"Not all those who wander are lost" J.R.R. Tolkien

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

On the Move

Today we head south.  Not south enough, however, to live in the RV yet.  The boys have never had Christmas at my parents in Wyoming so we thought it would be nice to make that happen before they start college.  My parents run a small cattle ranch and they have an extra house where we will stay.  I know, who has an extra house?  Out there, in the middle of nowhere, it's not uncommon and it comes in handy for hunters and long term guests you don't want live with.  They are also renovating it for themselves as a sort of pre-retirement project.  Since we've been living in 300 square feet since June it will be nice to have a bit of space.  Did I mention there is no cell phone service, no telephone, no computer access and no television? My parents do have phone, tv and computer in their own home but, are you ready, it's dial up!  They literally cannot get anything else because they are so remote.  And forget about cell phone.  My mom has called me from her cell phone by standing in the back of the truck.  One time Donald made a call in the dead of winter and he had to find a hill, in a snowstorm, surrounded by cattle.  If Donald's iPhone functions there, I think
AT&T should do a commercial!

Let me paint a geographic picture of how remote we will be for the next month.  60 miles to the nearest Happy Meal.  110 miles to the nearest mall.  Shoot, it's 30 miles to the nearest gallon of milk, which can be found in the town where I went to high school.  Go Tigers!  We will be a mile from my parent's house and about seven miles from Grandma Ruth, the closest neighbor.  There is a small town 10 miles away but it only has one bar, one church, one post office and one tiny, two room school where I attended from 3rd-6th grade.  You can get educated, drunk, churched and post a letter but that's it! 

Inconvenient?  If you run out of milk, definitely.  Disadvantages?  Nope.  It is a beautifully barren countryside that is so quiet you can hear the grass blow in the breeze.  Not kidding.  Deer and antelope come into the yard frequently, along with the odd bobcat, porcupine, raccoon and other critters.  The coyotes will put a chill down your spine if you are fortunate enough to hear one howl.  The natural land formations are striking along the skyline, some resembling distant castles and towers.  I have never seen a more open sky, especially at night when the moon and stars are so close you can reach out your hand and almost touch them.  It is a place where boys can be boys, the way God intended.  Dirty, wild, noisy and happy.

It's a place where people know me and where change is slow.  I may run into my Sunday school teacher in the grocery store and a friend's mom in the hardware store.  They will coo and cluck over my boys and they will be reminded of me, at the same age.  I will see children I used to babysit with children of their own.  I will read the once-a-week paper, all 10 pages, and I will inadvertently proofread it because it will be awful!  My family will eat in the diner that has changed owners many times but still has the best chicken-fried steak in town. 

This where we will be for the next month, in the middle of nowhere but among family and friends and all that is familiarly "home."

Friday, November 26, 2010

Black Friday

My eyes popped open at 3:30 this morning.  I tried convincing them to close again but they didn't agree.  I gave up at 4:15 and decided to join the rest of the crazy people for a little Black Friday madness.  I've never really participated in Black Friday so I thought I would see what all the fuss is about.  Well, in truth, I think my aunt and I ventured out when I was a poor college kid but it was probably looking rather than shopping.  Doesn't really count.

I put my furry hat on, brushed my teeth, made a portable cup of coffee and stealthily tried to avoid six dogs.  Once outside I took a deep breath of the silent mountain air, filled with falling snow, and I smiled.  The world just felt right!  What could be better than sneaky Christmas shopping in the middle of the night when it's snowing?  The answer:  John Denver and the Muppets wishing me a merry Christmas on the radio when I started up the truck!

