Old Friends and New

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The bus in Joan and Pat’s driveway

Pat Downs and I have been friends since my family moved to St. Louis when I was in fourth grade. Our neighborhood was small, like 24 houses and we all knew each other. Pat and I were in the same grade so we caught the school bus together in the morning and always had plenty of time to talk before and after school; we would stand in the driveway for hours discussing friends, girlfriends, boyfriends, classes, everything.. We were usually the only two at the bus stop so the conversations were far ranging and touched upon many subjects, some banal, some sensitive. We always felt comfortable talking to each other. He was the epitome of a good friend.

We were in the same honors classes in high school although I always thought he was way smarter than me. As the years went on and we journeyed through junior high and high school our talks naturally became more solemn and earnest. Being a teenager is serious business.

After graduation we went off to separate colleges but somehow kept in occasional touch. No email in those days. When my then-boyfriend and I embarked on a bicycle trip from Missouri to Texas in 1974, we ended up at Pat’s apartment which was a really cool set-up. The apartment was above a garage in a very nice district of Houston with ancient live oaks gracing the median of the boulevard he lived on. We had a nice visit with Pat and his first wife and prepared for our adventure.

The plan was to sell the bikes, hitchhike to the border and continue on into Mexico and see what happened. So we did.

The whole Mexico adventure can be summed up easily. I loved it, boyfriend hated it. I loved the street food, the markets, speaking Spanish and the people. He got sick from the food. It probably didn’t help that I kept bringing a bag of street stall tacos to the hotel (?) and saying, “These are great!” He would turn up his nose and I ended up eating them all. I think I gained 15 pounds while we were there. I was way too poor to have a camera but I still have a sketchbook of scenes from the trip. We made it as far south as Mexico City.

We ended up coming back after a few months. Once again we landed at Pat’s apartment to prepare for the return trip. That was 42 years ago!

Since then I must admit that Pat and I have kept in touch mostly because Pat takes the time to send a yearly holiday letter updating everybody. I look forward to it every year. I learned of his second marriage, two great kids; now grown-up and successful, many events in between and his subsequent meeting and marrying Joan about eight years ago. He said she finally made him an honest man.


Joan and Pat

Pat and Joan are curious people with lots of interests. We LOVE curious people! Joan is an accomplished iPhone photographer and she has a lovely house, garden and landscape to practice on. Their home is comfortable and inviting with lots of art and unusual items from their travels. Pat researched my family history on both sides while we were there and found relatives back as far as 1699. Until a few years ago they were boat owners and regularly traveled to Chattanooga to spend time on the river. He is learning to fly fish. International travel is always on their agenda. Pat is a musician with more instruments than he can play at once. He helped build Lone Star Observatory; the dome was his creation. He demonstrated his unusual knife sharpening system for us and super-sharpened up some of our knives for us. He has a new smoker that he tried out while we were there, with mouthwatering smells filling the neighborhood all day long.


The smoking pork butt


In the garden


In the garden




The Southwestern dining room

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The amazing knife sharpening

Years ago he started doing an annual Christmas display that any scientist/pyromaniac would love. Programmable lights and music with zillions of all-colored lights; it takes 200 hours to prepare each year. He removes windows from his house to accommodate major elements of the display. That is what I call dedication. He had more than enough power for the bus in the driveway.

They have indoor and outdoor kitties which they dote on just like we do ours. They love good food, wine and conversation around the fire pit. Although I had never met Joan and Jim and Pat had never met, we all had a great time getting (re)acquainted over many bottles of champagne and wine and a lovely dinner on their deck the first night. What’s not to like?

We had a fine weekend visit that included a visit to our friend, Elizabeth and her little dog, Lucy. Pat graciously loaned us his car to go see her. Elizabeth has been a friend and solid adviser since we lived in Columbia many years ago and we always enjoy catching up with her whether in Florida or Atlanta. A remarkable woman, she married at 18 without finishing high school, had her first child, got divorced and put herself through medical school while remarrying and raising her family. She went on to a long career as a psychiatrist. She had her first child at 18 and her last at 41!

