A Bump in the Road…

I’ll take 2020 any day. During the pandemic all we could do was hunker down, wash our hands and await the development of the COVID-19 vaccines. I added to my Fiestaware collection and set the table every night for dinner. Swam laps, gardened and practiced Yoga. Jim played his ukulele, getting better all the time. We went to the store once a month and stocked up on everything. Made whatever we wanted to eat. We stayed in Texas all summer and didn’t travel in the bus at all. Jim didn’t even go for his annual physical since Doctor’s offices were a hotbed of activity and possible infection. More on that later.

Come 2021. We were both double vaxxed. We figured it was safe to get together with others who were also vaccinated. Slowly started to emerge. It felt good and strange at the same time.

Jim went for his physical in March 2021. When he got the results of his bloodwork his white blood cell count was very high. His doctor figured it was a flukey test and ordered another one. That came back high too. In a call with his doctor Jim pleaded with her to give him her best guess as to what could cause this. She didn’t want to answer him but finally said “Leukemia.” She recommended a Hematologist Oncologist and we scheduled an appointment. Off we go down the rabbit hole.

When we met with the Hematologist Oncologist he came back into the room with Jim’s results and said, “Not to worry.” He diagnosed him with CLL. Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia, an “indolent” blood cancer that was very slow to develop and may not need treatment for years. Not the best news but I guess if you have to get cancer, a slow moving one is best. The doc said that something else would kill him first. And once he might need treatment it is a targeted immunotherapy, no chemo. So that’s good news. The doctor wanted to see him every three months so we made appointments and kept going.

One of the symptoms of CLL is fatigue. Jim started experiencing that after a few months. His spleen was also enlarged and keeping him from eating as much as he wanted. His white blood count kept going up. Finally, this March the doctor here said it was time to start treatment, just a year after diagnosis. Whatever, let’s get it rolling. But first we scheduled a trip to M.D. Anderson in Houston for a second opinion with a CLL specialist and a whole battery of tests. We planned on staying about a week to fit in all the tests and consultations.

Before going to Houston for our initial consult we were able to enjoy two weeks on the beach in Mexico. Then, since we knew Jim was going to need treatment he scheduled a prostate procedure in Austin. That all went really well and he’s glad he did it sooner rather than later.

Houston is exactly a five hour drive. We left on Easter Sunday and the traffic was light and we made good time. We got pulled over at the Falfurrias checkpoint, because of our South Dakota plates. Plus the dog barked. We have been through that checkpoint many times in the bus and they always waved us through. This time we had to get out of the car and wait in a separate area. The agents asked us why we were going to Houston and asked “Family?” We said no, cancer. They let us go after that.

M. D. Anderson lived up to its reputation. All the appointments were on time or early and we never felt like they were rushing us when we asked Jim’s ever lengthening list of questions. The CLL specialist recommended a clinical trial using a combination of three drugs. We just had to wait a couple of weeks to see which arm of the trial we would get in and whether it would require travel to Houston every time. Time for things to start looking up!

We got the tests all jammed into a few days and there were a lot of them! EKG, echo-cardiogram, CT Scan, Bone Marrow Aspiration, blood pressure, blood draws. I’m surprised he has any blood left. On the last day we had a consult with the CLL doctor and felt encouraged about the way things were going. We got away from the hospital fairly early and were back home by mid afternoon.

A few days later, right before we went to bed Jim received an email from the CLL doctor. Based on the second part of the examination of the bone marrow they discovered cells from a different kind of cancer, Splenic Marginal Zone Lymphoma. Even though the treatment for it is similar to CLL, we were out of the clinical trial and basically, back to square one. And he needs treatment. Oh, and it is very rare, like only 13 in 100,000 people get it. Two of every hundred non-Hodgin’s Lymphomas are SMZL. Not exactly a large study group .

