedar Crest. We abandoned plans to drive straight north through central Colorado and decided to take I-25 to Walsenburg, CO, then decide whether angling NW from there to Westcliffe was doable. We've been to Westcliffe several times in the summer for their bluegrass festival and really like the town and its location.

To get to Walsenburg we skirted around the snow in NM by taking I-40 east almost to Santa Rosa. We then took US-84 up to I-25 just west of Las Vegas. I mention all this just to promote US-84 -- very scenic and also historic. 'Twas the original routing of Route 66 -- a loop NW to Santa Fe before dropping back down to Albuquerque. One of our governors in the last days of his office bladed a road straight west from Santa Rosa to Albuquerque and Route 66 soon adopted that route.

Anyhow, at Walsenburg, conditions seemed good enough for the drive into Westcliffe. Westcliffe is in a large, gorgeous valley, at nearly 8000 ft. elevation, with the Sangre de Cristo mountains as its western backdrop. I wanted to see the mountains in their winter glory. As we drove in Friday pm, through light snow, the mountains were socked in. Susie said, "Can't see the mountains. Let's just keep going." I demurred: "Forecast is for a clear day tomorrow. We're here, let's stay the night."

So we checked into a motel, checked out a couple of shops, and had dinner. Next morning:

Awesome! It was also minus 10 degrees according to our car's thermometer as we drove out.

On to the main show. Jeff and Valerie had planned a Saturday pm party, following the UNM-Texas Tech basketball game on TV. Unfortunately, Valerie's mom and stepdad couldn't come due to some health concerns that kept him at home in Santa Fe and my nephew Kevin and his family, who recently moved to Castle Rock, CO, couldn't make it either, so we were it!

Lobos won, then it was dinner, presents, and cake.

For contrast, if you go way back in this blog to our China trip last December, you can see Malia celebrating her first birthday, just a few days after "we" got her. Also, see Jeff and Valerie's blog: for more then and now pictures.

Next day was pretty relaxed. Susie and Malia had a tea party. Malia got Tucker involved in play-time, too. Jeff cooked a version of the Chinese meal he had planned or Saturday.

Monday noon, Susie, Jeff, and I had lunch with friend, Karen Kafadar, a statistician at the University of Colorado, Denver. Well, she still has an office there, but she's just about formerly UCD. She's doing a sabbatical this year at U Cal-Berkeley and then this summer is moving to Indiana University. We had a nice lunch at a downtown "modern" Mexican restaurant across the street from UCD, discussing, among other things, the statistician's lament: We don't get no respect -- in a Math department, in particular. Susie commented that she hadn't met many "bouncy" statisticians; except for the three she was lunching with, of course, I interjected. See what I mean?

After lunch we went to a birthday party at Malia's day care, where Valerie is the Assistant Director. (Monday was Malia's actual birthday.)

Then, now in late afternoon, we headed out. Plan was to stay the night in Walsenburg, about a 2.5 hr. drive, then head west the next day over La Veta Pass into the San Luis Valley, then south to home. And that's what we did.

The motel was a bit of an adventure. Had a choice of a room with one queen bed for $40 or two beds for $50. I went for the cozier, cheaper choice. Turns out though, that the one-bed room was on central heat -- you couldn't control the temperature. Two-bed rooms had their own furnaces and thermostats. I paid for the room, but said we might want to change. Went to our room, but it seemed cold, so I went back to switch rooms. We had not been quick enough, though. Lady said, Did you use anything? Did either of you go to the bathroom? Well, I had to say, Yes. Lady frowned. In that case, if you change rooms, I have to charge you for both.

What a dilemma! Well, we decided, somewhat reluctantly, to stay in the one-bed, no thermostat room (as opposed to now paying $90+ for room with two beds and thermostat). We had some extra blankets in the car that we had brought along for an emergency. This was it. We piled those on Susie and slept quite well, though I think I may have damaged my reputation as a big spender.

Nice trip home the next day. No pictures of the motel, but here's the county courthouse in Walsenburg.

We drove west into the San Luis Valley -- temperature 1 degree as we went through Alamosa. Here's a shot of 14,345 ft. Mt. Blanca en route. Years ago I climbed that sucker. Susie asked, Why? Because I was with a macho group of guys who wanted to climb it and couldn't very well wimp out, I said.

The drive south from Alamosa on US 285 is another scenic, pleasant drive: Tres Piedras, Ojo Caliente (where we stopped to check out the hot springs resort - looks like a place we'd like to spend some time -- Susie suggested monthly trips for spa and massage; there are no $40 rooms there, though).

Next we're off on a Christmas trip: Las Vegas for the weekend and Christmas Eve with Heidi, then red-eye flight at 1:00 am to Raleigh for Christmas afternoon with Mike and family. A few days there and then we'll fly to Nashville for New Year's with Mandi and Paul. Family is precious year-round, but especially so at Christmas.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you all!

Susie and Rob

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

When one lives with Rob Easterling
Life is just one adventure after another.
“Susie, I’ve been thinking” is his mantra.
I say, “Hey, I need a week to recover.”

2007 has been another year of adventure.
Traveling places—some revisited, some new.
Spending time with our family
And enjoying the things that they do.

So-please indulge me for a little while
As I review our whirlwind life.
Rob plans, researches and schedules
And I play the dutiful wife.

The major part of our travels
Sees us in our motorhome, TuziTwo.
We both love the feel of the open road
As we travel the country through.

No matter where we travel.
No matter where we roam.
We try to visit our children
And enjoy each and every home.

I’ll give a brief summary of each family.
Chronologically seems only fair.
We begin with Jeff and Valerie Hinkle
Who moved north---SOMEWHERE!

Actually, they live in Aberdeen, South Dakota.
Cold winters they have -- that’s for sure.
Managing Shop-Ko is his profession.
Monitoring juveniles on probation—for her.

They have purchased a mini-farm.
With barns, horse stalls and hay.
Hunting, mowing and working
Makes for a full life at the end of the day.