Lucy is a survivor too. She is 16 years old, weighs four pounds and is a ferocious guardian. Originally a breeder dog, she was rescued by Elizabeth ten years ago. She says they rescued each other. We had a delicious brunch at her place and spent the afternoon catching up.


Elizabeth and Lucy

Joan is retired but Pat is still working with plans to retire soon so we took off on Monday after a weekend that was both invigorating and relaxing.

How do you thank people for the most precious gifts of all; friendship and time spent together? We are so grateful for our gracious Atlanta area hosts and friends.
More pics on Flickr.



Georgia on My Mind…

Once we left the Choo Choo Garage, we headed for James Sloppy Floyd State Park so I could spend a few more days in shingles recovery mode. We arrived during the week and it was nice and quiet for both recovering and kitty walking. We wanted to take a few days before we got to Howard and Ellen’s to assure that we I would at least be reasonable company.

They had been expecting us but none of us were exactly on a schedule so we pulled in one afternoon and commenced visiting. Ellen fixed us some delicious meals, all served from their bus barn kitchen which was newly installed. It was all pulled out in a home remodel and everything was brand new! What a deal! She had hurt her knee so I tried to make myself as useful as possible fixing things and cleaning up. At least I could do that much.

Howard has been Jim’s longtime bus guru and they did some work on Howard’s bus as they are preparing for their summer travels. Howard and Ellen have been living in their bus for over 27 years now and Ellen still says, “I love it.” Max the kitty was in residence and he and Carmella even had a nose-to-nose meeting.
After which Carmella needed some reassuring snuggling from Tikita.
We always enjoy our time with Howard and Ellen and this time was no different.
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Howard deep in the back of the bus. Jim observing and learning from the Master.
And Ellen and I, shingles and all.
Our deepest gratitude, as always, to Howard and Ellen for their hospitality, friendship and good parking spot.
These guys are the Best! If you see them on the road, say hi for us!

Next: On to Atlanta to visit my old friend Pat Downs, a childhood friend who I have not seen in 42 years!



The Shingles Show

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Where did we leave off? Oh yeah, Spring in the south. Except that’s not exactly how it all worked out.

We arrived in Chattanooga on Sunday, April 25th and they were beginning the work on the bus on Monday. Jim has detailed the bus work here. We knew we would be there for several days and I had a whole list of projects that I aimed to complete. New hangers for the bedroom closet that actually fit in the closet width, straighten up the closets and drawers, laundry, catch up on work for the NAOC, deep clean the bus, read, cook, walk the kitties. Take some pictures. The usual.

At least we are good at multi-tasking. Ha!

After we had been there a couple of days, my scratchy eye had gotten worse and I was pretty sure I had conjunctivitis. So we found an Urgent Care Center and I got looked at by a Physician’s Assistant. She looked in my eye and made sure there was nothing actually in there, even though it felt like a sandy rock had settled behind my eye. She gave me a script for an antibiotic eye drop. I also had her look at a couple of tiny blisters on my forehead to make sure it wasn’t poison ivy. I am deadly allergic to that and wanted to rule it out. We had also been meaning to get the shingles vaccine so she wrote us both a prescription for that too.

When she looked at the blisters she mentioned shingles but mostly in passing since I also wanted to get the vaccine. My friend Andrea had shingles when we were in Austin and she said it was the very worst, sickest she had ever been. This from a girl who has survived metastatic breast cancer, a bone marrow transplant, various surgeries and thyroid cancer. Worse that that? So yeah, we had the shot on the list.

We went to CVS and stocked up on eye drops and allergy medicines and got the shingles shot. Cross that off the list. The eye drops seemed to be helping so I figured in a day or so I would be good to go.

The next morning I woke up with my eye glued shut and angry bumps on half my forehead and all around my eye. My good eye. I knew right away I needed to see a doctor so we borrowed Don’s car again and headed to a clinic where they had a real MD; we checked before we went this time. Diagnosis? Shingles!