It turned out that he had an appointment with his doctor here coming up on Tuesday the 26th. The doctor here had all the M.D. Anderson paperwork and confirmed that both CLL and SMZL are present but he said this makes the prognosis better. How he figured that I’m not sure. And the treatments are very similar. During the time we were waiting for the doctor Jim was able to get two appointments next week at M. D. Anderson to see a SMZL specialist and a cardiologist due to some fluid around his heart, common with lymphomas. Hopefully he will be able to begin treatment soon. They said he would almost immediately gain some relief and start feeling better. We are definitely looking forward to that. Of course, our Viking River Cruise in July is cancelled. We had moved it back from June but still wouldn’t work. We received a voucher to book within two years and our trip insurance covered the flights and hotel stays. He will be in treatment and we will most likely need to go to Houston during that time. First things first.

We have good cat care arranged. We could take the bus (and the cat) to Houston but we would also need to drive the car since we need it for appointments. And the car is a lot faster. You can make it a five hour trip since you can go 80 MPH. It would take at least two days in the bus. With diesel prices as high as they are now, we figured it would cost us $1000 to take the bus to Houston and back each time. So the money for hotels, food and parking is basically balanced out. And we didn’t really want to do all the gearing up for the bus trip that it would take.

We now have appointments at M. D. Anderson on May 2nd, 3rd and 4th. He has already talked to a specialist in SMZL, the lead researcher and a financial person. We will go to Houston May 1. He will have a PET scan for baseline markers, an appointment with a cardiologist and then the treatment will start on Wednesday! They say you start feeling better almost immediately so we are looking forward to that. M. D. Anderson doesn’t mess around. We are thankful that this little curve ball is straightened out and we can actually proceed. We are grateful that we have each other to lean on as we go through this.

Please keep Jim in your good thoughts as we navigate forward.

It Takes a Village…

To go on vacation! We had booked two weeks in Mexico at our favorite little resort in Xcalak. We booked last year too but got shut down by the pandemic. This year we are vaxxed, double boosted and were raring to go do nothing on the beach.

We had been looking forward to a real vacation, one where somebody cooks for you, cleans for you, the whole nine yards. People think when we’re in the bus that we are on vacation all the time, but we still have to shop, cook, clean, drive and all related activities. Our two international trips got cancelled last year. We’re still not sure about our Viking River cruise in July since Putin decided to start a war over there.

Leaving our cat, Carmella, was a little more complicated this year. Normally, during vacation we leave them alone and someone comes in to feed them and empty the box. For fifteen years, her entire life, she had at least one other cat to keep her company while we were gone. Since we lost Astrid last summer, Carmella has grown into being the “only cat.” All of a sudden she loves Treetos and asks loudly for them. She is just as social as ever, maybe even more. We were a little worried about her being alone for two weeks. Our regular cat feeder and waterer, Susi, was enlisted to cover the food, water and box. She also gives Carmella head butts when she visits and even plays Meece with her. And gives her catnip, of course.

On a last minute idea, I decided to ask our new next door neighbors if they would come over in the evenings and give her some pets and belly rubs on the porch. They have a lovely Rag Doll kitty, Finnegan, who they take on walks in his custom cat stroller. He loves his stroller and even goes in the car with them, sitting between them on the back of the seats. He has also sampled the catnip we grow and he loves rolling around in his stroller when I bring him some. Sandy and MaryAnn agreed to become designated cat petters and that worked out great. Sandy said it got so she was waiting for them at the door and would jump right up on her freezer to get “kitty kisses and cheek scratches.”

So, Mexico…

Our beachfront cabana looked right out onto the sunrise each morning. I quickly learned what time to get up and walk to the end of the dock for the best view. Then it unfolded, different every day. After sunrise I went back to bed to snuggle before we made our way to the palapa where we met up with our friend Michael, who we met at Playa Sonrisa way back in 2004. Unfortunately his partner Randy has passed on. The resort provides fresh pineapple and other fruits including mango, papaya and zipotle, a very sweet fruit. There was lots of hot coffee, juice and delicious “egg bombs” a daily offering of egg, chorizo, avocado and cheese. In one combination or another.