The first two stores had people lined up outside and I saw no reason to stand outside with a bunch of cold strangers.  I drove on to Target where I found a very organized madhouse.  I actually saw people with walkie talkies and many people had been shopping since midnight!  As a general rule I don't really like shopping, whether it's Good Friday or Black Friday; I'm sort of a "have a list, bag it and bring it home" kind of girl.  I had the boys' wish lists but I wasn't really aiming for anything in particular which seems the best way to avoid the stress and disappointment that many shoppers seemed to be experiencing.  Of course, their lack of sleep was likely a contributing factor.  I found a few things, moved through the ridiculously long line fairly quickly and made my way to K-Mart and Shopko, finding a few items at each store.  All in all it was relatively inexpensive, definitely painless and sort of fun.  I enjoy being totally alone and I really like it when I am anonymously surrounded by strangers who don't know me and want nothing from me.  I enjoyed smiling at clerks and telling them "Good Morning."  Most people seemed in good cheer and the whole experience left me feeling full of Christmas spirit, singing my fool head off in the truck on the way home.

I can't say that I am a Black Friday convert and that I'll do it every year; I didn't really see a huge amount of price difference to make the early hour worth it.  It was fun, though, to have most of my shopping done before my family was even out of bed!  Now I just have to get it all wrapped before anyone sees it!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

Good news to report - there was no damage to any of our water lines and the dealer was able to winterize the RV.  Donald's parents have graciously allowed us to stay longer so we don't have to worry about our heat running out in the middle of the night.  This means I have resumed sleeping; there is something soporific about knowing I will wake up warm when it is minus 8, as it was this morning!  We will probably leave it winterized until we head south to a warmer climate.

This Thanksgiving I am thankful for my RV, even with its crazy learning curve, because it represents our Big Adventure.  I am thankful for warmth and running water.  I am thankful that my family is still whole; it has been a long year but we have seen God's hand upon our lives and we remain confident that He has a plan for us.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 22, 2010

The morning began well; we had both heat and water.  I know because I have been awake since 3:30 this morning, listening to the beautiful sound of my furnace cycling on and off.  I was able to brush my teeth inside the RV for a change and I had plenty of water for tea.  It was shaping up to be a wonderful day.

The blow came after Donald did his morning round of checking the outside affairs of the RV.  He came inside, cheeks red and glasses fogged, and announced, "We have two choices.  We either head south or we winterize."  There was four inches of new snow, with more falling, and a mountain pass to cross; the choice seemed pretty obvious.  Everything seemed frost free inside the heated underbelly but the tank drain (which hangs outside the heated area) was frozen solid.  Pretty big problem when you have black and gray tanks that need to be drained every few days.

If you've never had to help your husband hitch up your house in a 10 degree snow storm, well, you're just missing out on all kinds of fun!  Welcome to life in the Twist family!  The RV is currently at the dealer, thawing out so they can winterize it.  Apparently we did have a couple of frozen lines; we are crossing our fingers there is no damage.  We are currently at my in-laws for the night.  This is no small favor as we bring two dogs and children to add to their four English Setters.  The worst part of the day was going back to the campground and discovering the boys bikes were gone.  Somebody probably thought we forgot them since our site was empty.  Hopefully when we bring the RV back tomorrow they will return them but until then we have a fairly distraught 8 year old on our hands.  He actually cried when hearing the news because his bike had been a birthday present a couple of years ago. 

I'm pretty excited that I might actually sleep tonight since freezing is no longer an imminent threat.  I'd sleep really well if my Broncos actually beat the Chargers but it's not looking so well for them.  Tomorrow I have to figure out how to live in an RV without water.  I will look to the Pioneers for inspiration.  And maybe keep an eye out for some chamber pots!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Surprise Reprise

I'm beginning to take warmth and running water a little less for granted these days.  I woke this morning fully expecting all our problems to have vanished as a result of our efforts yesterday.  My morning pot of tea makes my world go 'round and at 6 am I discovered that once again, we had no water. No water = No tea.  Second day in a row.  I really think my husband is going to get tired of me waking him at ridiculous hours to deal with heating and plumbing issues simply because I can't see straight without tea. 

The hose that we so lovingly wrapped twice yesterday did not do its job.  After pondering the problem, which probably took longer given my lack of liquid stimulation, I realized that the heat tape works on a thermostat which was placed on the end of the hose that is inside the heated RV chamber; the heat tape didn't come on and our hose was hosed, as the Canadians would say.  The quick answer was to obtain a short length of hose to fit inside the heated area and attach the heated hose to it, outside the RV.  After driving around to multiple stores with no luck we procured a four foot hose from my father in law.  We now have running water again but we are tentatively holding our breath. 