Matt and Suzy Hinkle
Remain in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Managing Pratt Industries and teaching
Makes for a very busy woman and man.

Tony is in college in Santa Fe.
Kaci: a college in Ohio is her choice.
He is studying film production.
She’s in music theatre—using her beautiful voice.

Andrew is a freshman in high school.
He is in band and soccer he loves to play.
He just got his provisional driver’s license.
Let us take a minute TO PRAY!

Mike and Karen Easterling
Live in Cary, N.C. with our pride and joy.
Jason is the light of our lives.
He is such an outstanding boy.

Mike is in biomathematics.
Karen, a statistician like Rob.
They work at bringing better
health to society
Which makes for a rewarding job.

Jason is in the second grade.
His soccer coach is his dad.
Time spent with this sweet family
Makes for some of the nicest times
we’ve had.

Jeff, Valerie and Malia Easterling
Live in Highlands Ranch, Colo.,--oh, so fair.
Jeff is ANOTHER statistician,
And Valerie directs a day care.

Just a year ago this time
Saw us going to China on a plane.
How Malia has taken hold of all our hearts
Is really hard to explain.

We will be with Malia on the 17th.
To celebrate her second birthday.
She is blessed to have such wonderful parents.
They feel blessed, too, in every way.

Mandi and Paul Venable live
Where music is the definitive sound.
Nashville, Tennessee, is their home.
Their profession helps us
To “fly around!”

They’ve been with Southwest Airlines
For more years than they can believe.
Paul writes music and loads the planes
And, Mandi, just continues to achieve.

She is the assistant station manager.
An airport is an ever busy hub.
We love spending time with these two.
You can’t beat that southern grub!

And Heidi Hinkle the runt of the litter.
Is the child living farthest west.
Her director’s job in Vegas at the Bellagio
Doesn’t give her much time for rest.

She now is the mother of two animals.
Joey the bulldog and Katie the boxer.
They do keep her very busy,
But they’re so much company for her.

She, too, brings us so much joy.
She relates her life to us with flair.
We’re glad her life is happy.
She has so much goodness to share.

And, so there you have the rundown.
We’ve put more than you need on your plate,
But many of you have watched these kids grow
And we just wanted to bring you up to date.

We have had several family reunions.
Which have been so much fun for all.
It’s such a privilege when we all can meet
We laugh, eat and have a ball.

Rob’s extra special outing in September
Was to Australia--the land down under.
His friend, Dick Reinert, went with him
I opted not to steal his thunder.

They traveled by train, helicopter and plane.
They spent almost three weeks in this beautiful place.
They returned a little sore and tired,
Each had a huge smile across his face.

2008 looks like more of the same.
It will find us living in California on the beach.
The Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey
Is the next place where Rob will teach.

We’ll live March through June in TuziTwo
Along the Pacific Ocean shore.
Then we’ll head home to Cedar Crest
Until we decide to travel some more.

So as we celebrate this holy season,
And as we celebrate our families with you,
May the real celebration center around the
And may you celebrate your blessings, too.


Susie and Rob

Sunday, November 18, 2007


Friday, 11/16/07

Long day, mostly interstate, though, and we traveled 462 miles – diagonally NW through LA, then across the NE corner of TX to a KOA in Colbert, OK, just across the Red River from TX. As mentioned yesterday, LA doesn’t have rest areas. Saw a couple of former rest areas along I-49, but they’ve been bulldozed over. Must be a story there. We had lunch in TuziTwo at a very nice TX welcome center on I-20.

Leaving Lafayette, we found a couple of Cajun call-in and music shows on the radio. Very entertaining, even without translations. Was it Justin Wilson who long ago told Cajun stories?

Which reminds me, I forgot to mention that the Cajun band at Randol's in Lafayette was joined for a couple of songs by an active, older chap playing rhythm on a sheet of tin hanging over his shoulders. He used kitchen egg beaters (not electrical powered) to provide the sound. I’m often amazed at the variety of ways the human mind and spirit have conceived to make music.

When I talked to my sister, Connie, a few days earlier, she mentioned that today, November 16, was Oklahoma’s Centennial. There was a parade this morning in Guthrie, the first capital, and a big celebration in OKC tonight that was being telecast. That wasn’t the conscious reason for driving as far as we did, but after we got here, I remembered the telecast and we watched. (I just wanted to get within 200 miles of OKC to shorten our trip tomorrow. Must have been some telepathy at work, also. My sister, Verla, said she thought about calling me to remind us to watch.) Great program! Rheba McIntire, Vince Gill, Johnny Bench, Garth Brooks, an amazing Indian aerialist, Shirley Jones, Patti Page, and more. Brought a few tears to my sentimental eyes. One of the highlights was a 100-year old Oklahoma gentleman singing the original state song.
Here's the OK Centennial USPS stamp -- pretty nice, don't you think? That's the Cimarron River.

I found an internet article the other day on the development of the musical Oklahoma! (the exclamation point did it!). That link should take you to it. The play broke new ground for Broadway musicals. The theme song was almost an afterthought. It’s not just about the state, but it’s about becoming a state. How perfect!

Brand new state!

Brand new state

Gonna treat you great!

Gonna give you barley, carrots and pertaters,

Pasture fer the cattle, spinach and termayters!

Flowers on the prairie where the June bugs zoom,

Plen'y of air and plen'y of room,

Plen'y of room to swing a rope!

Plen'y of heart and plen'y of hope


The show was broadcast by PBS, so maybe it will show up someday in a pledge drive near you. Watch for it.


We know we belong to the land

And the land we belong to is grand!

And when we say Yeeow!


We're only sayin'You're doin' fine, Oklahoma!

Oklahoma OK!
For your enjoyment, some photos from the internet:
For excitement, visit Oklahoma!

Historic Route 66

Had a nice drive Saturday morning and got to OKC just after noon. Along the way, down one off-ramp I saw a sign pointing to two towns:

WAYNE (arrow pointing right)

(arrow pointing left) PAYNE.