The doctor said as soon as he came in the room and saw my face that he knew it was shingles. He prescribed an anti-viral medicine to take for a week and said that since shingles follows a nerve it was affecting the area around my eye but not the eye itself. That can get really bad. I was glad for that info but was severely pissed that the PA at the other place didn’t catch it the previous day, especially when Doctor #2 said it would have been better to start the anti-viral a day earlier.

On the way back to the bus, we stopped at the first clinic and asked for my money back and to see the PA so she could see what a difference a day made. Of course she wouldn’t see me. Exasperated, we left. No wonder their waiting room was empty.

That evening, I emailed our friend, Elizabeth and she said to get to an ophthalmologist STAT! She is a retired MD and psychiatrist and always has good advice for us. She said shingles with eye involvement can escalate rapidly and not to fool around. Of course the next day was Saturday  but when I woke up I knew we had to go to the ER and get my eye checked out. Third day in a row to the doctor. And my basic philosophy is to stay as far away from doctors as possible!

The Erlanger East Health System hospital and staff were very professional and accommodating. It was a much faster, more confident experience than either of the other two clinic visits. They got me right in, numbed my eye and stained it so they could see if there was any shingles on my eyeball itself. Thank the Lord Baby Jesus there was none! I wept with relief.

Many years ago I had another eye incident. I worked in a photo lab and a coworker was mixing up chemistry while I was standing there talking to her. She dropped the cube of concentrated chemical and it flew into my eyes. We were right by the sink and rinsed it out and sped to the ER, cube in tow so they would know what it was. Man, did my eye hurt! It was so sensitive to light that I really couldn’t tell if I could see or not. When I was rushed into the ER, the doctor squirted some drops in my eyes and immediately I could see again! He held up the little bottle and said, “People think they know all about good drugs, but this stuff is the real deal.” I knew then I was going to be OK. I had burned off my cornea and he said it would regenerate and just go home and rest. And see the doctor everyday.

At that time I was a bike commuter with no car and there was no way I could ride to the hospital every day. Friends helped with that. One friend brought over some high dosage Valium and basically I just slept for the next several days when I wasn’t at the doctor getting checked out. It worked! They were amazed at how fast my cornea regenerated itself and said keep up whatever I was doing. So I did. When the photosensitivity finally settled down, I knew I was getting better.

Back to the current episode.

The next several days were a blur, literally. Reading up on shingles is scary but I wanted to nip it in the bud as much as possible. I took the anti-viral, mixed up a daily paste of baking soda, apple cider vinegar and castor oil and slobbed it on my swollen face and eye. Took lots of Lysine and vitamin C and started drinking the ACV in water so it could work from the inside out to prevent scarring.

They didn’t give me any pain medicine but when Jim broke his wrist, he got a treasure trove of pain meds that he still had plenty of. I adopted the dose-and-sleep approach again. For the next several days I mixed up my daily paste, took a pain pill and slept all day. Although I never have, I felt like I had  been punched in the eye and my whole face was sore. Eyebone soreness is a strange and horrible thing.

My arsenal of treatment included aloe vera gel, baking soda, castor oil, apple cider vinegar, coconut oil and Glyco-Thymoline. The anti-viral medicine seemed to be working and the sandy rock in my eye started to recede. My eye was still draining and swollen but no longer glued shut in the morning. The light sensitivity got better. I started to get my appetite back. The blisters have started to heal and there is actual light at the end of the tunnel. And I can see!

We ended up staying at the garage an extra day just to be sure that my eye was getting better. We are now at a lovely state park in Georgia just taking it easy. From here we will go to spend a few days with Howard and Ellen Best, then on to Atlanta to see Elizabeth, mentioned above and my childhood friend, Pat Downs.

Once again, we have been so very fortunate through all this. I am filled with gratitude. Don, the Choo Choo Express Garage owner told us to take his car anytime. We were stuck in one place anyway and Don said we could stay in their yard as long as we needed to. We were there about 10 days. The anti-viral medicine worked and the vaccine lessened the effects of the shingles. The kitties kept me company on the bed during my naps. Joel worked on the bus tirelessly while Jim completed his list of projects, including installing a freezer in the bay. Jim did all this while hauling me to the doctors and doing everything else besides.