After a walk on the beach it was time for some some serious reading time. I finished five books while we were there and brought home the best one, Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr. I am about halfway through it. 

One day we took a drive down toward Belize where we used to own property. We planted some of these smaller coconuts. We sold it last year. 

Then we drove a little further toward Belize where Russ and Judy said they had seen crocodiles. We didn’t see any. No turtles either.

On the way back we drove around town. The landscaping in the cemetery was lovely.

Some of the food we had…

Back at Sonrisa. Michael cooked us dinner one night and we got to see the sun set from the top deck of his villa. Our last night we celebrated Cindy and Michael’s birthdays. And we ate and drank. The conch shell designs are pretty but unfortunately the sargassum coming up from Brazil has killed lots of the conch.

We went to Costa de Cocos a couple of times, once for margaritas. They are very good. When we went for dinner one night the margaritas were good but the service was terrible. One guy was the bartender and the waiter, and as Murph said, probably the cook too. It was the weekend… after all. And we ate at Silvia’s a couple of times when people said it had quite improved. Well, maybe a little. We miss The Leaky Palapa.

We had a relaxing stay in Xcalak. Russ and Judy were there for the first few nights. When they left Michael and we were the only guests. Very quiet and relaxing. When the hotel is full there’s like ten people there. We drove to Puerto Morelos for two nights on the way back, part of which involved a COVID-19 test. Negativo!

We found more good food and drinks there but the area around Tulum, Playa del Carmen, Akumal and Cancun has just exploded in growth since we were there last. Good reason to head farther south to Xcalak and Playa Sonrisa, where all you need is your smile.

Carmella was very well cared for in our absence. She was anxious to get outside to her catnip plant upon our return. And there is catnip in the bottom of the basket she lays in.

Thanks to our very own village! We couldn’t have done it without you.

Ten Years After

My mom died ten years ago today. She was 95 years old. She had a rough childhood having been born with infantile paralysis, then contracting polio at age 13. Her parents were determined and gave her constant physical therapy, so much that she always said she had exercised enough for her whole life. She went on to lose her first husband to kidney disease on their first anniversary, which was also her birthday, January 31.

Today, February 16 was also my brother’s birthday. When Mom died, my sister Cherie said “Dunc came down and scooped her up in his strong arms and took her home.” My brother died in 1993 about a year and a half after my dad died. It was a tough time for Mom, but she persevered until 2012 when she had a couple of strokes within a few days.

I had seen Mom on Valentine’s Day and we had dinner together at her senior living center. A couple of weeks earlier we celebrated her 95th birthday at the center where they had entertainment and food. I brought cake for the residents. She said, “This is all for me?!” I didn’t tell her it wasn’t and she had a magical day. There were a few signs I missed at the time. When I arrived for the Valentine dinner she said, “I don’t feel very good today.” But she rallied and we went to dinner. She had her favorite meal, steak and baked potato and chocolate dessert and ate it with relish. When I wheeled her back to her room, she wanted to take a look at the shadowbox of portraits I made for her entryway. We looked at the photos and said who was who and talked about them. When I left I told her that I loved her and would see her in a few days. Early the next morning, I got the phone call that she had a stroke and wouldn’t make it until the weekend. They wanted to put her on hospice but we were leery of that because she had already “graduated” from hospice once. They said it was mainly for the oxygen so she would be comfortable and after the doctor reassured us that she wasn’t going to last long it was Oked. A couple of days later we got the call that she had passed.

She ended up living a charmed and full life. She and my dad traveled extensively to all parts of the world. After Dad died in 1991, we took road trips and cruises with her. When she died Jim and I had planned for two years to sell our house and take off in the bus and now we were free to do that without worrying about her not having visitors. My two sisters lived out of state and seldom visited.

