Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Honeysuckle Heaven

Watts Bar Lake, Tennessee

We just spent the Memorial Day weekend and the two days preceding it at the Soaring Eagle Campground in Kingston, Tennessee. The Soaring Eagle was actually more like a Hovering Buzzard but it served its purpose which was a place to park Mary where we could hook up and watch the American Idol Finale. Let's hear it for David Cook! Yaaaaaaaaaayyyyyyyy!!!!!!! It was a fun season to watch and we are both glad it is over.

When we first pulled in on Wednesday afternoon we parked Mary and discovered to our dismay that we couldn't get the satellite to lock on or the Fox channel on our antenna. I sunk into the chair in utter despair as John shot out the door and made a run for the office. While he was gone I was bemoaning the fact (to Breezy) that we had not missed on episode of the competition since it got started in January and here we were in the Hovering Buzzard and we would have to read on the Internet about who won and how the two hour finale was the most entertaining and best one ever. Breezy put her chin in my knee and looked at me with sympathy in her big brown eyes. "I guess that's just the way it goes sometimes," I said to her as I hooked her leash on her collar and we went to explore the Hovering Buzzard. We found a pretty park-like area in the back and the Clinch River flowing along the perimeter of the property. Fifteen minutes later we returned to the coach and found that John had put the slide outs back in and was getting ready to move Mary. "Are we leaving?" I asked. "Nope! The nice lady at the office gave us a different space so we have more clearance," he said as he fired her up. We moved and miracle of all miracles we got satellite and Fox! He is a problem solver.

We had spent Tuesday night, that actual final night of the competition in Charlotte where we had dinner with Jason and Jennifer, John's two grown children. We had a wonderful time with them and they spent the evening with us watching American Idol. Jason, with his inventive mind and computer software expertise actually spent the evening attempting to figure out how to write software that would send out millions of votes at a time. Jason is a never ending source of ideas and creativity and more fun that a barrel of monkeys on top of it. So on Wednesday when David Cook won by 12 million votes we both looked at each other and said, "Jason..." and started to laugh.

From Charlotte we drove way out in the country to look at some horses. When I say way out in the country I mean waaaaaaayyyyyyy out in the country. We drove Mary until we found an empty parking area by an abandoned school to leave her. There was plywood over most of the windows so we decided to ignore the sign that said "No unauthorized parking," and "No overnight parking," and "Violators will be towed." We unhooked the Camry and put Breezy in the back seat and away we went. Because Tom Tom was dead we had to find this place Mapquest directions that I had printed out. To get there involved a series of turns on country roads...like a hundred of them. I was afraid that we might not find our way back to Mary before someone had her towed. As I was thinking that John said, "I hope Mary will still be there when we get back." I nodded my head thinking, "IF we get back." We finally found the place and looked at the horses. John was as jumpy as a fart in a skillet and as soon as we saw the last one he blurted out, "Thanks so much for showing us your horses. We have to get back and get on the road." He took off toward the Camry with me running along behind him. We jumped in the car and he threw it in reverse. "How do we get back?" he asked. I got the directions and read them backwards to him as we screamed around corners and ran stop signs. "You know, it would take one of those huge tow trucks to handle Mary," I said bracing myself for the next turn. "Do you think we could slow down to a little UNDER the speed of sound?" He eased up a little bit. We made the final turn on to the four lane highway where the old school was located. When we got within a half mile of the school I was studying the road to find her and I heard John utter, "Oh #@%*&." Use your imagination for the expletive. I looked up and saw a mega sized tow truck, one of those that can handle a semi truck and trailer rig or a D-8 Cat, or a 42 foot Monaco motor coach named Queen Mary, with ease. It was at the intersection just before the driveway to the school. I realized what he was thinking and I started to laugh. I laughed and laughed and laughed until we got to Mary. He hooked the Camry to her in record time and I was still laughing when we pulled out of the school parking lot and headed for Kingston, Tennessee. He failed to see the humor.