So again, we know we are BIG BIG Lucky! Get the shingles shot! Today! Don’t delay!

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The Bus Gets Some Much-Needed Attention!

A year ago we had a tentative plan to head for Alaska in 2016. However by mid-winter we realized that having put forth absolutely no effort to plan that trip we probably weren’t going to make it this year. Besides there were some issues with the bus that I really wanted to get corrected before we head up that long road to the north. As it happened our inability to plan ahead worked to our advantage this time.

I’d heard good things on the forums about a bus garage in Chattanooga so in late February I gave the Choo Choo Express Garage a call to arrange an appointment. I figured we’d get there sometime in late April. So when we left south Texas we went north to Austin to visit my cousin Warren and Judy and then started working our way east along the gulf coast. Along the way we also visited a few bike trails and had some great food along the way.

We pulled into the Choo Choo Garage lot on a Sunday afternoon. In the morning we met Don and Joel the proprietors of this fine establishment. Joel does the wrenching and Don answers the phone and manages the business side. I had a list of issues I wanted corrected and I think Joel was a little overwhelmed as he hadn’t had a day off in 3 months! However, he never said a word, just went to work. It will soon become evident that Joel is a very hard-workin’ man and an excellent mechanic. I don’t think I have ever had anyone work so hard on my behalf as Joel worked on our bus.

First step was to pull the bus into the shop over the pit and do an inspection and service. Right away he found the cause of our steering issues and abnormal tire wear! A missing retaining plate on the right front radius rod. He also discovered a lot of oil in the air system indicating a worn compressor on the engine.

The passenger side front wheel bearing was bad and the seal on the left side was leaking. Oh, the front brake pads were past their wear marks and the left tag axle air bag  was leaking! No wonder the air system went flat so quickly. I knew there was a leak, but I never could find it. I’d fixed a few myself but this one eluded me for years.


Mighty Bus over the pit at Choo Choo Garage



View from the pit.

Besides these new additions to the list I also wanted the leaky transmission looked at and the leaky mitre box (that I tried to fix once) over the engine fixed. By 5 o’clock Monday Joel had: completed his inspection, changed the oil in both engine and transmission, changed all of the filters, adjusted the brakes, lubricated the chassis, replaced radius rod bushings on the front driver side and fabricated a new oil filler hose. We pulled out of the shop  for the night.


Joel fabricates a new Oil Filler for me.


The next day we pulled back in the shop and Joel started working on the left tag axle air bag. Whoa! what a job!

Unbelievable, but the brand new air bag also leaks! I know the words I’d be spouting at that point, but Joel is unflappable. All he said was, “well, I won’t charge you for that”. A new bag is on order, so on to other tasks. We pull out of the shop and park in the wash area for the rest of our stay.

Joel gets to work on the front end issues. I had mentioned earlier that I had jack stands built for the bus so Joel has me get them out to put under the front axle while he works on the hubs and radius rods. I keep the stands in the old spare tire compartment behind the front bumper. As I drop the bumper down to access the space, I find oil dripping off the frame and tow hitch!  One of the power steering hoses has sprung a leak! Another task goes on the list. On Monday Don and Joel were confident we’d be back on the road by Thursday. That is looking more and more unlikely.

First job is to pull the brake drums. We knew the pads needed replacement, but one quick look at the drums and it was obvious they were also shot. These drums cannot be turned, so replacement was the only choice.


Two big grooves cut into the drum.

In the meanwhile, Wendy is not feeling well and we decide she needs to see a doctor. Again, Choo Choo Garage comes through for us! Don very generously offers the use of his car! (read all about that here). While we’re gone Joel installs a new air compressor on the engine. No pics, sorry.

