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

Sunday, January 30, 2011

N'awlins is Crazy, Shah!

After supper last night we decided to mosey on into the Big Easy, just to check out the night life.  Let me just say this:  the Big Easy is CRAZY wild!  I thoroughly enjoyed walking through the brightly, and often gas lit, French Quarter in America's second largest port city.  Mardi Gras is officially some distance away but don't tell anyone in the Quarter.  They have clearly begun celebrating early.  Or, maybe the atmosphere is always like that on Saturday night.  Perhaps they were just celebrating the revitalization of the city, post-Katrina, whose destruction can still be seen in some places.  At any rate, I found myself laughing right out loud at the amazing music, delicious smells, raucous laughter, stumbling folks and colorful (purple, green, yellow) decorations everywhere.  I also found myself holding tightly to my oldest son's hand while Donald held the hand of our youngest.  We strolled pleasantly for nearly two hours, just feasting on the sense-smorgasbord that New Orleans offers.

Then we strolled into the Cafe du Monde, established in the early 1860's, for beignets and chickory coffee, two delights I have been dying to try for years.  The beignets (a square-ish French doughnut) were delivered steaming hot and piled high with powdered sugar.  The coffee is blended with chickory roots and was served "au lait," just as the locals drink it, strong, milky and oh, so good!  I'm generally a black coffee girl but this stuff made me a believer!  The boys had cocoa and deemed the beignets the best thing they had ever eaten.

This morning we went back to the Quarter in a softly pattering, warm rain.  Armed with umbrellas we ambled through one of New Orleans most singular attractions, an above ground cemetery.  The cemetery we chose has been featured in several movies, notably, "Interview with a Vampire."  The city's ancient and not so ancient dead are buried in large wall type vaults or individual family vaults.  All are built along narrow pathways, cheek by jowl with each other, giving a very crammed in impression.  After the cemetery we walked for hours through the streets which were only slightly less subdued than last night.  Plenty of live jazz and blues music on the sidewalks and lots of people out and about, drinks in hand and beads around their necks.  It was difficult to tell if they were left over from last night or if they were getting an early start on tonight!  We had an early lunch and I was so proud of my adventurous children; one ordered catfish and the other ordered chicken and andouille gumbo.  I had a Rockefeller, a tasty omelet of creamed spinach and oysters served with grits.  Everyone was quite satisfied with their main courses but we were sadly disappointed in our shared bread pudding.  The whiskey sauce was good but the pudding itself was very stale.  Of course, we lingered over the chickory coffee!

We ventured to the French Market, the oldest city market in the country.  Lots of produce and typical flea market type stuff.  It was a great way to spend a rainy Sunday.  After that we just walked and walked the streets of the Quarter, admiring the cast iron tracery adorning most of the buildings, the Provencal antique shops and historical placards until we all pleaded exhaustion and headed home to rest our weary feet.  We have one more day in the area before moving on again and we are trying to decide between a plantation tour or a swamp boat tour.  I'm pretty sure it will be a plantation but make sure you check back in so you know!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

The music thumped on and on, late into the night.  Donald and I laughed ourselves silly last night, making jokes about the raccoons, the music, the pigs, and our potential safety.  He equated the raccoons with pigeons in a park and we made sure to lock our basement latches so the little guys couldn't break in.  The music was completely indiscernible as to type but seemed to us to be the same four base notes reverberating regardless of which song.  Even better was someone who felt compelled to scream "Aaaaaiiiiiiieeeeee" every couple of minutes.  She was apparently a bigger fan of the music than we were.  Thankfully we can all sleep through just about anything and so have no idea when the guitars were unplugged and everyone stumbled home.

The campground is not any better this morning.  I think it is actually worse in the daylight.  The grounds are covered in trash and cigarette butts.  Really.  It looks like someone tipped over a dumpster and let the wind take its course, which goes a long way to explaining the raccoons.  It's an all-you-can-dig-through buffet out for the little buggers.  If you happen to be on I-10 and you think the Jean Lafitte campground sounds like a pirate-y, historical place to stay the night, I advise you to keep going at a high rate of speed.  The good side is that I did find 17 cents that someone thoughtfully left for me.  We are sticking around here just long enough for Donald to make his special pancakes and to readjust our spare tire.  Then we are out of here.