When my brother Duncan got sick in 1993, he came back to St. Louis from Oregon to be with Mom. She took one look at him and knew there was something wrong with him. It turned out he had Wilson’s Disease, too much copper in the blood causing cirrhosis of the liver. He died on May 1 of that year.

From top left, clockwise: Dad and Mom about 1980, Mom on Dad’s lap planning a trip. Mom in New Zealand in 1984, Mom and brother Duncan in 1993 while he was hospitalized, Dunc and his dog Shadow.

It’s hard to believe it’s been ten years. They flew by. We did sell the house in 2014 and since then have visited 47 states in the bus. We have visited friends all over the country, some of whom are no longer with us. We bought our little house and garden in Texas and survived floods, a hurricane and the pandemic (so far). We know there are challenges ahead as we age.

Mom was a fine example of strength, humor and grace under adversity that we take to heart and strive to learn from along the way.

RIP Mom, you really were one in a million.

2021: A Full Year of Pandemic Shopping

When the Coronavirus pandemic began in March 2020, I started not only limiting my visits to the store but keeping track of expenses for the rest of the year even though I didn’t start until March. As for limiting our trips to the store, we only grocery shopped twelve times during 2021!

Since we rarely eat out anyway, we didn’t skimp on food. Or drink. We did get carryout a few times but didn’t keep track of that.

The breakdown?

We spent $4302 on groceries which comes to $11.78 a day for six meals, just under $2.00 a meal. We spent $6.02 a day for alcohol, not too bad considering you can’t even get one drink in a bar for that. With the two cats’ dental work and Astrid’s subsequent Vet visits, we spent almost $3000 at various veterinarians. Ouch!

I swam for 40 hours and walked 193,143 steps that I measured with my Fitbit. We didn’t ride our bikes much since everywhere we went in the bus was so HOT! Only 55 miles, not much considering that we used to ride almost that in one day! It was a different kind of year…

Shopping during the pandemic was an eye-opener. I used to go to the store almost every day but now see no reason to return to that, even if we ever can. We made our extensive lists, bought in bulk and have two extra boxes of food on our porch with extra inventory. It also helped that our friend Elsie gave us her chest freezer when she moved out of her house and it is full. Sometimes I wonder just how long we could really eat with all that food, but when I go back to the store and the shelves are empty I always buy more.

Since food has become a focus, we are always looking for new things to try. I have a subscription to The New York Times and they have some great recipes there. This one is baked potato soup topped with bacon and cheese. Our new stove has a griddle burner and Jim has been making some delicioso quesadillas. There’s a bunch of soup in the freezer too. Along with chili, tortilla soup, spaghetti and lots of other stuff like pulled pork and taco meat.

It was an interesting experiment but I am hoping we can be done with it soon. Virus cases are still rising with little abatement in progress. We still do a “surgical scrub” whenever we return to the house from any activities. Sigh.

We are in a cold spell here, which means we are freezing at 40 degrees while the rest of the country is having a lovely snow and ice storm. Our power is on and we are cozy. Cold days are great for cooking!

We are thankful.

That’s a Wrap…Finally

Even though we’ve been back in Texas for two months now, I’ve been meaning to do our travel year-end wrap-up. Better late than never.

We billed this as the Family and Friends Tour of 2021 and we were able to have visits with 23 different sets of friends all over the country. That was the reason we got the bus in the first place. We met up with Cindy and Mike and Cher and Steve in Albuquerque when we had to detour there to get the bus worked on. Then we headed to Las Vegas, New Mexico to meet up with Ron and Ling.

Then we headed to Colorado with a stop in Pueblo at the Elks, then on to the Westminister Elks Lodge to meet up with Ronnie. And that’s where the awning blew off. No awning the rest of the trip. after about a week in Colorado we set off for Omaha to park in Megan and Bob’s driveway. We had a delightful visit and the tour of Omaha.