It is finally time to take a look at the mitre box – the main reason we came here! So while Joel works on the front end I get the mitre box ready to remove. Its a tricky job that doesn’t look possible at first glance due the fan shrouds being larger than the opening they have to come out through. The trick is to spin them around and bring the back sides out first. It’s still barely enough, but the whole assembly will come out as a whole. Getting it back in is just the reverse process. Trust me getting it out was the easy part.

In addition to the work Joel did to fix the front suspension and brakes, I also had to buy two new steer tires. These are very expensive so I didn’t want to ruin them like the last set. So a front end alignment was essential. Don calls his friend Chis Webber of Tri-State Mobile Alignment. Chris was friendly, efficient and had the toe-out condition corrected in no time.

I can’t begin to express my a gratitude and appreciation of the generosity, hospitality and competence of Joel and Don at the Choo Choo Express Garage. They not only fixed our bus, but they offered us their car, the use of their lot and made a difficult situation into a manageable one. On the last day Joel even pulled out an old air solenoid and some brass fittings and explained to me how to install it so I can unload the tag axle from the driver seat!

New front brake pads and drums; all new radius rod bushings up front; right front wheel bearings and race and new seals left and right; used spider on left front hub; retaining plate on right front radius rod; new power steering hoses up front; left tag axle air bag; complete inspection and service; repaired leaky modulator on transmission; new air compressor; fabricated new oil filler spout; repair and replace mitre box; air tank drain cables; new steer tires; front end alignment.

And while Joel did his magic I installed a new freezer in the center bay, installed a switch at the driver seat to unload the tag axle, fixed the minor problem with the new backup camera. Those can wait for another blog.

Trails and White Bicycles

Continuing on our coastal seafood cruise, we left the Gulf just in time to avoid the rain and flooding around Houston. We saw a video of the Elks Lodge where we stayed in Katy, Texas and water was flowing fast in the streets. Twenty inches of rain in Houston… Cameron, Louisiana was also underwater. Keep moving!

We are more or less headed toward Chattanooga to get some work done on the bus at the Choo Choo Garage. Jim’s project list is growing and we will be there several days. It will be a good break for me so I can catch up on work and get comfortably ahead on my magazine issues.

After all this eating, we needed to get in some bike riding so we went from Cameron to Mandeville on the north shore of Lake Pontchatrain. We have ridden the Tammany Trace before but it is a really good trail and Mandeville is loaded with good food. Jim especially wanted to get back to Liz Whar Y’At? for the seafood scrambler for breakfast. We cruised in on Sunday morning, ate breakfast and didn’t eat anything the whole rest of the day. Eating like snakes.

We got in 60 miles on the trail and it was just as pleasant as we remembered it. Except for the white bicycle… I hate seeing those because it means a bicyclist died where it stands.

We saw this place on the way to Darwell’s but we were on a mission. DSC_7338
After Mandeville, we had to check out Long Beach, Mississippi and Papa Darwell’s Cafe. He is a bus friend on Facebook and my mouth has been watering for months at all the special southern specials they serve. Time to see for ourselves. We got there right before the early dinner rush and I tried the Red Beans and Rice with grilled smoked sausage. And a side of crawfish etouffe because the girl at the counter gave us a sample and it was heavenly. Jim had blackened snapper covered with the crawfish etouffe. Needless to say, we ate as much as we could but there was still plenty left over for dinner.

From Long Beach we aimed the bus for Piedmont, Alabama and The Chief Ladiga Trail. Jim had located a campground right on the trail but there were no hookups and we briefly considered parking at a Walmart while we rode the trail. Boy, are we glad we didn’t! This was our view from the bus.
And our site where the kitties got lots of outdoor time. Even Astrid came out!
Terry was the congenial host. Terry “likes to talk” and we enjoyed chatting with him each evening and his sister-in-law, Debbie gave us a set of cool coasters she made. Thanks, Debbie and Terry!
The Chief Ladiga Campground is easily one of the very best places we have ever been parked. We had the whole place to ourselves and picked a shady spot right near the river. The kitties got to go on walks and we rode another 62 miles. The Chief Ladiga Trail hooks up with Georgia’s Silver Comet Trail so we got to finish riding that trail section we had missed a couple years ago. Of course eating was on the agenda and we rode the 17 miles to Cedartown and had lunch at Cedar and Smoke. The crispy Georgia catfish was sublime and I ate it all!