There must be a story there. Wish I'd gotten a picture.

And that was about it for entertainment.

Sunday morning we went to church at the First United Methodist Church in Edmond, OK. Both the children's minister and the main minister had inspired and inspirational Thanksgiving-themed messages. The children's minister pulled several vegetables out of his bag. The common characteristic is that they all grow underground -- potato, onion, carrot. Point was that there are things we can't see that we should be thankful for. Pastor's message was based on scripture in which Jesus heals 10 lepers. They rush off to share their good news, but only one, a Samaritan, turns back and says thank you.

My sisters and their families have been working hard to spruce up Mom's house to sell, now that she is living in an assisted living facility. Our real estate agents, who happen to be from my home town of Tonkawa, suggested that it would help to paint one of the bedrooms, so I did that today, Monday. Susie washed windows. We're heading home tomorrow. Home on Wednesday -- a reason for thanksgiving.
We're past 5000 miles on the odometer, about 500 to go.
Saving the best for last: here's a picture of the Salt Fork River, near Tonkawa! Once upon a time two friends and I tried to float this roaring torrent. We walked much of the way.


Rob and Susie

Thursday, November 15, 2007


Laissez les bons temps rouler! That's Cajun for Let the good times roll! Which we did, here in Lafayette, LA.

Thursday we left Ocean Springs, MS, early. From our Roadfood book I had picked out (award-winning) Prejean's in Lafayette, LA, for a Cajun lunch, so that was our goal. But first, ...

Not once, but twice I managed to get us in a situation where I had to disconnect the PT in order to get out of a tight spot. I was looking to take a break at the LA welcome center on I-10, but it was closed. Sign said tourist info several exits down the road. Took that exit, but info site looked to be a gas station too tight to enter. So, that meant we continued down a side road looking for a place to turn around. I hate doing this. Tend to pass up good spots, then in frustration pick one not so good. Which I did. Took a chance on a tight U-turn through a business parking lot -- complicated by looming drop-offs into a ditch -- and barely, but smoothly, made it. So it was back to I-10, noting on the way that there was a postage-stamp size parking lot for the travel info center. No way of stopping there.

On down the road I picked another exit for a rest stop (can't believe LA has no rest stops on a major interstate). The exit I picked had signs for several gas stations, so I figured one of them ought to have enough room. Picked a station -- oops, wrong one! Car at a pump prevented me from circling and then two cars pulled up to convenience store parking slots, totally blocking me. I kept cool, though. Susie went in to buy snacks, I unhooked the PT and parked it out of the way (it's really a quick operation, no big deal except injured pride). Thought I would need to back up several yards in order to get turned around. Miraculously, though, all the cars in the way disappeared. If I'd just waited patiently, ... . Anyhow, I was able to pull forward and turn around. I rehitched and away we went -- fortified with Cokes and junk food. Actually feeling pretty good about how calmly I handled the situation.

Continued west. There's an 18 mile stretch in which the I-10 is a bridge all the way, except for a couple of exits. You're crossing rivers, lakes, and swamps generally about 20 feet in the air -- midway up the trees that line the route. Reminded me of the treetop walkway that Dick Reinert and I took in Australia. Later that night we learned that because of an accident somewhere out there, that whole stretch of road, roughly 60 miles connecting Baton Rouge and Lafayette, was closed until further notice. No frontage roads out there!

Got to Lafayette and found Prejean's, with some help from a nice lady at a convenience store with a large and empty front lot, when I took a wrong turn. Lunch time, though, and the parking lot was pretty full. Too tight to try. Went around back and pulled into a gravel lot that I thought might encircle the restaurant, but it didn't. Stuck again. Time to unhook the PT again. Susie had the good idea of parking both vehicles, separately, then completing the turn-around after lunch, which we did. Again, it went quickly and smoothly. Not even slightly embarrassed, we acted like we planned it that way.

How was lunch at Prejean's? you ask. Very good. I started with a cup of "famous" chicken and sausage gumbo, followed by blackened shrimp on a bed of rice, red beans, and sausage. Now, 10 hours later, I can still feel the burning. Susie had a milder chicken and pasta dish. We debated staying in Lafayette for the night -- we'd covered 200 miles -- or continuing up the road a ways. Susie asked a guy at the next table if there was a place to hear Cajun music on a Thursday night in Lafayette (Susie's good about taking such initiatives). Well, Prejean's had a Cajun band at night. That settled it. We would stay, so we went about three miles west of town and checked in to an "award-winning" KOA.

At KOA I asked the nice lady on the desk about Cajun music. She said, go to Randol's. They've got a dance floor and great music. This is where the locals go and where I take my guests. We had a relaxing second half of the afternoon and then found our way to Randol's, helped by the nice lady's excellent directions.

The full name of the place is Randol's Restaurant and Salle de Danse. It's a seafood restaurant that opens on to a separate large room that has a stage and dance floor. Good, traditional Cajun music was being played by a trio -- accordion, drums, guitar. We found out later that their fiddle player was called away by something urgent, but the group still sounded great. We went into the salle de danse and sat on one of the benches that border the dance floor. Maybe a dozen couples were dancing, most of our age group. But, it was almost like high school -- the girls clustered and the guys asked the lucky ones to dance. After listening a while, Susie and I even did a couple of Cajun waltz turns. Left two-three, right two-three, left,right ? ... . When the band took a break we went into the restaurant for dessert, then stayed through the next set. Bons temp, for shure.

On to Oklahoma.


Rob and Susie

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Florida Weekend and Starting Home

Mandi and Paul Venable flew down to Tampa from Nashville Saturday evening. We had a pretty relaxed couple of days. Sunday we headed for the Gulf Coast -- Clearwater and other Beaches. Found a nice place for lunch -- fish tacos for me. I'll check those out almost anywhere we find them and these ranked near the top. Took a quick turn on the beach. Here's the evidence. Actually, there were a lot of people at the beach on a nice Florida-autumn Sunday.