After that it was off to Kansas City to see some of Jim’s family and our friends Betsy and Ralph and Marg and Jay. And deal with Astrid the cat. More on that later. And I bought as much Vernor’s Diet Ginger Ale as would fit in what we call the ginger ale bay. It lasted about four months!

Then we were off to the Lake of the Ozarks to spend a couple of weeks with Doc and J on the water. We were just sorry Linda and Jack weren’t there too.

Then we decided to backtrack to Kansas City to deal with Astrid, the cat. That was a sad episode. The trip to Hartsburg to see Marni and Eric was a little rushed since they were so busy but we got to check off a bucket list item when Roger and Barbara Giles invited us for a cruise on their sternwheeler, the Joseph M. LaBarge. Then after we moved to the Elks in Columbia, Missouri we met up with Phyllis and Joe and Kathy. Phyllis gave me a much needed haircut. She cuts her own hair! I am in awe of people who can do that.

A quick visit to St. Charles let us catch up with Sandy and Carl. We spent my birthday there and had a nice dinner out.

Then we set course for central Illinois where we met Leslie and Rodney, new friends we met online. We spent about a week there getting acquainted and had a great spot to camp where Carmella had the run of the place.

After that we made it to Rolla, MO where we had a lovely days long visit with Lori and Norm. It was so nice to reconnect. They had great driveway parking.

Heading south, we stopped in Norman to visit with Dos Okies, Janelle and Bill and their (and our) friends Carol and John. Kind of a whirlwind visit since bus parking was $100 a night! But still way fun.

It was really hot everywhere we went this year! We plugged in more than usual to have air conditioning. We stayed at eleven Elks Lodges, four friends places, four state and county parks, two Walmarts, four RV parks, one Corps of Engineer site and one fairground.

The bus is back in storage now and we are on our winter circuit of swimming laps, doing yoga, having friends over and porch jamming. Life is good!

Making Our Way South

When we got done visiting our friends in Norman, it was time to head south. We found an Elks Lodge in Cleburne, Texas and had the place to ourselves after a day of driving through some dramatic skies. And more heat. We haven’t done nearly as much boondocking as we normally do because of the heat. If we have the technology, we might as well use it. We had started having some trouble with the 50 amp cord in Norman but Jim’s stick-to-it-ivness paid off in the end. We had tried to buy a new cord head in Norman but no luck. We figured if we just jiggled it all the way back to south Texas we could fix it then. In Cleburne, he got us plugged in just fine and left the bay door open so as not to disrupt the now sensitive cord.

I had been noticing for awhile that my iPad was discharging fast and when navigating I had to have it plugged in. We knew we were going through Ft. Worth and decided to stop at the Apple Store there. Normally we visit our friends Viv and Gary when we pass through for an annual art adventure but decided to pass on the indoor stuff this time with the Delta variant erasing all the progress of last year. We will see them this winter.

Looking at Google Maps we could see that the parking at the shopping center was very tight so Jim parked on a side street while I went in for my appointment. Even though Apple was introducing new versions of both iPhone and iPad in a few days, we were here NOW with not much of a chance for returning. They helped me start setting it up and I went back to the bus to finish. Jim asked me if I was sure I got the version that had good GPS and navigation since we use it for that all the time. Back to the store I went. Of course that version of the iPad Air was more expensive. Of course it was… I was glad he mentioned it at the time. This time they left me to set it up on my own and I started doing that when we got back on the road. Once it got going it perked right along and by the next morning everything was transferred from my old iPad. Of course that meant I couldn’t get a trade-in for it. I will figure out how to handle that; I may just sell it but my new one doesn’t connect to my computer yet (waiting on an adapter) so I can Airdrop to the old one for the time being. And I kind of like having an extra one although the new one stays charged much better.

That night we found another Elks in Temple, Texas, where, as usual, everybody was really nice. They were having burgers that night and we got them. They were really good! I didn’t get a picture of the bus there but we were the only ones there. Our view from the bus with our 50 amp spot.