Friday, January 28, 2011

East Bound

Today was a big day.  Our mail finally caught up with us and we were able to leave San Antonio this morning early enough to watch the sun rise.  Our first goal was 3 and 1/2 hours to Houston.  Our first mission was second breakfast at Ikea and the second mission was NASA.

Breakfast was great but NASA is SO COOL!!!  We were able to walk through an actual Skylab and the boys flew their own mission as pilot and gunner in a simulator.  We sat through several different presentations and learned more about space in three hours than we ever knew.  It was really special to be there today, of all days, because today marks the anniversary of the Challenger explosion.  Every day at NASA there is a moment of remembering the astronauts lost in that tragedy as well as the Apollo and the Discovery.  I really thought this would put off my ever so cautious oldest child but when we left he said to me, "I want to be an astronaut and scientist more than ever!"  Perhaps today's outing fueled a dream that will one day be realized.

We could have spent the entire day at NASA and still would not have seen everything.  Sadly we had to press on because our self imposed schedule wanted us out of Texas and into Louisiana, a place I have wanted to see for years.  Due to traffic and a fatal car crash we were stuck at the border for what seemed like a year but in actuality was about an hour and a 1/2.  We pulled into the Jean Lafitte campground east of Lake Charles around seven tonight.  Our first experience was having the pickup who had been following us closely pull right up to our window to let us know that our spare tire on the RV was really wobbling.  We thanked them and they drove away.  They followed us just to help us out!  The people aren't the only thing friendly in Louisiana.  While Donald was making reservations we watched two raccoons, bold as brass, toddling through the parking lot, under cars that were filling with gas and climbing into trash cans for a bit of supper.  Street lights as bright as day and these raccoons were terribly unconcerned with humanity.  Shakespeare, on the other hand, was terribly concerned that these bold creatures needed to be taught a lesson and he was going crazy because we wouldn't let him out to give chase.

Jean Lafitte campground is, quite possibly, the most depressing campground I have ever seen.  It is literally in the parking lot of a gas station.  The sites look like something from a drive in movie except with concrete pads.  There are no trees and no other foliage.  There is, however, a bar across the street that is currently pumping out some serious music.  And there are pigs.  Yes, pigs.  I can hear them oinking and shuffling somewhere in the far recesses of the campground, which is not that large.  Interesting.

There are no military campgrounds or KOA's until further into the state and we knew it would be a sort of crapshoot on what sort of campground we would get.  So far, so good on the crap part!  I don't expect to shoot anything, though.  Not unless the pigs get loose or the raccoons try to break in.  At this point I think anything could happen!

Onward to the Big Easy for a few days tomorrow!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Shakespeare and I went running this morning.  It was sunny and not a cloud in sight, 46 degrees with a clear, pale, January blue sky.  There is a beautiful parade ground here at Lackland encircled by retired aircraft.  I love running by such cool pieces of history.  Today I even ran right up the bricked parade area which I'm sure I'm not supposed to do but what is life if you can't be a tiny bit of a rebel now and again?

Now, generally speaking I don't know my B-52's from my KC-135's or my P-3's.  Being highly educated and reasonably intelligent I was able to pick out the Stealth Bomber and the planes flown during World War II.  Something to do with the Nazi swastikas painted on the side, indicating targets that had been hit.  My favorite craft is a plane called "Heaven Above" which had a gorgeously painted female leg, clad in stocking, garter and high heel, protruding through a white cumulus cloud.  The plane looked like a movie prop for "Biloxi Blues."  How lucky am I that I get the opportunity to share my runs with these silent witnesses to America's history?