After lunch we roamed northward along the coast, looking only for a Starbucks -- you know, they're everywhere. Well, not along our route. Finally, after turning around for home along a major highway, we found one.

Monday we lunched/brunched at Cracker Barrel and roamed the Lazydays lots looking at the latest in motor homes. And that was it. A nice, relaxing weekend together.

Tuesday, 11/13, we left early, heading for the Florida panhandle. Had in mind a campground right on the beach, but when we called in late afternoon, we found that they rented for $75! That's way higher than anything we've seen, mostly in the $25-$35 ballpark, so we passed on that choice. Settled for a place in Panama City Beach that turned out to be on the low-rent end of the beachfront strip. We made an aborted effort to go to the beach -- no path through the beach highrises and restaurants (turns out that if we'd asked at the office they would have pointed us to their very own path). After 400 miles, we just wanted a place to sleep -- and eat - Susie cooked hamburgers in our very own kitchen.

Getting to PCBeach took us about 60 miles off of I-10 and I was beginning to regret it. Had in mind getting to OK Friday evening and here we'd spent this time and hadn't even seen the beach. However, overnight, I decided why rush it? Let's see something along the way. We were soon rewarded as we meandered west along the beach drive Wednesday morning. There's a lot of new and attractive beach development going west along the coast. Much nicer than some of the older beach towns we've seen. And many good views of the beach and gulf waters. The brochures say great beaches and it looked that way to us. Very little traffic, too, on an autumn weekday morn.

About halfway to Pensacola we jogged north, back to I-10. In recognition of all the Air Force installations in this part of the state, I took this picture at a rest stop.

Saw some billboards for the USS Alabama, a battleship moored in Mobile harbor. That looked interesting, so we stopped (new, old Tuziphilosophy at work). Here, from the Alabama website, is the view you get as you approach it from the east as we did -- very impressive. It's 680 ft. long, 160 ft. high from the waterline. In wartime, had a crew of about 2500 men.

The Alabama began her career doing convoy escort duty in the North Atlantic. This was interesting to me because my Dad did convoy duty there, also. I don't know what ship(s) he was on. He went on to write his PhD thesis on the convoy escort program in WWII. After there the Alabama saw much duty in the Pacific.

Anyhow, we crawled around the ship for a while and took some pictures

By now, it was early afternoon. We had started quite early but only gone 150 miles from Panama City Beach. We decided to spend the night an hour down the road at the campground in Ocean Springs, MS, where we had spent our last night in Tuzigoot, the original. Fifteen months ago we delivered Tuzigoot to the Methodist Mississippi Katrina relief effort. If you burrow way, way down in Older Posts at the bottom of this blog, to August or September, 2006, you can find that report.

It was with some trepidation that we made this stop. Didn't want anybody to think we were checking up on them and didn't want to find that Tuzigoot was not being well used, if that was the case -- unlikely, though. We went by the Ocean Springs United Methodist Church where the relief work in this area is housed and saw that it was still busy -- quite a few cars around, several temp buildings and a couple of campers, but not Tuzi. But, there are many relief sites around, so we didn't really expect to see Tuzi at the one site we knew about.

Last year one of the more impressive damage sites we saw was the destroyed bridge between Biloxi and Ocean Springs. Rebuilding was being held up for bureaucratic reasons. Well, a lot has happened in 15 months and the bridge recently re-opened -- Susie saw a news article in the last couple of weeks. It's only one lane each way now, but you can see the area bouncing back. Saw several signs welcoming people back to Ocean Springs.

The posh residential area fronting the bay is still in pretty bad shape, but there are signs of redevelopment, too. At many places there's nothing but a slab and maybe some bricks and several houses look abandoned. But, some of the lots have been cleared and where several lots can be combined, condo developments have started or are advertized. There are some new homes and refurbishments underway, also.

This looks like it may have been a restaurant and it's still available.

Like I said, we were uneasy about returning here, but are now glad we did. If for nothing else than the chance to eat at The Shed, adjoining our RV park. It was closed the night we were here in 06.

The Shed is described as a Barbeque & Blues Joint, A FamilyFoodDrinkery. The story is that the proprietor spent his spare time, while at Ole Miss, doing dumpster diving -- collecting junk. Back in Ocean Springs, he decided to build a barbeque joint out of his accumulated junk. He also "practiced cooking, smoking, and timing meat to perfection." He developed a SECRET RUB and found the perfect sauce. "The day Brad's baby backs got rubbed with the rub and slapped with the sauce "The Shed" was born and the thunder rolled" (quoting a brochure). Moreover, fans, dubbed ShedHeds, started bringing their junk and adding to the building and its decor.

Weekends there's music.

The food was as good as promised. The rubbed and sauced meat just fell from the ribs and chicken parts. I don't know how they put it on the platter without it falling off. Definitely some of the best barbeque we've come across. We ate early, so the place wasn't jumping, but it was interesting. Lots of Shed Philosophy is posted. Some examples:

Work hard and success will come. Laziness pay (sic) off right away.

Nobody likes me because I'm paranoid.
ShedHeds put the FUN in dysfunctional.

So, if you're ever on I-10 in Mississippi, Wed - Sun, take Exit 57 and eat at The Shed. You, too, can be a ShedHed.

'Nuff for now.


Rob and Susie

Monday, November 05, 2007


Monday, 11/5. One hundred fifty mile trip from Starke, FL, to Seffner, near Tampa, was uneventful. However, my previous day's declared intention to avoid interstates weakened -- too much traffic and stop and go. Towns too close together. So, about halfway down, it was back to I-75. From the byways, though, a couple of highway notes:

Ocala calls itself the horse capital of the world. Wonder if they told Kentucky. But, there were certainly many miles of horse farms north and south of Ocala. Here's a picture off a real estate company's website. By the way, what is it that makes a simple board fence a thing of beauty?

