Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Great and the Ugly

Earlier this week, we boarded our two cats in Albuquerque and flew to Jacksonville, North Carolina, to attend the retirement ceremony for our older son, Doug, at Camp Lejeune Marine Corps Base. Doug joined the Marines about one month after graduating from high school. In 23 years he rose to the rank of Master Sergeant, serving in Somalia, Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom. Since we last saw Doug and his wife, Sherry, and two daughters, Rachal and Samantha, a little over two years ago, Doug spent a year in Iraq.

We were so proud to hear his career praised during the retirement ceremony. He has served his country with honor through these years. It was very moving. One portion of the event included a poem in praise of “Old Glory,” our United States flag, and concluded with the passing of a folded flag in a ceremony called “Keeping the Watch.” It brought tears to our entire family as it ended by saying, “you are relieved of the watch.”

In addition to the retirement, our trip gave us some precious time with our two granddaughters. They have grown and matured so over two years. We were able to attend an award ceremony at Hunter Creek Elementary where Rachal received a writing award. Sami showed us how she bowls with their Wii.

Three other family members also attended the retirement. Doug’s aunt and uncle, John and Cindy, and our younger son, Eric, had all been present in San Diego in 1986 when Doug graduated from boot camp. We all gathered again for his retirement. We had great family time with them, as well.

This picture shows Eric, me and John, Doug, Cindy and John.

The ugly part of our trip was the Wednesday flight from Albuquerque to Jacksonville. We arrived at the Albuquerque Sunport at 7 am for our 8:40 am flight. Departure time was postponed several times as repair of a leak was attempted. About 11 am gate agents suggested everyone come to the desk to make other flight arrangements, since they expected the flight would be cancelled—the third Delta flight of the morning to be aborted. At 11:55 am we sprinted from that gate down the concourse to an American Airlines gate where the flight was to depart at 12:10 pm for Dallas.

In Dallas we sprinted to another gate to catch a Delta flight to Atlanta. In Atlanta we hurried from one concourse to another to catch an 8:40 pm flight to Jacksonville. We had originally anticipated arriving in North Carolina at 5:12 pm. It was a long, grueling day, but worth every bit of the hassle for the great time we had in North Carolina.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Rally is Over

        The Rally is over.  After doing our weight training, we hooked up and left about 9 am.  A good number of people left yesterday afternoon.  Some were driving out at 6 this morning. 


        Sunday we didn't go into the exhibits at the Expo Center.  Instead, after a leisurely morning of worship and a good lunch, we drove to the Rio Grande Nature Preserve State Park along the Rio Grande River.  We were able to walk over two miles on the trails there.  We saw a Coopers Hawk and watched the muddy Rio Grande flowing by.  Friday's rain probably caused the mud.


        Monday we returned to The Rally with a vengeance.  At 8:30 in the morning we attended a seminar on electrical basics.  At 10:30, I went to a seminar on managing digital photos with Picasa; John went to one showing the many ways Velcro (hook and loop tape) can be used in an RV. In between the two seminar sessions, we bought extended service plans for both our RV and tow vehicle from the Good Sam Club.  We shopped some more, buying Velcro, a water pressure gauge and some picture frames that stay on the walls as we travel.


        We are glad we came to The Rally.  It was good to have so many vendors in the same area and the seminars we attended were helpful.  But we probably won't do another rally this way.  A big focus of the rally is socializing, being with people.  That really isn't our thing.  We rarely attend anything in the evening, so the nighttime entertainment was wasted on us. 


        If we attend another rally, we will stay in a nearby RV park and come in for a couple of days to shop and attend seminars.  We had to come here to learn what is valuable to us and what is not.


Saturday, April 18, 2009

The Rally Begins

We're about done with day 2 of The Rally, an annual gathering of RVers from around the country, sponsored by Affinity, a holding company that owns Trailer Life, Good Sam Club, Camping World and other associated businesses.

We arrived about 10 on Friday and found signs and volunteers along the streets, directing us to the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta Park, where all RVs are parked and the evening entertainment tent is located. Arrival times are staggered and we were part of the group that was to pull in between 8 am and noon on Friday.

The line ahead of us was short, but it didn't move too fast because we were being assigned spaces one after the other and all sites were back-in. That takes skill and time in the best of conditions, and because some of the rigs on the opposite row still hadn't pulled out their tow vehicles, the driveway was narrow. But we only were really delayed by one driver who couldn't seem to get his rig in the right place.

I don't know how many RVs have come to the show, but there are acres and acres of while metal boxes (plus a few in shades of brown). Many sites have electricity. A smaller number are for those who chose to dry camp and use their own generator. By the way, they also saved $150 for the four nights of the rally. We thought electricity and the quiet of no generators was worth the expense.