I also found myself musing over the differences between Navy and Air Forces bases.  Lackland is a training base so all the sidewalks are wide as some European roads; all the new Boots need to have plenty of room to learn to march properly.  We see them out all the time.  Donald even saw a group standing at attention at the bus stop!  With Boots coming and going this place is spic and span all the time.  The campground over looks a gorgeous golf course.  Navy folk like to make a little joke at the Air Force expense:  when the Air Force builds a new base they start with the housing, the golf courses, and the officer's club.  When the money runs out then they go back to congress and ask for more to build their runways and hangars.  Eric, if you are reading this from the desert, I love you but you know its true!!  My Air Force wife friends ought to feel lucky and if you don't you should visit an army, marine, or navy base some time!  The other bases are not always bad, just not nearly as nice as Air Force.  Army, Marine, and Navy wives can I get a Hoorah here?
Okay, okay, just so my Air Force friends don't feel like I'm picking on them, Go Navy, Beat Army!!! 

The great thing about all the branches of the military, jokes aside, is that when it comes right down to it we are all on the same side.  The military is definitely stronger as one team than it could ever be individually and each part needs another.  Every branch has a specific job and all parts work together as a greater whole, for a great cause:  American freedom.  Thank you to all of you, regardless of the color of your uniform.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Remember the Alamo

We finally made the trip to that shrine of Texas freedom, the Alamo.  The weather yesterday was absolutely gorgeous and Donald needed a little pick me up from his adventure with the black water tank so we loaded up the family and headed into town. 

Unbeknownst to me, the Alamo is not just one ancient mission but actually a large compound where 200 men fought and died for 13 days against General Santa Ana's army.  I am not well acquainted with Alamo history and what I do know was gleaned from watching John Wayne's version back in grade school.  The actual mission is fairly small but very beautiful.  We all enjoyed the fairly short and free walking tour and I loved the reverent aspect of the notices posted upon entering the church:  silence in respect to those who gave their lives, remove your hats, no photos or videos.  I think more tourist places ought to be like that.

After the Alamo Donald surprised us all by taking us on a carriage ride of San Antonio.  That is to say, it was his idea and he paid for it.  He did not actually take the reins of the huge but gentle Clydesdale, Magic, but was content to sit in the back seat with me.  The driver was excellent and she gave us lots of historical information about the city such as the pointing out the hotel where JFK spent his last night, the hotel where LBJ and Ladybird spent their wedding night and the church where they were married, the hospital where George Strait and Carol Burnett were born and the church in which Robert E. Lee planted the cornerstone.  Thomas asked the driver dozens of questions about the horse, including "do you let the horses mate?"  He also wanted to know if I had any spare apples, sugar cubes or carrots in my purse to feed the horse.  Alas, I was not so prepared.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Shower of Sadness

Let me start this blog by quoting my eldest son:  "Today our family experienced the best and the worst of the movie 'RV.'"  Now, let me suggest that if you have not seen "RV" you need to run, not walk, to your nearest video rental facility.  Watch the movie, wipe your tears of mirth, then come back and read the rest of this blog.

The summer of 2008 was the beginning of our family's affair with recreational vehicles.  We lived in a small pop up camper for a month as we traveled from Washington state to Virginia.  That summer was also the first time we watched "RV."  It has become one of those oft quoted and ridiculously beloved family favorites as we have progressed to a 1972 Airstream Safari, buying a Class A Winnebago (driving it from LA to Virginia and living in it) and then to our present home, a Fifth Wheel.  "RV" is the first movie we watch in every recreational vehicle we own and we vow to never become the Monroe's, the inexperienced and unwilling family featured in the film.

Today, we became the Monroe's.  Living with three men and two dogs leaves me surrounded by bodily functions and noises they all find more humorous than I.  So, when Robin Williams' character is completely drenched with "fecal matter," as Williams puts it, after his attempt to drain the black water from the RV, my menfolk laugh and guffaw like they have never before seen the movie.  The black water tank is not water at all but everything that has drained from the toilet into a large holding tank under the RV.  We have two of these tanks because we have two bathrooms.  At most RV parks we are able to either run a hose from each tank into the drain or just use one hose and attach and reattach when draining is necessary.  At this particular site we don't have enough hose length to drain the boys' tank so today we decided to move the RV forward a few feet, drain the tank and then back up again.  Easy, right?