Florida is so short of elevation that we saw one of those Steep Slope, Trucks Use Lower Gear, signs at a RR overpass, the downside of which was a 5% grade of maybe four truck-lengths! Must have had an extra sign and had to put it somewhere. Or, maybe they were worried about senior citizens in golf carts.

The RV park we're staying at in Seffner, east side of Tampa, is called Rally Park. It's set up to host rally groups like ours -- there's a large building for group meals and other functions, all sorts of amenities. There are 120 Tiffin motor homes here for the Allegro Rally, but there are also a lot of other-make motor homes here and some empty spaces. Some of the occupants are in the process of trading RVs, or maybe waiting to get in for service. Rally Park is operated by the largest RV dealer in the country -- Lazydays. They told us that they have 158 sales people, going to 180 by January when they have big sales pushing the new models. There's a shuttle that takes people from Rally Park to Lazydays sales and service. In addition to Rally Park there are literally hundreds of RVs parked in the Lazydays lots -- occupied and hooked up. Folks in the park get free (but VERY limited) breakfasts and lunches at Lazydays. Maybe pick up a new motor home after lunch. No such thing as a free lunch.

We got a choice parking spot: on the end of a row so we only have a neighbor on the driver side; the passenger/patio side doesn't. Also, most rigs are parked back to back -- all spaces are back-in -- but here at the end of the row nobody is behind us. The only drawback was that we had kids (!) beside us. (The sound of kids makes Susie think: FIELD TRIP! Except for grandkids, of course.) But they left the first day and nobody moved in all week. Maybe we got this site because we registered early, or just got lucky. We've come the third-farthest distance -- Washington and Nevada rigs beat us.

Oh, one drawback. All the dogwalkers stop and their little darlings water our lawn.

Tuesday was devoted to seminars -- people talking about all the equipment involved in a motor home. I learned a lot, including some things I've been doing wrong -- fortunately with no ill effect that I know of.

Another great feature of the rally is that Tiffin has several service technicians on site, down here from the factory in Red Bay, AL -- which is quite an operation; we were there last fall. Here, you fill out a list of service/repair issues, put it on your windshield, and someone comes to work on them. Free. That happened for us Tuesday afternoon. Very pleasant, knowledgable, hard-working guy, Robert, stopped by and diagnosed and fixed our list of problems.

Another learning experience. For instance, I learned that if you lubricate the front step, which catches all the water and dirt from the road, it will then retract the way it's supposed to. Doh! I thought maybe I had bent it getting out of our driveway because I did scrape it against the RR tie border.

One thing I didn't expect the Tiffin tech to be able to do on-site was to replace the crank handle on the bathroom overhead vent. The strong wind we got into earlier on this trip broke it. I got on the roof and ducttaped the vent shut -- that's my skill-level when it comes to repair. But, the Tiffin parts trailer had a handle and when it didn't fit, Robert just drilled some new holes and made it fit. Talent way beyond duct tape.

Wednesday's activity was a luncheon cruise on Tampa Bay. Here are a couple of Bay shots. Downtown, with convention center in foreground, and a nice row of estates with boats along one bank. We hadn't realized that Tampa is a major cruise terminal. Also, the biggest shipping port in Florida.

After the big lunch, we opted out of the evening meal -- even though it was already paid for in our registration fee -- in favor of a Wal-Mart run and Wendy's. (One day, long ago, not here, we were in a group of people and the talk turned to personal chefs. I said we had one. Her name is Wendy. just kidding :-)

Evening meals have themes and you're encouraged to dress in themes, so we did -- Susie loves this sort of thing. Monday night we were one of a very few dressed colonial style. Tuesday many more folks, including us, dressed Western. Tonight we missed Pirate night -- anybody want an unused eyepatch?

Thursday featured a ladies tea party. Susie won for best costume:

She chose a Christmas cup in Wal-Mart the day before because it commemorates her Christmas birthday

The day's field trip was to the Boggy Bottom Barbecue Ranch. This ranch, operated by the folks who are catering our meals here, features barbecue but also has trails and stuff to look at. Here I'm in the playground bus, naturally.

The owner gave us an eco-tour through his property. Florida produces a lot of phosphate. Historically, after the phosphate was mined, large holding ponds were built to hold and dry out the residue. His ranch has a large U-shaped berm that was the boundary of a long-ago holding pond. Lots of palm trees and boggy growth. The tour highlight was feeding hotdog buns to his cattle.

Friday was pretty quiet. I went to a class on driving tips -- how to set your mirrors, back, turn properly, know your tail swing, ... . More useful advice. Instructor had heard all sorts of stories. One was the guy who drove off from the RV park and three hours later was stopped by a highway patrolman who asked him if he was missing anything. His wife!

Some other advice: You're preparing to back into a campground spot and there's another camper's car in the way. Rather than ask them to move the car, and risk being rejected or scorned -- shouldn't drive a rig that big if you cain't handle it -- just say, This is the first time I've backed a motor home and I .... . They'll move without being asked.

Went to Camping World and found several things we didn't know we needed, but now we have them.

Friday's dinner theme was Broadway and Susie, who had planned for us to go in the pirate garb that we skipped earlier -- she said that would represent the show, "PMS Pinafore" -- was the first to opt out -- I reluctantly agreed :=( . Turned out there was only one couple in costume -- Phaeton of the Opera -- their motor home is Tiffin's Phaeton model and the guy had one of those half-masks from Phantom.

We debated all week about our course after the rally was over. First plan was to go to Nashville to see Mandi and Paul, but we/they hit on the alternative of them coming down here to spend a couple of days with us in the bus in Tampa. We will then take a more southerly route to OK, then home in about 10 days.

I know many of you have been waiting "anxiously" for our Rally report, so we'll post it today.