Knoxville to Chattanooga and all surrounding areas is the land of the Tennessee Valley Authority and the land of lakes. We learned some things about lakes and lake property while we were in Tennessee. An important one is that some lakes go dry in the winter. So when you receive one of those fliers that tempts you to go and look at lake lots for ten dollars down and ten dollars a month for the rest of your life be sure to ask if the lake remains a lake during the winter or does it turn into a mud hole. Not many people want to look out their window at a mud hole. The nice lady who was showing us property spent some time explaining which lakes stayed full and which ones went dry. We spent time exploring on our own and found west Knoxville and the Kingston, Harriman area to be very pretty. I was totally convinced that it was a perfectly livable area yesterday. We were driving down to look at the Caney Creek Campground to see if it was more pleasant than the Hovering Buzzard when I saw a Starbucks sign for the next exit. "Starbucks!" I hollered. John just rolled his eyes. He thinks I'm a little around the bend about Starbucks coffee. I refuse to apologize for my coffee preferences. He thinks it is an addiction. It is a preference. Never mind that I won't drink anything else except for some coffee that the Arcuris brought us when we were in Oregon. It was every bit as good as Starbucks but you can't find it out here in the eastern part of the country so it is Starbucks or nothing for me. I digress.

The Caney Creek Campground is beautiful and it sits right on the bank of the Clinch river like Hovering Buzzard but it is three and a half miles off of the Interstate. It is quiet. Since we got Mary I've spent so much time sleeping alongside Interstates that I'm not sure if I could sleep where it is quiet. The last truly quiet spot that we stayed was in Las Cruces, New Mexico. That is still my favorite campground of all. The Hovering Buzzard sits where I could literally throw a rock and hit Interstate 40. We love to sleep with the windows open for fresh air so we spent from Wednesday to last night slumbering to the sounds of 18 wheelers. A person can adjust to anything with the right attitude. And Queen Mary.

It is honeysuckle season in Tennessee. Honeysuckle rates as one of my top five favorite scents in the world. Blooming lilac, gardenia, honeysuckle, freshly cut grass (lawn or a hay field) and of course Starbucks coffee round out the top five. Roasting turkey and freshly baked pumpkin pie come in a close sixth and seventh. I guess it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out what my favorite holiday is.

Right now honeysuckle is dripping off of every bush and tree in Tennessee. I couldn't walk ten feet in the wooded area without stopping when I hit a wall of its sweet perfume. The scent was dizzying. It does have a bit of a down side though. John, Breezy and I all spent our days at Hovering Buzzard sneezing and sniffling from the little yellow and white blossoms. They poof out glorious scent while we run for Kleenex and bless each other's sneezes. A multitude of angels got their wings while we camped at Hovering Buzzard.

We are in Kentucky now heading up Interstate 75 for Lexington to unload Mary and give her another brief rest. June will see us in Florida and probably back in Tennessee along with some time at horse shows in the local area. I hope you all had a great Memorial Day weekend!!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Land of Piggly Wiggly

Lake Murray, South Carolina

When I was growing up in rural Oregon (back in the stone age) there was a Piggly Wiggly grocery store about fifteen miles from our house in a little town called Progress. There was a small sign on the county road that said, "Watch Progress progress". Now there is a huge shopping mall, a major highway and tons of strip malls, gas stations, condos, signal lights and tons of traffic. The original Piggly Wiggly shopping complex is still there but the grocery store is gone. Next to the old store was a One Hour Martinizing (for you young 'uns that's a dry cleaners) a pet store that sold tropical fish and also an S&H Green Stamp store. We used to collect S&H Green Stamps, which were distributed by certain retailers and gas stations in proportion to the amount of money you spent at their establishments. They were little olive colored stamps that came in sheets much like the old you-lick-'em postage stamps. S&H Company would give you little booklets in which you could put the stamps and once you collected enough of them you could trade your stamps for merchandise. My sister and I spent many hours licking stamps and placing them on the pages of those booklets. We licked and worked until our tongues stuck to the roofs of our mouths and then poured over the S&H catalog to make our choice. I know One Hour Martinzing and S&H Green Stamps are long gone but to my surprise I've rediscovered Piggly Wiggly in South Carolina! Their slogan is "Shop the Pig and SAVE!". That makes me smile...for some reason. They have the same little friendly pig face for their logo.

We are just leaving Lexington, South Carolina and heading toward Charlotte, North Carolina to see John's two kids, who as he reminds me regularly, aren't kids anymore. Our stay in Lexington was very pleasant. We weren't sure that would be the case when we exited off of I-26 onto US 1 looking for the Barnyard RV Park (I know...what did we expect right?). When I began looking for a place large enough to park Mary I checked the KOA website. No luck. Then I got into the Trailer Life Directory (the phone book sized guide to RV parks across America) and to my surprise there was only one park that would handle Mary. With a name like Barnyard and a location described as "Right behind the Barnyard Flea Market!" I was pretty skeptical. But we had some business in the Columbia area so I called and made a reservation for Sunday and Monday nights. Once we got on US 1 we passed Carolina Pottery, Lowes and then a big flea market and then the neighborhood got a little dicey. We were listening to Tom Tom who was telling us that we were very close to our destination when I spotted the Barnyard Flea Market. It was huge and crawling with people. Flea markets can be pretty cool if they are in the right area. They can also be kind of scary if they aren't. Tom Tom said turn right on Oak Drive but I could see the RV Park sign two blocks down the road. John asked me what we should do. This is the problem with having a GPS unit that you don't trust (or like). Do you listen to it or do you trust your own eyes? I opted for trusting my eyes.