I feel a little nervous because the temperature is supposed to be 14 below on Tuesday night.  Our RV is only tested to 0.  We are plenty warm inside but we are speeding through propane at about a tank every couple of days which is a large, unforseen expense.  We really have no choice because it is the only thing keeping the tanks from freezing; we just hope it is enough in the coming days. 

On a lighter note, I forgot to mention another surprise from yesterday.  When we were retracting our slide outs in preparation to take the rig to the dealer a huge chunk of ice fell off the top and landed squarely on our black water drain hoses.  The drain hoses are made of plastic which is terribly brittle in this cold so they cracked in multiple places.  Frozen sewage, resembling a root beer slushie, fell on the ground.  Boy, was that fun to try to deal with!

Oh, the learning curve with owning an RV!  This weekend's lessons are:  never leave your black water hoses out in freezing weather and you will do everything at least twice before you get it right.   It boggles my mind when I think of all the wisdom we will glean from this experience concerning things I never knew I would want to know!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Saturday Surprises

I suspect I am not alone in the universe when I reveal that I prefer life when all goes according to plan.  When curve balls are thrown, one after another, I tend to get a bit rattled.  Today was supposed to be a relaxing Saturday; Donald making pancakes, boys in their underwear watching cartoons and jumping horses with my father in law. 

After spending two hours awake in the middle of the night for no real reason I slept in until about 7 when I realized the RV was quite chilly, a sure symptom of an empty propane bottle.  I did the wise thing and woke my loving spouse to deal with the problem.  It was, after all, 17 degrees outside.  I set to making coffee and tea and very quickly realized we had no water.  And our water pump was making very sickly sounding noises.  The only thing we could do was spend two caffeine-less hours waiting for the RV to warm up and for the Flathead Valley to open up shop so someone could tell us what our problem was.  I brushed my teeth outside in the cold and we ate yogurt so we didn't have dishes.  Luckily, our first call found us a Heartland dealer.

When normal families have plumbing issues they call a plumber, right?  Not us.  We have to pack everything, hitch our house to a truck and haul the house to the plumber.  The dealer told us that our water pump went bad but is under warranty.  Hooray!  The bad news was that our water tank was frozen.  They recommended that we build a Tyvek skirting around the RV to keep out the wind.  We do have a sealed, heated underbelly but with all this cold weather they wanted us to stay unfrozen.  So we trooped to Home Depot and bought heat tape and insulation to keep our hose warm and four huge sheets of Tyvek with which to wrap the RV.  By 2 pm we had our house parked back in its spot and everything unpacked and back in place.  By 3 we were fighting the 19 degree wind and whipping snow in order to measure and cut the Tyvek.  We were also fighting each other.  I will freely admit that I don't do so well when I am cold and by this time I had lost all feeling in my fingers, even in their gloves.  There is also something quite harrowing about the idea of my house freezing and I was near tears.  The Tyvek wouldn't stay in place and, by the way, duct tape doesn't stick in sub-freezing temps.  We gave it up, shoved the supplies in the RV and went back to Home Depot. 

Home Depot offered several suggestions which sent us to two other stores, fighting the wind and snow all the while.  On a positive note, I did find a Dyson vacuum on an amazing sale!  I'll be hauling it to Wyoming for my mom!  After visiting the last two stores and comparing advice we went with the path of least resistance:  use the heat tape on a specialized hose covered in insulation, drain any unneeded tanks and pray our heated underbelly does the job!

We got back to the RV at 4 with the temperature dropping and the snow still blowing.  It took twenty minutes to wrap the hose and then we realized we started at the wrong end and had to cut all the tape off and start over.  At this point it was almost humorous that we had to start over on the hose; it seemed about par for the day.  After everything was taped and wrapped, the tanks drained and the end in sight, I managed to walk straight into an overhanging edge of the RV.  I was knocked to my knees, my teeth were rattled and I literally saw stars.  The only thing that saved me from stitches was the goofy fur hat I'd been wearing since 9 am. 