Rob and Susie

Sunday, November 04, 2007


Savannah Day 4

We had a choice of Wesley-linked churches in historic Savannah to attend. (Of course, all the Methodist churches are Wesley-linked, but I mean the earliest ones.) The congregation he led is now the congregation of Christ Church, Savannah's oldest Episcopal Church. Trinity Church is the oldest Methodist Church in the city and has been designated as the Mother Church of Savannah Methodism. Here's a picture of its exterior. (The square that fronts it has lots of trees and was full of art-show tents, so I had to get this side shot.)

Then, there's Wesley Monumental United Methodist Church -- a subsequent church built about 150 years Wesley left Savannah -- I guess by then it looked like the Methodists were back to stay. That's where we went. We had an exterior shot in a previous post. Here's the interior.

Also, a nice lady pointed out the stained-glass window at the back of the sanctuary with the likenesses of John and Charles Wesley:

We went to the 8:45 service because we had to check out of our RV park at noon, so we missed the choir. The congregation was about the size of St. John's at its early service.

We did get the full effect of the organ. Then, in a real special musical surprise, during communion the organist played the piano and softly sang two old classics, In the Sweet By and By and When the Roll is Called Up Yonder. Very moving.

We had a nice visit with the minister after the service -- he's newly assigned here. He has Indiana origins, but Susie couldn't find a connection to her Hoosier roots.

Had an uneventful afternoon trip of 150 miles down to a KOA in Starke, FL. About the same distance to go tomorrow to the Rally site. Did get off I-95 for about half the distance and enjoyed the relative quietness and lack of 18-wheelers. Think we'll do more off-interstate driving on the way home. No more fixed dates to meet.

This is an outstanding KOA park -- well laid-out, neat, clean, well-placed hookups, and friendly managers and staff. Had some problems getting a good cable TV connection and a maintenance guy came out immediately, put in a new connector, and helped us with the set-up. A little later I was looking at our front step, which isn't quite retracting fully, and the maintenance guy, happening by, stopped to take a look, also. I should have a chance for the Allegro folks to look at it, and some other minor glitches, this week at the rally.

All caught up on postings. That extra hour really helped.


Rob and Susie


Savannah Day 3

Saturday morning I ended up getting a one on one Civil War-themed walking tour of Savannah. Chilly morning and Susie was not terribly interested in the topic, so she asked permission not to go and I graciously granted it (just kidding). Two other people were supposed to take the tour also, but they didn’t show up. Nevertheless, the tour went on: one guide, one tourist.

The guide, Keith, teaches history in a Savannah HS, actually at the Savannah Art Academy. The school system has several magnet/specialty “academies,” one of which is Art. Keith's also pursuing a graduate education – and his wife is about to deliver their first child. Very nice, knowledgeable guy.

Not a lot happened in Savannah pertaining directly to the Civil War, in terms of battles, so a lot of the walk and Keith’s presentation pertained to the social and political climate at the time. (Disclaimer: What follows is written mostly from recollection and is not guaranteed to be 100% accurate.)

W.r.t. the Civil War, though, here’s the story: The Union Army occupied Fort Pulaski at the mouth of the Savannah River in 1862, part of a blockade of Southern ports that gradually strangled the South. I asked if either (a.) the Confederate Army tried to re-take the fort or (b.) the Union army moved against Savannah. No, in either case – both sides’ positions were too strong.

Then, in late 1864, Sherman’s army approached the city, finishing their march across Georgia, fresh from destroying Atlanta. Sherman, with 65,000 men, threatened the city: Surrender or else. The Confederates, with 10,000 men, opted not to resist, but successfully abandoned the city. Savannah's mayor said to Sherman: It’s yours.

I asked whether it was surprising that Sherman spared Savannah or that the Confederates decided not to fight to the last man. Not really. Sherman knew it would have been a costly victory – he would have lost many troops. Both sides knew the war was nearly over. No reason to keep fighting. So, Sherman’s troops occupied the city peacefully. He telegraphed to Lincoln (quote from Wikipedia):

"I beg to present you as a Christmas gift the City of Savannah, with one hundred and fifty guns and plenty of ammunition, also about twenty-five thousand bales of cotton."

... and a partridge in a pear tree. That Sherman, as you can tell from the above picture, was a real kidder.

Sherman was known for his 'scorched-earth' policy, but the only Savannah destruction that was mentioned is that the troops camped in the cemetery damaged or knocked down tombstones and opened tombs to get out of the weather. Several displaced tombstones are displayed on one wall of the Colonial Cemetery.

Some earlier history, roughly as Keith told it. In the early 1800s the South was flourishing, mostly by selling cotton to England and France. When Andrew Jackson was elected, he didn’t like the situation. The economy in the North was suffering. Jackson’s philosophy was that the states should put first priority on doing business at home – he wanted a self-sufficient country that didn’t need Europe as a customer. The South said, Hey, that’s not how a capitalist economy works. You sell where you get the best price. Jackson said, I’ll fix you and he imposed tariffs that made European trade unprofitable.

Jackson’s VP was James Calhoun, of SC. He strongly disagreed with Jackson and in 1831 resigned in protest – the first VP to do so, the only other being Spiro Agnew, for other reasons. Calhoun agitated for states’ rights and stirred up talk of secession. There was even a joint threat by SC and NY to secede – they had a side deal that would help both states. Jackson said: I’ll regard secession as a declaration of war and I’ll smash you. The South said, Hey, take it easy. We get the picture. Never mind. Add slavery to the picture, though, and the situation worsened and it was not long until secession and war.

Here's a picture of Keith, playing his penny whistle, standing in front of John Wesley's statue in Reynolds Square. This is where the tour started and ended.

There's a link between Sherman and Wesley, via New Mexico. Thomas Harwood was a chaplain in Sherman's army who, after the war, went to NM as a Methodist missionary. At one point Harwood was threatened by supporters of NM land baron, Lucien Maxwell. He said, "I have ridden with Sherman. Shall I cower like a dog before these lowlifes who threaten me?" He did carry a gun and nobody messed with him.