Murphy won that round and Tom Tom was right. I recall telling Tom Tom to shut up when it told us that we had missed our turn. Now I'm feeling a little guilty about that. More on that later. We made the turn by the RV park sign and ended up in the middle of the flea market...on Sunday...at noon. Church was over for a lot of people and I think that they all headed for the flea market to find a good deal because it looked like an ant hill. We could see the park behind the flea market but had to get there without wiping out any fruit stands or blue tarped clothing stores not to mention not making road kill out of any flea marketers. John calmly eased Mary through the crowds (as they looked up at us and scattered), around parked vehicles and by tables and tables of used merchandise while I had my own personal and silent nervous breakdown. I'm learning. Finally we found the entrance to the RV park. The office was closed until 12:30 on Sunday so that gave us a half hour to have some lunch and watch people shop.

Before I booked us in to Barnyard RV Park I checked the Internet to see if I could find any reviews. I found one by a woman who said that she originally was a little daunted when she pulled into the place but found it to be quite pleasant once she was there. That turned out to be an apt description of the place. The flea market only happens on the weekends so by 5:00 on Sunday the place was like a ghost town and the park was quiet. We spent two very nice nights at the Barnyard.

I have to report a casualty. I wish I could say that I'm sad about the passing but I'd be a liar if I did.

Tom Tom died.

I know...you think I killed him. Even though I was the last one to touch Tom Tom before he died I did not do anything to hasten his demise. I swear I didn't. All I did was turn him off. That was it. We made an appointment to see a piece of property on Lake Murray. It was quite a ways out of town so I programmed the address in to Tom Tom. John took him off of his mount in the coach and I carried him to the Camry where we proceeded to get exact directions to our destination. Well...Tom Tom didn't actually have the address that we were going to but he took us within a mile of the place and we used old fashioned Mapquest directions to double check Tom Tom and to find our way for the last mile.
When we got ready to leave I decided to turn Tom Tom back on to reverse our route. I picked him up and pushed the button but nothing happened. Finally I decided that he must have run out of battery charge so I put him down (gently) and we found our way back to Barnyard. John plugged it in and the green light came on but the screen was blank. He let it charge for hours and it still wouldn't turn on. We hunted for a reset button but none was to be found. For 24 hours John fussed with Tom Tom.

The name "Garmin" kept coming up in those 24 hours. It was mentioned three or four times. My hands are clean. I didn't kill Tom Tom. But now I'm not so sure about my husband. I caught him talking on the phone to his son Jason about his Garmin GPS unit. I don't want to think that it is possible that he murdered Tom Tom but when we were looking at the property he disappeared twice to get Breezy out of the car and put her back in. He had the motive. He hated Tom Tom probably as much as I did. And he had the opportunity. He could have dropped Tom Tom into the koi pond until he drowned and then dried him off and put him back in the Camry in the time that it took to take Breezy out for a walk. He could have offed Tom Tom.

I have to admit that I'm not without fault here. I'm guilty of verbal abuse. I cussed that little GPS until on several occasions and as recently as Sunday told it to shut up when it was telling us the correct way to go. I publicly humiliated him on several occasions on this very blog. Perhaps he couldn't take it anymore and just checked out on us. I may bear some responsibility for his death.

Or maybe it was accidental. The little piece of shit suction cup was always coming loose and Tom Tom would fall to the floor of the coach with a crash. Perhaps it took one fall too many.

I guess we'll never know.

This morning I ordered a Garmin Nuvi 660 and had it shipped home. It should be there when we get there on Sunday. For the duration of our trip we will have to find our way around using the laptop. I can deal with it. We found our way out to a local horse farm that way and found our way back. It's amazing how quickly we get dependent on our technology. As much as I cursed the GPS and as unreliable as it was, with Mary we used it as a backup to the laptop to be sure that we would get where we were going...without backing up. When I realized it was dead I had a moment of trepidation. Then we realized with the exception of one side trip out into the country which we will do with the car we will be on interstates for the duration of our trip. I believe that we can handle it.