We managed to get to my inlaws by 6 pm, only 11 hours after the day began.  The boys barely blinked when we walked in; they'd been watching cartoons with Grandma all day so they were happy as clams.  Better that than being dragged by their parents to every store in the Flathead Valley that had anything to do with RV parts.  The best part of the day was hot, crispy, gooey lasagna that I didn't have to make.  God Bless mothers in law!  For now the RV is warm and thawed but the temperature is supposed to be sub zero by Tuesday.  Everyone out there say a warm prayer for us.  And if you decide to live in an RV full time, go to Florida.  Or Arizona.  This is not the time of year to visit the Rocky Mountains, no matter how magical they look in the snow! 

By the way, does anyone need four sheets of Tyvek?

Friday, November 19, 2010

Face(book)ing Rejection

I am not a techy girl.  I didn't have email until after the turn of the century and I refused to order online until I moved to a remote island overseas and it became a necessity.  I have sent approximately 15 texts in my life; 12 in the last two weeks.  I can barely find my phone because I think it is a nuisance.  I wrote my dissertation entirely in pencil before I ever sat down to type.  I ignored all Facebook friend requests for years until last December when, kicking and screaming, my friend Kellianna handed me my big girl panties and made me a Facebook account.  I sort of got into it, meaning, I checked it every few days and posted something once or twice a week.  Maybe. 

I'm slowly getting into the turn of the century with this blog and then, a couple of days ago, I tried to access my Facebook account only to find that my account has been cancelled.  No warning.  No polite email with an explanation.  As best as I can figure, Facebook doesn't like pseudonyms.  How do they know Jane Austen wasn't my real name?  I have very legitimate reasons for not using my real name.  This is like the digital equivalent of being flipped the bird.  I'm confident I can withstand the rejection and I'm not going to re-do my account.  To my whopping total of 29 Facebook friends, this is your explanation as to why I no longer exist.  I didn't drop of a mountain cliff or fall into Flathead Lake.  I've just been rejected by the world's largest social networking site.  After I'm done crying perhaps I'll figure out a way to write my blog with a pencil!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

English Riding

Back in (a different) Saddle Again

Today I am saddle sore.  The muscles between my lower back and my knees have that pleasantly sore sensation that tells me I got a good workout yesterday by using muscles that I don't always use.  I grew up on a ranch and had a horse of my own but haven't actually been on one since college.  Everyone I knew was involved in 4-H and we showed our horses at the county fair every year, not to mention riding for regular ranch work and sometimes just for fun. 

My father-in-law, who has been crafting western saddles by hand for nearly 50 years, has recently taken up English riding and he invited me to go along yesterday.  Of course, I knew right away the saddles would be different.  No saddle horn, for one.  Different stirrups and leg position.  How hard can that be? 

It was different enough that I almost felt like I'd never been on a horse!  First let's talk about the horse itself.  Madeline was HUGE!  I've been on American Quarter Horses which lend themselves to being really tall sometimes but they are also sleek and slim.  Madeline had a back end that needed a wide load sign.  When we put the saddle on her it looked as ridiculous as a party hat on an elephant.  Her neck is broad and her face is wide and the muscle definition in her hind quarters is massive.  She's about the equine equivalent of a body builder.  Earl, my father-in-law, told me that Madeline will jump higher than I am brave enough to try!  I was a bit nervous. 

Getting in the saddle was pretty familiar.  It felt pretty good and there is nothing like the smell of a horse to lift your spirits.  Once Earl began to instruct me all familiarity ended.  With English riding the reins are held in two hands and need to be kept tight and all direction is done with applying pressure with your knees.  I grew up with holding reins loosely in the left hand and my horse would move with barely any movement. Getting used to an entirely different reining technique was the hardest part for me!  I'm amazed that I haven't ridden in about 18 years and yet I can't get my brain wrapped around a new reining technique.  After many laps of walking, trotting, and some cantering (loping in the western world) and lots of instruction, Earl asked me if I wanted to jump.  My palms immediately began sweating.  The only thing I ever jumped was an occasional creek or ditch, nothing that was raised off the ground.  Being highly competitive I asked him if he jumped on his first day.  Being highly competitive as well he replied in the affirmative.  So I knew I had to give it a try.