After set up and a quick lunch, we walked over to the shuttle stop. Small trailers with seats and a canopy are picking up people all over the grounds and taking them to the "bus station" where buses would take us the 10 miles or so to the Albuquerque Expo Grounds. That is where all the exhibitors are located and seminars held. The weather was cold and there were intermittent showers. Everyone accepted the cold with good humor. When the wait for a bus lasted over 45 minutes, there were some grumbles. On our return the wait was over an hour and many (including us) were saying we'd drive our own vehicle on Saturday.

We walked through all of the indoor exhibit space Friday afternoon. It was busy and there is too much to absorb. But we bought a grill shield so it will be easier to cook outside in the wind. We also picked up a new patio mat for outside the rig.

Overnight it rained until at least 2 am. But this morning we awoke to sunshine and puddles. First thing, we acted like real RVers. We drove to a nearby Cracker Barrel Restaurant for breakfast. I think most RVers eat out most of the time. We rarely go to a restaurant. But this seemed like the time to do it.

We drove to Expo Center, along with many others. As we left the Balloon grounds I saw eight buses waiting to pick up riders and a bus would leave whenever it had loaded whoever was there for a ride, not waiting till it was full. We probably should have driven ourselves yesterday and ridden the bus today.

I attended a seminar on extended service or warranty insurance that was very helpful. John picked up literature on RV generators and looked at other booths. After checking out a model trail exhibit and some vintage vehicles and RVs, we headed back about 1:30 pm.

The rally lasts through Monday evening. How many more things can we buy?

Thursday, April 16, 2009

It's Rented!

        Since 2003 we have been spending several months a year in our 5th wheel trailer.  That year we were out almost five months.  Since then, it has been six, seven or eight months.  We spent five months traveling to Alaska.  We toured the Maritime Provinces.  Last year we spent five months in Oregon. 


        For at least the last two years, our stick house in Centennial has felt like an albatross—we had to return to clean leaves out of the gutter, do interior maintenance, make sure everything was OK.  We worried about it when we were gone.  Then, we returned to the house and wondered what on earth we needed all that space and all that "stuff" for. 


        On top of all that, it seemed like very bad stewardship of the wonderful resources God had given us to leave that investment empty most of the year.  Each year it made more sense to put that investment to work for us.


        Last fall we decided we would rent our house in Centennial and live on the road full-time.  We returned there in November and put all our energy into paring down, putting what we wanted to keep into storage and preparing the house for rent.  Our son Eric, who lives nearby and is experienced at managing rental property, was to be our manager.


        In January we started advertising the place for rent.  Finally, today, we have a lease agreement for two years!  They will move in May 1.  We can now really say we are full-timers because we don't have a house to return to or worry about.  The rent will cover the expenses of home ownership—taxes, insurance, home owner association dues, storage fees—and give us some extra income.  We are delighted and feel really free.


        And now Eric just has to collect the rent and deal with any repair issues.  He doesn't have to schedule appointments to show the house—which often results in a no show—or deal with people whose credit is so bad they couldn't pay the rent for a year, no matter how much they wanted to.




Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Wind, Wind, Go Away!

Otherwise, its here we stay.

And stay we did. We had planned to leave Holbrook today and go to Grants, NM. But there was a high wind warning posted for the area and so we decided to wait it out here. We are really glad we did. There were sustained winds of 40 to 45 mph and gusts of 55 to 65 mph. It isn't much fun to sit here in the RV while the wind blows that way. It even blew one of the boards out from under a rear stabilizer. But it would be even less fun to try driving east on I-40. We wonder how many RVs are pulled off along the road because of the wind. As we looked out our windows, the sky was brown with blowing dust. The power is going on and off and the trailer is shaking side to side. It was scary at times. We are doing our best not to even go outside today. And this evening we have had some light snow showers.

Yesterday we visited Petrified Forest National Park. It includes the Painted Desert. I don't know what I expected. In places there are hills and valleys of many-hued sand. Often, these areas have a lot of petrified wood. What surprised me were the large expanses of regular desert—no sand, no petrified wood, no color. We drove through and/or stopped at almost every overlook and it took us 3 to 3½ hours to see everything.

The two most interesting areas were the Painted Desert near the Painted Desert Inn and the Crystal Forest. A close third was Blue Mesa.

A lonely Indian Paintbrush struggles in the Painted Desert.

These rocks make me think of Tiddly Winks. Remember them?

The Painted Desert Inn was built to serve the needs of Route 66 travelers. In the 1930s, the CCC rebuilt it in Southwestern style. The interior murals were painted by a noted Hopi artist.

One of the CCC workers painted the panels of the skylight.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Leaving the Desert

Today we left the desert and drove through the White Mountains to Holbrook, AZ. After two and one-half months in the desert, we felt at home as we drove through juniper and pine and on curving, steep roads. The Salt River Canyon is really impressive—both the scenery and the road grades. We are so grateful for our heavy duty Chevy diesel truck and for the fact our trailer is not overloaded. We were able to use cruise control the whole way and had no problem with overheating. So often we read about other RVers having those problems.