The weather was perfect for riding, overcast and not too cold or hot. Some scenes along the trail…
And unfortunately, another ghost bicycle.
The fields are overloaded with these tiny yellow flowers and everything is in full pollen and bug mode. It is literally raining bugs and pollen. Jim wears his sunglasses but I just use a visor and my eyes were full of bugs and pollen! Spring in the south.
The morning we left we didn’t have far to go so we decided to scope out the Solid Rock Cafe for lunch. A lady in Piedmont had stopped us on the street and highly recommended it and Yelp gives it many thumbs up. It was Sunday and when we got there we found it was just a Sunday buffet. We normally don’t like buffets; the food is cold and scarce but since we couldn’t order off the menu and were starving we decided to go for it.

What a great decision! It was like somebody’s southern grandma cooked us Sunday dinner! Beef, chicken, squash casserole, green beans, mashed potatoes, mac and cheese, salad, lots of desserts, sweet tea and ice cream. Groan… It was all so delicious. Again, no need for dinner that night. On Christ the Solid Rock I Stand. Trust the Loving Universe!

On to Chattanooga!


Cruising the Coast

After we left Austin, we knew we wanted to wind along the Gulf Coast eating All. The. Seafood. We made it to the Elks Lodge in Katy outside Houston where the kitties got a good outing. The next day we went through Houston, which went fine until we were on the east side and got caught up in an accident slowdown.

We had lunch in Port Arthur at Gulf Coast Seafood. If you are ever anywhere near Port Arthur, make sure you stop here. The Salt and Pepper Shrimp was lightly crispy, perfectly seasoned and totally delicious. Eyes bigger than stomach; I had plenty for dinner too. The seafood crawl has begun.

We had a route mapped out to Cameron, Louisiana but had to adjust course when that route required a ferry. We’re not ready for that and it turned out that the ferry was passenger vehicles only. We re-routed and landed at the Jetty RV Park with a spot looking right out onto the Gulf. We spent a couple of nights recharging, taking the cats out and drinking Bloody Marys. Thanks, Warren and Judy for the new bad habit!

This is a great RV Park well worth the drive through the Louisiana countryside to get there. And we had the whole place to ourselves!
Our view from the bus: I actually took this through the windshield.
The skies were ever-changing and I fooled around with some panoramic views.
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Carmella had several long walks here, chasing the marsh rabbits and trying to figure out why the seagulls were squawking at her. Ships came and went on a regular basis; from shrimp boats to huge carriers. We also had a torrential rainstorm the first night which was kind of nice after so many months with zero rain.
Enroute we had lunch in Abbeville at Shucks! Oyster House. Yum! Once again we ordered too much and had leftovers again. There were no oysters left over from this sampler however.
After lunch we headed for Walmart in Morgan City to spend the night and get some supplies.
This was our spot at the Walmart where Carmella also had a walkabout in her own little park beside the bus.

The good news is that Walmart sells liquor in Louisiana so we stocked up. I loaded and locked what we call the liquor bay but I must not have secured the first door well because when we were approaching Lake Pontchatrain to drive the 24 miles across the lake, a driver next to us signaled that something was amiss. The bay door was open! We lost a leveler pad (again!) and a big bottle of detergent but nothing else from the bay and no damage done. We have always locked the bays since we lost the first leveler pad a few years ago but Jim showed me how to check the latch on the opposing door to make sure everything stays closed. Good thing we were not on the bridge when that happened; no place to stop there.

And the box of liquor was intact. Whew! As Jim said, “This is not a big problem.”

We made it to Mandeville where we are riding the 40+ miles of the Tammany Trace. We have been on this trail before but we figured we better get some bike riding in during our seafood cruise. And there are many delicious places to eat and drink here too.