The important thing to remember about draining the tanks is to close the shut off valve when you are done draining.  Today we found out what happens when Someone forgot to close the shut off valve back at Ft. Hood the last time the tank was drained.  Donald got the hose ready for attaching and began unscrewing the cap that closes the drain.  Since the shut off valve was wide open everything in the holding tank began spewing out over my husband and all over the ground.  My eyes flew open in amazement (I was standing a safe distance from the RV, high and dry) and I believe there may have been some swearing involved but I can't be sure as I was trying, unsuccessfully, not to laugh out loud which turned into snorting through my nose.  When I stopped for air my snorts dried up at both the instantaneous and hideous stench and the sight before me.  Donald was not as drenched as Robin Williams but he was bad enough that I wasn't about to go near him!  I tried to be as helpful as I could by spraying off the concrete pad and the surrounding area in order to eliminate as much of the mess as I could.  Then I stumbled inside in order to have a private belly laugh and to tell the boys what just happened.

When Donald finally came inside the first words out of the boys' mouths consisted of another "RV" quote, "How was your shower of sadness, Papa?"  He silently stalked away to the shower, not seeing the humor of the situation until sitting down to lunch some time later.  #1 has requested that next time the tanks need drained that he be informed ahead of time so he can have the video camera at the ready. 

There you have it, folks.  Another Big Adventure SNAFU.  Learn from our mistakes and remember to always close your valve! 

PS:  If anyone knows anyone who wants to make an "RV" sequel, I am available for consultation and script writing.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Buckhorn Saloon, Texas Ranger Museum and the Riverwalk

Today we finally made it into San Antonio.  It has been chilly and rainy most of the week and we have put off exploring in hope of more warm weather.  Even though it is still rainy and cold I just had to get farther out than the laundry room today.  We started out by exploring the Buckhorn Saloon and the Texas Ranger Museum because they are in the same building.  The Buckhorn is the oldest Saloon in Texas and boasts an amazing number of stuffed wildlife from around the world and bizarre oddities such as shrunken heads, an 8 legged lamb and a two headed calf.  The Texas Ranger Museum showed the history of these important lawmen who made Texas safe for the pioneers including an impressive display of guns and knives and a Texas frontier village.  

Yes, those are my children in jail and at another historical saloon.  I promise, we do take them to symphonies, musicals and art museums too!  We had a great time but I have to warn any prospective visitors:  the price tag to get in, while inclusive of both the saloon and the Ranger museum, was incredibly steep, even with a military discount.  We spent about two hours touring and it cost $17 per adult and $13 per kid.  We all agreed it was neat to see but really only worth about half that price.  We also made the sad mistake of eating lunch in the saloon.  Lining up, cafeteria style, should have been our first warning.  The over priced food should have been the second warning.  Sadly, the meal was pretty awful.  Oh well, this is what touring is all about.  Live and learn!

What really redeemed the day was the Riverwalk.  I really had no conceptualization of what it would look like having never seen a photo or read anything about San Antonio.  Both Donald and I were overwhelmed at how beautiful it was even in the drizzle!  The Riverwalk is easily reminiscent of European cities with its lush greenery, the Spanish architecture, the beautiful stonework lining the river walls and sidewalk and the surprising waterfalls at regular intervals.  If you look closely at my amateur photo you can see pink flowers in full bloom on this tree. 

Another great thing about San Antonio is its concentration of military personnel.  Being there today was special because literally dozens of very young men and women in Air Force uniforms, freshly minted from Basic Military Training, were touring the Riverwalk with family.  Parents and Airmen alike beamed.  It made me want to shake each of their hands and tell them thank you and good luck.  They are at the beginning of an amazing life adventure.  Which also reminds me to say thank you to my little brother who leaves tonight for his third tour in the Desert.  Good luck, Buddy, and we'll be praying for you!

Our weather is warming up significantly and hopefully this next week will have me reporting on the Alamo (which we walked right by today) and various other Missions in the area.  Next Saturday should see us back on the road again.  Stick around to find out where we go next!

Thursday, January 13, 2011


Consequences are something we talk about on a near daily basis at our house.  There is nearly always a consequence of everything one does in life whether good or bad.  Give someone a smile and the consequence may be brightening someone's really bad day.  Slug your brother and he will definitely slug you back.  Sometimes the consequences are immediate but not always.  Lie to your mother and she WILL find out sooner or later.  We try to hammer this into our children because the consequences at their tender ages are generally not severe.  Consequences as an adult can be much more grave.  Like jail.  Or getting fired.