Keith told me about various houses along our routes, including some claimed to have ghostly inhabitants. Ghosts are big in Savannah. Keith said one home "had a lot of heat" in it. Hadn't heard that phrase -- means lots of ghost-energy. Keith said he had had some ghost experiences -- notably the unexplained odor of cigar smoke in the basement of the school building he works in. This is one of his research interests. Churches are another.

Anyway, another good tour. Not only the history, but Keith took me through some scenic squares I hadn't seen before.

Saturday afternoon we went to the Seafood Festival in the riverfront area of Savannah. I had some “wild Georgia Shrimp.” These are taken from the Atlantic Ocean, as opposed to being pond-grown as is most commercial shrimp. We walked the shops on River Street and Susie found a Georgia charm in a jewelry store across from Paula Deen's.

Sunday we're going to attend church at the Wesley Monumental church, then head for Florida.


Rob and Susie

Saturday, November 03, 2007


Savannah – Day 2

Friday, Nov. 2, we started off with a 2.5 hr. Savannah Experience tour. Our driver/guide was a historian named Jefferson Hall (named after a building or a president?) who had worked for the Georgia Historical Society and done Savannah research, so he knew lots of facts and figures. He could quote extensively by memory from journals and reports. He could do voices and dialects. The tour covered not only the historic district, but adjoining districts. These included Victorian and stately, elegant early 20th century neighborhoods, and three or four traditionally black neighborhoods.

(We didn't stop for pictures anywhere, and couldn't shoot through bus windows, but I'm going to insert a few taken at other times, just to give you the Savannah experience.)

Savannah is very much on a restoration wave, both publicly and privately funded, and we saw many examples of this work. Restoration and preservation work started in the 1950s and saved the historic district, and has since grown and spread substantially, especially to the historically black neighborhoods. We got the feeling that Hall’s research had focused on the black districts because he knew a lot about the different cultures (e.g., African vs. Caribbean) and leading figures within these groups.

One story he told us: He and some other history buffs went to SC to visit a former matriarch of one of Savannah’s black districts. She focused her gaze on him and said, I think I know you. Have we met? No, they hadn’t, but she continued to stare at him. She brought his face close to hers and said, Walter Cronkite (in Ethel Waters’ voice)! Bingo: The guide’s father is Bruce Hall, long time CBS newsman who often reported on Walter’s show. The son had a good broadcast voice.

We thought later we should have asked Mr. Hall why he chose to become a tour guide, doing the same tour twice a day, five days a week, when he could have been doing real history work. Well, maybe that’s the answer. Sharing Savannah history, particularly the part that tends to be overlooked, with hundreds of people is more of a service than researching it. And you meet so many interesting people!

Some facts. Georgia was the 13th of the original colonies, coming in, I believe, some sixty years after the 12th (don’t have internet access to look it up). Oglethorpe and the colony’s English administrators established the colony as a haven for the poor and indigent – not quite a penal colony, but peopled by folks from society’s lower rungs. Free passage was provided.

The Georgia Trust Commission, who tried to run things from England, consisted of reformers and they set a few idealistic rules. These included: No hard liquor. No slavery. No Papists. No lawyers. Such rules did not set well with the colonists and traders and did not last long – repealed in 20 years. Our guide indicated, though, that Georgia came relatively late to the African slave trade. Also, there were a substantial number of African-Americans in Georgia pre-emancipation who were not slaves – peaking at 20% in 1810. Records show that some of them owned slaves.

Back to the colonists. Forty families were in the first boatload. The city was laid out with squares that sit astride the cross streets. Around each square were 40 housing lots. Additional squares and (rectangular) neighborhoods were added as Savannah grew. At first the squares were just meant to be open space (our guide called them negative space), but they later became the pocket parks that bejewel the city. There are now 22 or 23 depending on whether you count one that is now a large pit where the city is building an underground parking garage, to be covered, when completed, by a park.

The guide told Wesley’s story and filled in some gaps in the information I had gotten from the internet. He told me that Wesley is highly valued by historians for his journal – it tells not just his story but provides valuable information about the colony and its people, not available elsewhere. Some key people, such as Oglethorpe, did not leave a paper trail.

When we visit new cities we like to get an overview via bus tours. We hit a good one here that provided much depth also.

Tybee Island, about 15 miles east of Savannah, is Savannah’s beach. We went out there for a glimpse of the ocean and lunch at the Crab Shack (Savannah's, not Joe’s). Nice, funky sort of place – given to clever signs such as: We’d like to give you the shirt off our back, but we’d rather you buy a clean one in our gift shop.

Then, back to town, primarily to visit Chippewa Square. Forest Gump was sitting on a bench in this square at the beginning of the movie – while a feather drifted down, wafting around this (freshly repainted, I found out) church steeple. Jeff Easterling’s a big Gump fan, so this was for him.

(Incidentally, Woodrow Wilson was married in this church - a Presbyterian Church.)

Here’s where the Gump bench was – a movie prop, not a fixture here.

Finished the day, as planned, with allyoucaneatcatfish. Another very good day in Savannah.


Rob and Susie

John Wesley in Savannah

John Wesley, founder of the Methodist movement, which became the Methodist Church, came to Savannah in 1736. His brother, Charles, poet and hymnist, came also. They came at the request of General James Oglethorpe who had founded the Georgia colony three years earlier. John, an ordained minister of the Church of England, was the colony’s third minister, Charles was an assistant to Oglethorpe. Things did not work out well and they both returned to England after short stays – Charles just six months after arriving while John returned after just less than two years.

John had become a spiritual advisor to Sophy Hopkey on the voyage over and that developed into a romance, but not to marriage. John didn’t want to marry for fear that it would keep him from his planned mission to the Indians. That didn’t go well either, however, and John’s faith was shaken. He wrote in his journal, "I came to convert the Indians, but, oh, who will convert me?" (John had come to know the Moravians (religious group) on the voyage and admired them and felt he did not have their sure faith.)