Fortunately, Madeline knows what she's doing.  It was also clear that she knew that I didn't.  I was pretty nervous because Earl fired off another string of instructions specific to jumping.  It's not like you can do a jump in slow motion and practice each step.  Either you apply them all or you fall off.  At a good stiff trot we took all three jumps in the middle of the arena.  My foot came out of the stirrup somewhere between the first and second jump and when the third jump came I really thought I was going over her head.  Madeline isn't all that tall but I certainly wouldn't want to land under her considerable weight.  I squeezed with all the thigh muscles I could find and stayed on.  I'm sure it wasn't pretty but completing the three jumps was an amazing feeling; I can see why Earl got hooked and keeps going back, despite having broken his pelvis this summer and his arm this fall.  I get nervous thinking about jumping again; trying to remember everything is nerve wracking.  However, I have a good teacher and at least he'll know what to do if I get hurt!

Snow, Snow, Snow, Snow!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Big Sky Country

Montana is one of the most beautiful places I have been.  Donald's parents live in the Flathead Valley, not far from Flathead Lake, the largest natural lake west of the Mississippi.  The valley and lake are named for the Flathead Indians who once called this area home.  Being a valley, the Rocky Mountains surround us and from our RV we can see the Big Mountain in Whitefish, a world class ski resort where our boys are itching to try snowboarding.  In the summer those mountains are visible long into the fading twilight, resplendently purple and blue.  In the winter they look just like Christmas should look, evergreen and covered with snow. 

The boys had a blast playing with the inch or so of ground cover when we arrived in Bozeman on Saturday. We left Bozeman on Sunday morning in a light snow. We traveled through several mountain passes and encountered light snow most of the way, nothing hazardous, just pure magic.  If you have never seen snow falling in the Rocky Mountains you are missing something something almost indescribable.  As we were driving along on Sunday the boys and I took turns breaking into the song from White Christmas:  "Snow, snow, snow, snow!"  Donald spent a lot of time rolling his eyes but he is still twitching from having to listen to the State Fair soundtrack at 6 am when we drove across Iowa.  We just ignore him!

Upon arrival we settled the RV and headed over to my in-laws.  Again, there is just something slightly magical about arriving at grandma and grandpa's house near the holiday season when there is snow in the mountains.  We were greeted with the particular Twist family scent of something delicious in the oven and the tang of Grandpa's leather shop.  Mmmmmm.  Home. 

Yesterday saw us moving our household goods for the third time in six months.  We have got to be crazy people!  This time the grandparents helped us and, despite general complaints about working conditions and a really late lunch at Charlie Wong's, we emptied our truck in about three hours.  There were a few casualties to our furniture but mostly just some friction burns on some of the antique pieces.  I can rub them out and refinish them.  The saddest casualty was a broken leg on an antique barley twist legged buffet.  When it is time to settle down and unpack I am confident it can be mended.

We finished the unpacking just in time for some really nasty weather to set in.  We only saw the mountains yesterday for a little bit because heavy, gray clouds covered the valley.  While there is beauty in living in the Valley it is a bit unnerving for those gigantic mountains to completely disappear in clouds.  My mind knows I am surrounded by mountains and covered by clouds and I feel just a tad bit claustrophobic.  Especially so by the extreme quiet that accompanies the clouds.  We went to bed, exhausted and listening to cold rain. 

This morning I write this in the pitch dark, listening to sleet and howling wind.  It is 33 degrees.  The RV is rocking slightly.  This will be our first bit of truly inclement weather in an RV.  I've had my oatmeal and a half pot of tea and I feel snug because I don't have to drive my house anywhere today.  Bring it on!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Graphic Warning: If you don't like Vomit, don't read this Post!