I said to John this morning that things were going so smoothly with Mary and our travels that soon we would be the ones giving advice to other new coach owners. He pointed out that when that happens we won't have anything to blog about. Not true. No doubt we will continue to have experiences worth writing about. With Murphy as our traveling companion we can't help but to have some interesting encounters. Even without Murphy we are perfectly capable of doing dumb things.

We are now situated at a nice KOA in Fort Mill, South Carolina. It is just over the border from Charlotte. John whipped Mary into her space and within five minutes we were hooked up, set up and leveled. Mary is a miracle machine. And we are doing pretty well with her too. Tonight we will watch the American Idol finale and cheer on David Cook. We will look at some horses in the morning and then we are off to Tennessee for the Memorial Day weekend. I hope you have a terrific weekend. I'll post again after we get settled in Tennessee!

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Off to Asheville

The Biltmore Estate

It's really spring now, as opposed to the false-start spring that we always endure in the mid south. But it is always worth the wait. In Kentucky the foliage is breathtaking, the blossoms on the dogwood trees were more profuse and brighter than I recall ever seeing them and the pastures of the Bluegrass are growing lush and are full of mares with new foals by their sides. Sunny seventy-five degree days are more the norm than not. As much as both John and I are not fans of winter I think we appreciate spring more because of it.

Mary had a nice rest at Prospect Lane in Versailles after we returned from our trip across the country and back. Tre and Emily put down some new gravel for her space next to the barn and John plugged her in and commenced his "piddling" (his description) with her. His first big project was to get her cleaned up. After 7,000 miles of weather and bugs she was pretty disgusting. We immediately eliminated a truck wash (we are talking about MARY here...no truck wash for her) and then discussed finding someone who details vehicles on site but John insisted that he could do it himself. "Are you sure you want to tackle that?" I asked. "Yep," he said with the kind of confidence that told me there was no point in arguing with him. After seeing Mary parked inside of the shop in Wakarusa I was awed (and terrorized) by her size. The difference between washing a car and washing Mary seemed to me to be the difference between washing a car and washing an office building.

John left the house that morning with a lilt in his step. He is very expressive with his body language and there was so much enthusiasm in his gait that I thought maybe it would be enough to get him through the washing project. I went on about my day which after returning from a long absence entails a lot of catching up. I was so busy that I didn't notice until 1:00 that I hadn't heard from him. That is unusual. Normally he will call me in the morning once or twice and if I don't see him at lunch time he calls again in the afternoon. "Hmmm..." I said after looking at my watch. I considered calling him but didn't want to interrupt his work so I moved on with my day. At 3:00 the phone finally rang.

"Hi!" I said. "How did it go?" He groaned. "I've been washing and rinsing for five and a half hours. But she's clean." I held my breath for a beat to stifle a giggle. "I suppose tomorrow's waxing project is out of the question then?" I said. Enthusiasm returned to his voice again. "Nope! Richmond and the guys are going to help me tomorrow." Richmond is Tre's right hand man at Prospect Lane and one of the nicest young men that you would ever want to know. "Did you promise him our first born foal this year?" I asked. "Nope. I told him I would do his colt's tail for free." Ahhh...a good trade. "And the guys?" (Tre's grooms). "I'll pay them," he said. It was a good plan and by the end of the next afternoon Mary was not only clean, she was sparkling.

The next Mary project involved shopping for new toys for her. After staying in campgrounds and RV parks across the country for five weeks John discovered a whole new world of goodies that more experienced fellow coach owners have unearthed. And while washing Mary he discovered some snap receivers that surrounded the windshield and side windows. It was time to call Dennis.

Sidebar: Hi Dennis! We are on the road again so you may hear from us. There has been real progress in our understanding of the coach...so much so that I actually (this is momentous) put The Bible away in the cupboard next to The Super Bible. We been gone for four days and haven't looked at it once!

So after making a few phone calls with questions about water filters and antenna boosters and snap receivers we began receiving daily shipments from UPS, FED EX and the post office. Mary's air conditioner shroud which was damaged by a low branch at the farm in Springfield arrived in a HUGE box. John took it to Richmond at the barn who gave it to a friend of his who owns a paint shop. It came back with a perfect match to Mary's paint. When she is parked she is sporting new sun shades that snap into place covering the windshield and side windows allowing us to see out but blacking out the windows to viewers from the outside. They are really cool. She has new water filters and she is clean inside and out. And the new-Mary-goodies wish list continues to grow.