It is really nice to be back on the bikes. We did 25 miles today and tomorrow we have at least that many planned with a couple of food stops. Of course.





We left Edinburg on Tuesday headed for Austin. We spent our honeymoon in Austin 25 years ago (is that even possible?) and have always had a huge affection for the town. Lance Armstrong notwithstanding…

We knew from years ago that the traffic was terrible so we timed our entry accordingly and had a great trip up on the Texas Hill Country Trail. The bluebonnets and wildflowers were in full display as we headed north.

Jim’s cousin Warren and his wife Judy had spent the winter there and we had been meaning to hook up with them for almost a year but never were in the right place at the right time. This was the right time. We planned to spend three nights at the park where they were wintering over but we had such a good time with them that we extended our stay to five nights. Judy used her persuasive powers to not only get us additional nights but we ended up parked right next to each other. YAY!  We were having too much fun! Makes the Bloody Mary delivery so much easier!
Our longtime friends David and Andrea live there too and we were able to connect with them for a lovely boat ride and dinner. The traffic is so bad that it was much faster for them to pick us up by boat than by car. We motored over to the Sundancer Grill for a great dinner and evening catching up.
Love the look on David’s face here. Andrea has been through a lot health-wise in her life; she is a true warrior. She is at the tail end of a case of shingles now and had “the slows” as she put it. We are planning to get the shingles shot ASAP, a few years late. You should too.
Sunset on Lake Travis.

Once we were back at the park, we enjoyed several great meals with Judy and Warren including cocktails and wine and lots of music, everything from Bruce Springsteen to Allison Krause.

Of course Jim has known Warren forever but I first met Judy at a family reunion in Indiana in the late 1990s sometime. She had come to the reunion on her own since she and Warren had just been in a motorcycle accident and he was pretty laid up. We always knew we liked them but never got to visit two-on-two since it was always some big family gathering when we saw them. Jim’s mom was always about the large group but you never really get to know anybody that way. This was the first time we had spent just with them and it was the best family-as-friends visit ever! They love to laugh and have fun and we just had a grand old time. More plans to get together soon as they are heading back to Dallas to clean out and sell their house and stuff. We look forward to seeing them often and meeting up on the road.

As we headed out of the park we had to stop and take a picture of this rig.

We chatted briefly with Jema, who has been traveling with her husband and four kids for five years. We will keep in touch and will definitely recognize each other if we meet on the road.

What a great visit! Judy and Warren are the most fun family ever! Love these guys!

New Refrigerator Installed; Check!

Once they had shipped the new refrigerator, it got lost. For a couple of days we thought we were going to have to have another one shipped but they finally found it in San Antonio. Once it arrived at Bert Ogden RV in Mission, Jim had them plug it in and test it to make sure it got cold and worked correctly before we got it into the bus. It turned out they had a cancellation the next day at 8:00 AM so we got up early and headed out.

We checked it out and it was getting nice and cold while plugged in at the shop. All systems GO!

First to get the old one out… Because it wouldn’t go down the steps, they had to remove the side window. Since the bus was painted while the windows were installed, Jim scored all around the frame to make sure the paint didn’t peel off. When he told the guys he did that, they carefully scored around the window too. Window coming out.

Then out with the old.
And in with the new. They had some cardboard taped to the front of the new frig but to be loaded through the window it seemed like it needed much thicker padding. They proposed laying it on its back and loading it through that way. Now we know that the cooling unit is a very fragile piece of important stuff since we had the old one replaced a couple of times. Both Jim and I nixed the loading on the back so they took the doors off and laid it on the front side. Jim would have preferred that they not remove the doors but all went well.
Fitting it in place. This went amazingly well; the last time we had the frig out, Jim swore he would just take a saw to the opening if we had that much trouble!

Window going back in…
And wiring it up. Since we didn’t have an ice maker in the old one, they couldn’t connect the new one. We stopped at Home Depot on the way back and got the stuff for that and a trim piece to mount on the small gap on top.