I am blessed to have a family that does not get the stomach flu.  Honestly.  No kidding.  I've never, ever had one.  My husband of 16 1/2 years has not had one in the 18 years I've known him.  In ten years of parenting neither of my boys has had a stomach flu.  The only member of the family to regularly throw up is neurotic Shakespeare and he almost always does it, considerately, near the door.  I know, I know, let the disbelief and the hissing begin. 

My youngest son gets carsick when he reads in a hot car.  That's an easy fix.  No books, lots of A/C.  As a baby he obligatorily drenched me in spit up frequently but grew out of that.  My oldest son?  Beyond mild spitting up he has never thrown up in ten years.  Here is an example of his cast iron stomach.  When we were stationed in Iceland we went on a whale watching tour.  The only two people not puking in agony were him and me and I only held it in out of sheer force of will.  When we got off the extremely smelly boat, #1 had the cheerful nerve to say, "That was fun, can we go again sometime?" 

This lengthy preface is to say that last night #1 threw up.  Okay, about time right?  Picture my life though.  I live in an RV.  We were at the self serve campground that had no laundry facility.  I don't even have extra bedding because of limited space.  And this kid saved ten years of vomit for one night.  It was on the wall, cooked to the radiator (oh, that one was fun to clean), all over the top bunk, dripping down to the bottom bunk and all over the carpet.  Did I mention we don't have a carpet cleaner?

Did I mention my parents and my sister spent the night with us?  Or that my sister was sleeping under #1 and ended up looking like a Jackson Pollock painting?  Or that we apparently ran out of water in our tank and there was no way to shower?  Or that the smell absolutely took over my 316 square feet of living space?  Being unused to such occurrences, I literally stood paralyzed in the middle of the bedroom just wondering where to begin. 

We solved all immediate problems by throwing all the nasty laundry out the door into the sub-freezing weather.  Frozen vomit won't smell as bad, right?  I attacked everything with paper towels and Method's Lavender scented cleaner which worked really well.  Thank goodness the bottom bunk is a leather couch and was the easiest to clean.  Baking soda on the carpet to absorb odor, a damp paper towel to wipe down the kid and my sister, a waterless toothbrush, some Coca Cola syrup that's been around since my last pregnancy and everyone went back to sleep.  Except me.  I was awake for another hour, thinking about my next blog and also about how the Pioneers would deal with the problem.  At least they didn't have to clean cooked vomit off the radiator!

Friday, November 12, 2010

My Menfolk in front of the Corn Palace

The Pioneering Spirit

Growing up in Wyoming I was immersed in the history of the great migration of Pioneers to the wild, wild West.  I know all about the hardships of Conestoga wagon trains, traveling 20-30 miles a day in good weather, over miles of empty prairie facing down cold, Canadian winds.  Not to mention illness, predatorial animals, broken wheels and hostile Indians.  What astounds me is that the Pioneers continued on, day after day, month after month.  The women rose every morning before first light and made coffee on a campfire.  They didn't have North Face jackets and good shoes.  Maybe a quilt wrapped around their shoulders.  Yet most of them freely chose to join their husbands and make the life changing journey, knowing they were leaving behind many comforts and, nearly always, their extended families and friends.

Donald and I pondered the Pioneers yesterday at some length.  We left the Quad Cities at six am, showered and fueled by caffeine not made on a campfire.  Three or four hours into our trek across Iowa (a golden-pink sunrise over an Iowa cornfield is a truly spectacular sight) we realized we were making decent time and that our intended destination of Sioux Falls, SD seemed rather weak.  The Pioneering Spirit gripped us with both hands and caused us to brashly say, "let's go all the way to Rapid City!" 