Miss Hopkey felt betrayed and embarrassed by Wesley and soon became engaged, then married, four days later, to someone who Wesley deemed unsuitable. Wesley was distraught. From his diary:

"Miss Sophy to be married. Quite distressed. Confounded! Could not pray. Tried to pray, lost, sunk! No such day since I first saw the sun! O deal tenderly with Thy Servant! Let me not see such another!"

Sophy married four days after her engagement. Wesley subsequently refused to serve communion to her. He said she had missed too many services! That led to a lawsuit of defamation brought by Sophy’s husband against Wesley. The chief magistrate was a corrupt man who Wesley had publicly criticized, and also Sophy’s uncle, and he hand-picked a grand jury of Wesley critics. Wesley was indicted, but not convicted. He was replaced as Savnnah’s minister. He had lost face and credibility in Savannah and soon snuck out of Dodge and back to England.

Back in England Wesley attended a Moravian service one night and later famously wrote that he “felt my heart strangely warmed.” On fire for God now, his preaching attracted a large following and thus was the Methodist church born. Wesley’s time in America was not successful, but it was a “dark night” that shaped him for later success.

I quote from a web source: One of his biographers, Robert Wearmouth, concluded: "If, perchance the High Church missionary to Georgia had succumbed to the attractions of Sophia Hopkey, married her as his natural impulses prompted, made a home of her uncle's estate in accordance with that gentleman's wish, there can be no doubt that Methodism, an acorn planted at Oxford, would never have grown into a tree of marvelous stature."

As our guide on our Savannah Experience tour told us, Wesley's time in Savannah can be summarized in two words: "Woman trouble."

There are several Wesley commemorative sites in Savannah. On Cockspur Island near the mouth of the Savannah River is this memorial to the arrival of Wesley in America, Feb. 6, 1736.

The inscription, from his journal, says in part: “Mr. Oglethorpe led us through the moorish ground on the shore to a rising ground. … We chose an open place surrounded with myrtles, bays, and cedars, which sheltered us both from the sun and wind, and called our little flock together to prayers.”

Reynolds Square has this statue of Wesley.

This church, built in the late 1800s, is the Wesley Monumental United Methodist Church. It was built, as the name indicates, to be a monument to John Wesley and his ministry.

We plan to attend a service there this Sunday.

We were vaguely aware of Wesley’s experience in Georgia, but hadn’t planned to explore these Methodist beginnings here in Savannah, or even thought of them, and weren’t aware of how prominently he is recognized here. We’re glad we stumbled upon it -- serendipitous planning is better than no planning at all. It added to the significance of our visit.


Rob and Susie

Friday, November 02, 2007


Savannah - Day 1

We allowed three days for the trip from Luray, VA, to Savannah, GA, but only took two. Nice trip down, particularly I-81 angling SW through the Shenandoah valley. Much of I-77, -26, and -95 through SC, though, were tree tunnels – mostly pines, no fall colors.

Thursday morning, 11/1 (just four years ‘til 11/1/11 – what will we call it – oh-eleven?), I do some internet research on Savannah – looking for things to see and do and places to eat. Just in time planning, I call it. Clary’s for breakfast has hearty recommendations, so that’s where we head mid-morning. I’ve forgotten to bring the GPS, but we find the restaurant anyhow. I get kosher corned-beef hash with eggs; Susie gets fancy oatmeal. Both very good. We see that they have allyoucaneatcatfish on Friday night at another location, so we make our Friday night plans.
After breakfast we check out some of Savannah's squares and scout out the Wesley Monumental United Methodist Church, where we'll probably go Sunday morning. I'm going to do a separate posting on Wesley in Savannah -- not a pretty story, but nevertheless an important part of Methodist heritage. This square, with its park, is across from that church.

We then go back to the RV park to move Tuzi. By getting in a day ahead of our reservation, we had to park one place Wednesday night, then move Thursday pm, which is what we did. Better site in many ways, but no wi-fi access, unfortunately.

Anyhow, we book a city tour for Friday morning and then head for the Wormsloe Historic site that I had learned about that morning. This was the site of a plantation built in 1739. About all I had learned, though, was that it had a 1.5 mile live-oak lined driveway, a portion of which is seen here. Four hundred trees, I believe.

The house and surrounding wall – protection from Indian and Spaniard raiders – were built of a material called “tabby.” Tabby is a mix of equal parts of sand, lime, seashells, and water. Large blocks, about the size of an old-fashioned hay bale are stacked to build walls. Well, over 250 years of rain and humidity are not good for tabby, so what remains now are wall ruins.

In fact, the house was abandoned in the early 1800s. A few artifacts are displayed in the site's museum. A grandson of the original settler built another house, not open to the public, in which family descendants still live.

As we’re wending our way back into the historic downtown area, Susie is browsing a best of Savannah booklet and espies an ad for Paula Deen’s Lady and Sons restaurant. Paula is an Oprahcelebrity and has quite a life story. She spent twenty some years as a recluse, afraid to go out of the house (exercise for readers: what’s that phobia called?). Somehow, cooking got her out of her funk and the rest is history. Our waiter told us that this is the sixth busiest restaurant in the world (I’ll check that out when I get internet access again). They serve about 550,000 diners a year (statistics means never having to say you’re certain – have I told you that before?).

We got there early, but all that was available was bar-seating, but that was OK with us. I had some crab stew that was great, followed by “an old southern favorite,” shrimp and grits. That was good, too. Little nuggets of sausage were hidden in the grits that spiced things up. Susie got chicken pot pie that looked really good, but wasn’t – way too much dark meat. Win some, lose some.

Nice lady from Chicago sat next to us. She was in town to meet her brothers and sisters for a sibling weekend on Hilton Head Island. Susie is great at sharing our life story, which, as it so often does, led to the question: What do you teach? Statistics. Oh, yech, she said – they all do. I offered to give her a 15 minute lecture that would change her view, but she declined. We did get friendly enough, though, that she sent half of her key lime pie slice home with us – maybe for not giving the lecture.
Rob and Susie