We had lunch and were back at the park in plenty of time for Happy Hour.

Wow! This all went like clockwork! No broken windows or frig. No damage to the paint. We did notice while it was still in the shop that the freezer doors both had the very slightest wimple in them so they shipped us two new doors. Since the old cooling unit was under warranty, we got them to ship us one for the new refrigerator in the hopes that we will never have to use it.

Hats off to Bert Ogden RV and Juan who coordinated the install. We are very glad we went this route instead of trying to do ourselves in the park. It was cheap too, only $285. Definitely a bargain. They install better than they spell.

It has been in a week now and we  really like having our own ice. We hope this closes the book on the refrigerator saga.


Home Improvements

We are getting ready to pull up our Winter Texan stakes. Jim has been getting a whole list of projects done on the bus, fixing the bay doors, replacing a slide in the pantry and installing motion sensor lights in the kitchen cabinets. Lots of ship tightening going on before our projected departure around April 1.I have been cleaning, washing windows, shampooing rugs, polishing silver and getting things ready to roll on the inside.

One thing that was on the list was to defrost and clean out the refrigerator but now we don’t have to do that because it quit! One morning this week Jim woke up and smelled ammonia around the refrigerator doors. A quick internet search said that meant the cooling unit was failing. WHAT? It seemed like we just did that! It seemed to be holding temperature and we thought maybe the smell was just vinegar from cleaning the shower the day before. After another day though, the temperature was going up in the frig and the freezer was warming up too. Phooey!

It is a good thing we are still parked in south Texas and were not on the road when this happened since people here have extra refrigerators and offered us space for our food, which we seem to have quite a lot of.

The cooling unit was still under warranty but the old refrigerator had some other recurring problems; doors not sealing right, frosting up quickly after defrosting and just not being cold enough! We talked about replacing it with a domestic unit, which many RVers do, but we like to dry camp for extended periods and really need a refrigerator that will run on propane. So we ordered another RV refrigerator that will fit in the space where the old one is. It was a real bear getting that thing in and out just to replace the cooling unit and it didn’t even have to come out of the bus.

We knew the old one would not go down the steps and a new one would not come up that way either. One of the side windows will have to be removed and the new unit fork-lifted in. At first we couldn’t find anybody even interested in the job and it looked like Jim would have to recruit some guys here in the park and wangle it in that way. Even though I trust him more than any dealer to do the placement, wiring and installation, it still will take a forklift to get the old one out and the new one in. We wanted to have a dealer on board in case something happened; it could get dropped or not work and we would be out several thousand dollars with no recourse.

Jim found a RV dealer right near here in Mission, Texas that will do the job and we are having the new refrigerator shipped there. When it arrives, we will take the bus there and hopefully have an uneventful installation. Then we will come back, pick up our food, swim a few laps, attend a few Happy Hours and hit the road.

One good bit of news is that once Jim ordered the new refrigerator, he talked the company replacing the warrantied cooling unit into sending one for the new refrigerator. Maybe if we have one, we will never need to use it! The best news is that the new refrigerator will have an icemaker. YAY!

Stay tuned.



Peach Milkshake

Carmella, the orange cat, always wants to be around us or the other cats. Astrid is not too interested in cuddling with her, but Tikita has been a good mom-type cuddler and groomer since the kittens came home with us. We find them inter-tangled all the time; that’s why we call them Peach Milkshake. Sometimes Astrid joins in.

Sometimes Jim joins in…
She likes to reach out.
Sometimes Tikita needs to rest up from all the snuggling.
Then Carmella conscripts Astrid. We still call them the kittens although they will be ten years old this year. How did that happen?
Astrid needs a break from Carmella sometimes too.
We’ve never seen two of them on the same wave but it may have happened.
And the rare moments when all three are in close proximity. Naturally Carmella is in the middle to obtain maximum contact.
We do love our kitties and appreciate them even more after hearing that our bus friends Pam and Tony lost their dog, Jack, tragically and instantly last weekend. Our hearts go out to them. Jack was one in a million.

RIP Jack.