As we prepared to leave this morning, we had to check out the inside of our trailer kingpin—we had seen finches flying in and out recently. Sure enough, I pulled out a small nest with maybe four or five tiny baby birds. We couldn't leave them in the hitch—they would starve since the parents wouldn't stay there as we drove. I placed the nest in a tree. I sure hope the mom and dad find their babies. This made us very sad. Next time we park for a long time, we will cover the kingpin opening.

Yesterday the community of Coolidge held a sunrise worship service in the picnic ground at Casa Grande Ruins. We attended and enjoyed watching the sun come up after a day and half of rain (we received ¼ inch, the first in nearly two months). The music was provided by local country and western artists. Pastors from the Methodist and Presbyterian churches led the worship. Youth from the Church of the Nazarene did a liturgical dance.

As we drove through Globe, the streets were lined with brightly blooming orange poppies. They are so beautiful. Since this picture was taken from a moving car, it is blurred, but at least you can see the color of the flowers.

We are spending two nights in Holbrook and will visit Petrified Forest National Park tomorrow. We aren't the only people on our way to the RV rally in Albuquerque. When we checked in—we had made reservations—the manager said the park was almost totally reserved for the night. People are heading to the rally. For over an hour this afternoon, we watched a continuous line of four or more RVs waiting to register. Since there are still lots of empty spaces, we should see more lines a little later.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Last Week at Casa Grande Ruins

This was our last week at Casa Grande Ruins the year. One of our projects the last two weeks was assembling thank-you plaques to be given to people who were involved with the American Indian Music Fest that was held here in February. It took place before we came. Last week, we glued the print of the festival poster on the plaques. This week, we drilled holes to install hooks to attach the small flutes to the plaques.

It was a fun project and we felt good about what we accomplished. And we look forward to attending the Festival next year, when we return to volunteer January to April.

April is when we celebrate Earth Day, so we thought picking up trash on the edge of the Ruins grounds would be a good activity this week. There is a small shopping center across the street from the monument entrance. It includes two fast-food restaurants. That leads to lots of napkins, food wrappers and Styrofoam cups to blow around in the frequent Arizona wind storms. We filled four bags with trash in two mornings.

We will stay here till Monday morning, and then head to Albuquerque, where we will attend "The Rally," an annual gathering bringing together RVers from all over the country. We have never attended one before, so we don't know what to expect. I'll tell you about it next week.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Arizona Grapefruit

I don't often buy grapefruit or oranges. I do drink orange juice. But since we arrived in Arizona in early February, I have wondered what one of those fruits would taste like it I picked it off the tree.

I still don't know. But we have been eating local grapefruit. For the last three weeks we have attended the coffee hour after the 10 am service at St. Michael's Episcopal Church in Coolidge. Each week, there on the table was a large crate of grapefruit. So we took a couple of the ruby reds home and enjoyed them. What a treat! Today, when I took two, the man who grew them said, "Please take more." I didn't, but before next week I will ask those we work with here if they would like us to pick up some for them, as well. I want to be sure they will find a home. I don't want to be responsible for the fruit being wasted.

Fresh ruby red grapefruit is great!

Saturday, April 04, 2009

St. Anthony's Monastery

Today we made a delightful visit to Saint Anthony's Greek Orthodox Monastery,, located about 20 miles from Casa Grande Ruins, about 8 miles south of the town of Florence.

In July 1995, five fathers came to the barren Sonora Arizona desert from Mount Athos, Greece, and began working to build St. Anthony's. Within five years, the brotherhood had increased to 30 fathers.

The monks welcome pilgrims and visitors to visit, offering the traditional kerasma (water and something sweet) and answer questions. The monastery buildings and grounds are stunning. The gardens are a mixture of desert plants and imported ones. The buildings are elaborate, each a different style. All of the icons, many of the furnishings have been imported from Greece.

Rather than have this post run forever, I have put a few (only 16 of the nearly 200 we took today) photos in a slide show. I hope you enjoy the gardens, the holy places, the beauty and the whimsy in what you see.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Thank-yous and Flames

Last week we led two groups of 4th graders from the St. Peter's Indian Mission School on a tour of the Ruins. When we arrived at work on Monday this week we found a stack of thank-you notes from the boys and girls. It really warmed our hearts to read comments such as:

"I hope I see you some time next time."

"Thank you for being nice to me."

"I had lots of fun."

"God bless you."

"I hope you have a good day."

"I really loved it."

Their notes had either colored pictures of Casa Grande Ruins or their own drawings on the front.

One day last week we hiked on Picacho Peak. The small mountain is an old volcanic deposit and is located in an Arizona State Park. It was a nice hike. There are lots of Saguaro cacti on the hillside. Here and there we saw what looked like bright red bursts of flame. But it wasn't a wildfire starting on the peak, it was the flowers on the Ocotillo. They are so pretty.

This is a photo of the lower part of Picacho Peak.

These are the flames we spotted.