One of the most enthusiastic (understatement) coach owners that we met while we were away was a guy named Phil. We were in Arkansas at the KOA just getting settled when I looked out the window and saw a Monaco coach pull into the camp ground. "There's a big Monaco pulling in," I say looking out Mary's window. John jumped up and out the door he went. He was gone for about twenty minutes before he returned with Phil in tow. Phil was a big guy with a big voice, a big head with a hole in his haircut and wearing shorts, knee high socks, atheletic shoes and a flowered shirt that stretched around his big middle. After the initial introduction he asked me if I had a checklist for departure, arrival and setup. Puzzled I said, "Yes, I created a list to keep us from doing anything stupid." He announced that he had one too and informed me that we had to exchange lists. I was a little put off by Phil's pushiness. He was more interested in dictating to us about things to do and not do than he was in any kind of conversation about coaching. I did what I do when I encounter someone with frantic know-it-all energy. I withdraw my energy from the conversation so that it peters out fast and they go away. After he left I looked at John and rolled my eyes. "Yeah, I didn't realize until it was too late," he said. Before we left the next day Phil had delivered his "Pre-flight" and "Post-flight" check lists. I consider myself a pretty organized person...not as good at it as I was before middle age memory deficit took over but pretty good. My list is about half of a page long. Phil's list was five pages complete with instructions on filling the fresh water tank half full and dumping a half cup of Calgon water softener in the tank before leaving each destination. As I was reading this bizarre document which included items as basic as closing the door (I can be a little dense at times but we have never driven away from anywhere in any vehicle with the door hanging open) John asked, "What is Calgon water softener?" I shook my head and put the list down. "Nothing that we need to concern ourselves with," I said. I'm still not sure what the purpose of the water softener was but Monaco didn't recommend it so I decided it was probably something that flowered-shirt Phil invented. We ducked Phil for the rest of our stay and drove away without water softener and with our door closed.

Back to Asheville.

Our plan was to leave for Asheville, North Carolina on Monday, May 12th and stay for part of the week. John judged the show last year and we made a trip up to The Biltmore Estate which was a wonderful and amazing experience. If you are ever in the area it is well worth the price of admission. Between trips we were able to watch "John Adams" on HBO (which is a series that I highly recommend...if you are interested in how this country was founded it is a must see) so I have a renewed interest in American history. Consequently we added Colonial Williamsburg and a trip to Monticello to the agenda. Stops at stables along the way were added and the plan was to end up in Pennsylvania at the Devon horse show at the end of May.

At the moment we are still at the Asheville show (its Saturday) and we had to eliminate Devon due to an inablity to find a place to put Mary. We leave for the Columbia, South Carolina area tomorrow to spend a little time around Lake Murray, see some horses in the area and then we'll figure out what the next stop is. We left Lexington a day later than planned due to some bad weather and Donnie Brookshire met us here in Asheville on Wednesday for a visit and to see the show. We ate our way through Asheville (Brookie is the best person on the planet to eat with because he is a foodie...an adventurous food lover and head chef of Chez Brookshire) while he was here and we shared some good laughs.

I've finally given up on driving Mary for this year. I figure it will probably take that long for the "new toy-ness" to wear off. Then there is the navigation issue. From the time that we begin our trip until we stop I'm engaged in navigation and various other duties. Those involve several things; maping distances, researching addresses, programming the useless piece of shit to see if by some miracle it has our destination in its data base, giving "all clears" during turns and stops, locating truck stops and rest areas and calculating distances to the next one, researching and booking spaces for Mary, researching possible future destinations and answering any of a thousand"I wonder..." questions that happen to come up for either of us. It's busy work. I couldn't do most of it without my laptop and the trusty air card. I try to take breaks to enjoy the scenery, make lunch, refresh water, lemonade or what ever the refreshment of choice is as we travel. So I have an important function. Breezy is the comfort dog. She provides blood pressure control (petting her regularly keeps it steady) maintains calm when we lose it in a crisis and makes sure that we stop and get out for fresh air and walks at regular intervals. She has a very important function. So for this year I'll stop complaining about not driving. I'm confident that in a pinch I could get us from point A to point B. I may take out a few cars, light poles and put a few dents in Mary and/or the Camry but we would get there.
I'll post again once we get to Lake Murray. It is a gorgeous day here in Asheville, which is a gorgeous part of the world, so I think I'll get outside and enjoy it. I hope your Saturday was a good one!