Get out your map.  We were east of Council Bluffs and it was about 10 in the morning.  Rapid City is at the west end of SD, another 8 hours away.  8 hours if you aren't hauling a 40 foot RV.  Have you ever driven across SD in the winter?  While beautiful in its wide open starkness, it gets really, really, really long.  Really.  The Pioneering Spirit began to fade by 4 in the afternoon and we were nowhere near Rapid City.  We did stop in Mitchell to see the World's Only Corn Palace (as listed in the 1,000 Places to See before You Die book).  The Corn Palace has been completely redesigned every year since its birth in 1892 and is made of the native grains and grasses of SD.  Donald's response was, "I'm glad it was free."  William's response was, "THAT was one of the 1,000 places to see before I die?"  I cheerfully told him that he could at least check it off!

After 15 hours we finally arrived, late last night, in the dark and, in the freezing cold.    How did the Pioneers manage the gumption to do that same sort of thing over and over again for months?  We faced no real hardships other than arriving at a KOA that is closed for the winter and is basically self serve right down to the honor system of putting cash in an envelope and slipping through the slot.  Having no lights and being unsure of where to park caused Donald no small panic.  Remember, we are basically the length of a semi-truck.  The first casualty of the Big Adventure was taking out a small picket fence surrounding a propane tank, causing massive scratching to the RV and jacking up the protective fender along the bottom.  We woke up this morning at 4:30 (Mountain Time) to 19 degrees, heavy frost on the ground and a frozen water hose which is now thawing in the shower.  But I don't have to wear a quilt or stoke a fire so I'm feeling pretty good about life in general.  We covered more ground yesterday than the Pioneers covered in 6 months.  We are staying here today and my parents and sister are driving up from WY to see us.  My brother is stationed at the Air Force base here so I get to see my whole family by tonight.  Tomorrow, after being fed, watered and well-rested, we will take up the Pioneering Spirit once more and begin the two day trek to northwest Montana.  I'm sure Donald and I will ponder the Pioneers even further as we cross the Rocky Mountain passes that will take us to his childhood home.  As we ponder I will be pleased to make coffee and tea by electric means, pleased to have heat in my bedroom and pleased to not wear a quilt.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Challenges from the Road

I write this from Rock Island, Illinois, which makes up 1/4 of the Quad Cities situated on the Mississippi River bordering Illinois and Iowa.  Aaaaaahhhh.  Iowa.  Just the thought brings up lovely childhood memories of visiting my mother's extended family and, of course, the Iowa State Fair.  Mmmmmm - corndogs, funnel cakes, and sculptures made of butter.  But I digress.

At the close of our second day on the road we have realized that other than superb vehicular performance, nothing has gone according to plan.  First of all, when you pull 14,000 pounds you just can't make the sort of time a normal car would make.  We left yesterday at 5:30 am and hoped to make Pittsburgh by lunch.  Nope.  We crossed into Ohio about 4:30 in the afternoon with hopes of finding a campground.  Snag number two:  most campgrounds in a northern climate apparently all close after Halloween.  We drove an hour and half south (out of our way!) to Canton in order to find a year round KOA.  After getting completely lost on the way (translation:  huge fight in the car) it was pitch dark and cold and I had grand intentions of making a big supper, only to find that we were completely out of propane.  Supper ended up being microwaved soup and a stiff drink.  Me, not the boys.  Donald trooped out for propane so we could have heat while we slept, God bless him! 

Today began with waking at 4:30 to find frost on the ground.  FROST!!!  I've been living in VA where we don't see frost until February and only a few times then!  It was 25 degrees!  We got on the road at 6 and I spent several hours with my maps and my KOA guidebook in the realization that our travel route would have to be revised.  We intended to go to Minneapolis to visit Don's brother but with the current temperatures and with campgrounds being closed for the winter we opted to go a bit more southerly.  Thus, the Quad Cities.  And it is beautiful weather here!  Warmer than Virginia when we left.  We have the windows open and we went for a long walk with the dogs. 