It is painful to watch your children go through consequences.  Rarely do we learn anything in life unless it is attended by a little (sometimes a lot) of pain.  Yesterday we had to watch our eldest son face one of life's first really painful consequences.  For four and a half years we have been telling our boys to stay out of our dog's face.  They love to get in Shakespeare's face and kiss him and let him lick them all over.  Typical boy stuff.  Yesterday #1 was supposed to be reading with Shakespeare but instead decided to get in his face and mess with him and inadvertently hurt him.  Because his face was so close to Shake's, we aren't sure if Shake nipped #1 or if he flung his head because of the pain and his teeth made contact.   Doesn't matter because #1 ended up with two good puncture wounds on his left cheekbone that required a nearly all day trip to the ER only to find out that they don't stitch dog bites due to risk of infection.  Clearly this is not Shake's fault but the boys had previously been told what happens to dogs who bite.  As I sat with #1 in the ER all day we both had to keep fighting tears because we knew Donald's intentions for Shakespeare.  #1 admitted it was his fault and that he had learned his lesson about staying out of a dog's face.  Perfect fodder for a gentle chat about consequences for our actions.

I asked the doctor what the protocol is in a situation like this.  He said it varies, necessarily, but in a family pet, unintentional situation like ours, he would leave the choice up to #1 since he is old enough to make an informed decision.  Donald is still incredibly angry at the dog but decided late last night that knowing #1 as we do, #1 would feel guilty for the rest of his life if Shakespeare was put down for something not entirely his fault.

It was a long and painful day for the whole family but mostly for #1.  He has nothing but love for Shakespeare but kept a respectful distance away from his face yesterday.  Having seen victims of serious dog bites before I am relieved that he'll come out this with nothing more than a vampire bite looking scar on his cheek.  I hated for him to go through this but I suspect it won't be his last lesson learned in a painful manner.  I'm also secretly relieved that my faithful running partner is still around to run another day!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Catch up photos

Grandpa and #2
#1 and #2 along with George, Tom, Abe and Teddy
Donald and I helping out with the bonfire 
Wyoming Sunrise
The Longbranch Saloon in Dodge City
#1 found a tiny scorpion in our first 30 minutes at Lackland AFB.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

We just don't seem to end up where we expected to go these days!  It's the gypsy way, I guess.  When we left Dodge City on Tuesday morning we thought we'd go as far as Dallas and then turn east to northern Louisiana.  One timely phone call and we found ourselves at Ft. Hood Army base, southwest of Waco, TX.  The phone call came from Donald's denominational chaplaincy boss who is a retired army chaplain living near Ft. Hood.  He and his wife have visited us at every duty station and have been a tremendous support to us over the years.  We decided to stay at Ft. Hood several days and were able to reconnect with them over several shared meals.

I am really not such a sunshine lover.  I tend to want to stay in the above freezing to about 75 degree range.  I love the rain but not the snow or cold.  All that to say, it sure is tough, all this suffering we are doing in the 70 degree sunshine.  Shakespeare and I have had several lovely runs and walks and yesterday the whole family pitched in to wash the RV; the boys were clad in only jeans and skin.  To think that a week ago we were wondering how we would get out of the blizzard in Wyoming.  Wearing flip flops again sure feels good!

A bit of trivia:  we were informed that the capitol building in Austin is built like a model of the capitol building in DC, only, Texans being Texans, the one is Austin is bigger.  We drove south through Austin today and can attest that everything really is bigger in Texas!  Currently we are at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio.  We plan on staying put for a week but that doesn't mean we won't be busy.  Alongside regular school we anticipate touring the Alamo, Seaworld, the Riverwalk and some of the other historical Missions.  Tour them with us as I update you on our further adventures!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

South for the Winter

The Twist Family Big Adventure is well under way, thanks to my stepdad's valiant snow removal effort with his road grader.  We left Wyoming Sunday morning heading south and spent the night in Burlington, a Colorado/Kansas border town.  Sadly, we had to steer clear of Denver in order to be snow free.  (Sorry, Scott and Mandy - we'll see you in the Spring!)  It was great, though, to read the Denver Post and find out the Bronco's are in negotiations to hire John Elway as VP of Football Operations.  Welcome back, #7!

I digress.  Since the temps are still below freezing we are camping in cheap motels.  I used to find it odd, seeing an RV in a motel parking lot.  Now I know why and I sympathize.  We'll continue to stay in motels until we get south enough to thaw out the RV.  It will be lovely when we don't have to haul all of our freezables (boxes of canned goods and toiletries, etc.) in an out of houses and motels.

We arrived in Dodge City, Kansas yesterday afternoon.  Dodge City was built exactly five miles from Ft. Dodge, a fort built in 1865 to monitor Indians and offer supplies to pioneers as the traveled west on the Santa Fe trail.  Why five miles, you may wonder?  Alcohol was not allowed within five miles of the fort so the enterprising founder, in 1878, rode his horse exactly five miles away from the fort and built a saloon.  Soldiers were as thirsty then as they are now and the town grew into a huge trade center for buffalo hunters and cattlemen as well as outlaws.  In a town of 1200 people there were 19 saloons.  Cowboys trailed cattle a thousand miles from Texas in order for the cattle to be shipped on Dodge City's railroad.  Between 1875 and 1886 over 5,000,000 cattle were run through the town.  Drinking cowboys and soldiers and the inevitable gamblers and prostitutes contributed to Dodge's being called "the Wickedest Little City in America." 

Yesterday we walked where famous sherrifs Bat and Ed Masterson and Wyatt Earp fought gun battles against lawless gunslingers.  We crossed the railroad tracks that run east-west through the middle of town.  The north half, in Wyatt Earp's day, was fairly respectable but crossing over the tracks into the south side was to cross the "deadline," putting your life in danger.  I didn't feel my life was in danger as I did laundry over the "deadline" but I wouldn't have called it safe either.

Dodge Ctiy gives a generous nod to the long running tv show, "Gunsmoke" in which Marshall Matt Dillon is the law in Dodge and Miss Kitty runs the Longbranch Saloon.  Yes, my menfolk had a cold one in the Longbranch to rinse the travel dust from their gullets - Sarsparilla for the youngsters, bellies up to the beautiful, mahogany bar.

Dare I say it?  We got the heck out of Dodge this morning, nose pointing south.  We aren't sure where we will end up yet. For being such a planner, it's a bit exciting, not having a plan, just choosing a direction.  Donald chuckled when I relayed that thought and said, "That's how the gypsies did it."  To which I replied, "How did they manage without atlas, iPhone and income?"  He laughed again and said, "By the stars and stealing!"

It occurs to me there is a spiritual parallel to our curent travel method.  If my focus is pointed in the right Direction, the plan doesn't really matter.  God, as Cartographer and Navigator, will guide me as long as I'm looking in His direction.  Of course, you are all free to remind me of this when I start to get panicky!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Happy New Year!

I am incredibly restless.  Partly it's my own odd, annual sadness at the close of another year.  Partly it's the temptations offered by a crisp New Year, full of questions and possibilities.  Partly it's that I've been ready to hit the road since we burned the last bits of wrapping paper and drained the eggnog.  Our plan was to stay in Wyoming through Christmas and then head to warmer, frost-free climes.  However, the other three voting members of the family were disinclined to leave last week when it was 40 degrees and sunny.  Now we are stuck, literally, in the aftermath of a two day blizzard.  Oh, it's sunny today but it's also 20 below with the three miles of road to the highway covered in drifts several feet deep.  Our pickup would make it, slowly, but not pulling our 40 foot home, into which I desperately desire to live again.  Don't get me wrong, my parent's hospitality has been amazing and we have really enjoyed ourselves but the RV is the only place I can call home.  The RV and the open, un-snowy, roads are beckoning; my wanderlust is rising.  I've been quoting, mentally, Augustus McCrae in Larry McMurtry's Pulitzer Prize winner, Lonesome Dove:   "Come on, let's go if we're goin'!"