Speaking of dogs, let's discuss my highly neurotic 4 year old Weimaraner.  Shakespeare will not sit in a car.  12 1/2 hours yesterday and 9 hours today and he stood, quivering from head to toe, the entire time.  I tell him to sit about every 15 minutes because he won't stay put.  When we slow down, to get gas for instance, he begins to really freak out because he thinks he is getting out.  Honestly, I've never seen anything like it.  And this isn't new behavior.  He has been doing long car rides since he was 11 weeks old and we moved with him for the first time.  I'm inclined to think he is just an idiot.  The great thing is that when we do stop for the day he sleeps like a log because he is so exhausted.  And before anyone suggest tranquilizers, we've tried.  They don't work.  Any other ideas out there?  It's going to be a long year for him if we don't come up with something!

Our route tomorrow is straight across Iowa and then up to South Dakota.  Across SD to Rapid City on Friday where my parents are coming to meet us for the night.  Then on Saturday to Bozeman, Montana and Kalispell on Sunday.  Where we get to celebrate by moving our household goods.  Again.  But who knows.  With all the pinch hitting we are doing we could be traveling to MT by way of Texas for all I can predict!  Stay tuned!

Monday, November 8, 2010

"On the Road Again"

Well, almost anyway.  Tomorrow morning we pull chocks (good Navy aviation lingo there!) and say farewell to Virginia.  We've been hard at work tying up all our loose ends.  The biggest loose end was spending 9 hours, just the two of us, loading our household goods into a truck.  Hopefully we will see it all successfully in Montana!  The second biggest loose end was completely emptying the RV in order to get an empty weight and then putting all our stuff away again so we can obtain a full weight.  Ugh!  Since the military pays us according to how much poundage we move it is well worth the effort because it is money in our pocket.  However, we have spent most of this week sore as a couple of old dogs!

Necessity is not only the mother of invention but apparently the decider of our first destination on the the Big Adventure.  The trucking company is insisting we meet them in Montana by the 15th of November.  Because of an appointment this afternoon we can't leave until tomorrow, leaving only six driving days. Even taking the most direct route possible  it is barely enough time to drive 3/4 of the way across the country, so Montana it is!  We'll stay through Thanksgiving and we are all excited to see family.  The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is on hold for now but we promised the boys we will get there. I'm sure Florida will look very appealing around January or February!

We had the grand realization yesterday that our children just may need winter coats for the first time in two years.  We all manage with light jackets, sweaters or hoodies in southern Virginia but it finally occurred to me that something a bit heavier will be needed in Montana and Wyoming.  Bring on the snow because we are now ready!

We'll post again from the road so keep checking on our progress!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Retirement Photos

Closing Ceremonies

The military does many things to support its servicemembers.  Sometimes we raise our eyebrows in question or frustration but other times we applaud and feel proud.  One thing all the military services do well is ceremony.  It has been my honor and pleasure as a Navy wife to participate in weddings, funerals, commissionings, re-enlistments and retirements and I almost always find them moving.  As an officer, Donald oversaw many of those types of ceremonies as well as burials at sea and other, private affairs that civilians would not be permitted to attend.  Donald did not technically rate a full retirement ceremony since it is a medical retirement but his command determined that the occasion warranted a ceremony anyway.  On Monday the Navy said goodbye to our family in military style. Donald received a retirement certificate signed by the Commander in Chief.  The boys and I also received certificates retiring them as Navy kids and me as a Navy wife.  Donald gave each of us gifts and the chaplain staff gathered round us to pray for us and send us off into a new adventure, each of them assuring us that God's plan for us is not finished and pleading God's blessing upon us as we depart.

Our family had a small, private celebration last Friday evening to mark the end of Donald's career.  Having the Navy mark the occasion with a public event to honor nearly 13 years of service helped to bring Donald's career full circle and provide a measure of closure.  After all, his commissioning service was full of joy and excitement and we had food and cake to celebrate.  It is fitting, therefore, that a retirement service should be sad and yet still full of excitement at whatever comes next.  And, of course, there was food and cake to celebrate!  Many thanks to Chaplain Tate and the Pastoral Staff at NMCP for your support during the last two years.  Thank you, Tremblay, for driving down from DC!  Thank you, US Navy, for providing a career of wonderful duty stations and lifelong friends.  We are a family abundantly blessed by God!