We had reservations at Choke Canyon State Park for our final stay of the summer. We reserved our favorite spot and settled in for a few days. Then Tropical Storm Nicholas started to form. It was projected to hit the coast of Texas and we wanted to make sure we didn’t arrive home while the park was flooded. So we booked three more days just to make sure. Of course it hit further up the coast but that’s OK. At least we wouldn’t have to deal with flooding.

Even though it was still really hot, I got my bike out and rode about 25 miles around the park. We pretty much have it to ourselves. We see deer everyday and javalinas in the evening. They are prehistoric looking, to say the least. Speaking of prehistoric, there is a sign as you enter the park that says “Beware: Alligators exist in this park.” We’ve never seen one. Carmella likes it here but it is so hot that she basically just lays under the bus. Heat index is 110 degrees today!

Javalinas pass through our site
Around the park

We will start back tomorrow after thoroughly enjoying our Family and Friends Tour of 2021.

Hey, Hey, Labor Day! And Dos Okies!

We decided to layover Labor Day at Heyburn Lake in Oklahoma, about 80 miles from our friends in Norman. It was HOT! I took a few walks down around the lake but when I stepped into the water there was no cool relief. It was still hot. Good chance to catch up on reading and art.

At first we were the only ones there but then it started to fill up for Labor Day weekend. But as it turned out, by mid-morning of Labor Day, we were back by ourselves.

On to Norman!

We usually park at the Cleveland County Fairgrounds in Norman, but they were undergoing renovation and the County Fair was scheduled during our window to visit. Hmmm… We called the Lloyd Noble Center where they have RV parking for the OU football games. They had plenty of space at $100 a night! During football games it is $150 a night. We booked for two nights and figured we would get to visit with both Janelle and Bill and John and Carol during that time.

After cocktails at Bill and Janelle’s place the first night, we drove to Othello’s, a nice Italian restaurant with a covered patio. When we got there we discovered we had a flat tire! Janelle said the hell with it, let’s eat and change it afterward. So we did. When we finished, Jim changed the tire while Janelle used my phone as a flashlight. Otherwise, we would have pictures. After that they took us straight back to the bus so nothing else could go wrong. They got the tire fixed the next morning.

Janelle always cooks for us when we’re there but I didn’t want her to have to rush around to feed us so I made up my Holiday Hamburgers and Jim grilled them for the six of us the next night. We ate on their lovely and cool back deck where it it is like being in the treetops. Because you are! We had hamburgers, buns, tomato, avocado and cheese. Janelle did do a dessert of pie and ice cream; we were stuffed!

And, yes, for $100 a night, we threw out our dishwater. It was so hot that it dried quickly.

And their dog, Taylor! He was barky and suspicious of us at first but he settled down fast. He is sweet, very well trained and obedient and it was great to get reacquainted with him. He is four years old now and Bill has done a great job of training him. He is a pleasure to be around.

He cocks his head when you make a meowing sound!

It is especially nice to be able to catch up with people we haven’t seen in almost two years! These are the kind of friends that you just fall back into conversation with, picking up where we left off. Time is flying by and we don’t want to miss any opportunities to catch up with dear friends. Who knows what the future holds?

Next time we will park at John and Carol’s house in the country. Or the fairgrounds, if renovations are finished. And hopefully we can see Bill and Janelle in Mexico next spring. We have had to cancel twice because of COVID but we are now fully vaccinated and more than ready to travel. PLEASE get vaccinated if you are not; help out your fellow community members. Public health is involved, not just personal choice.

This concludes the Family and Friends Tour of 2021. We visited 21 sets of friends and family in just three and a half months!. That’s one of the reasons we got the bus in the first place, to be able to visit our far flung friends. It’s working!

From here we head to Choke Canyon State Park for our last camping of the season. It’s still hot and getting hotter as we head south. A tropical storm is forming in the Gulf of Mexico and we want to wait it out if it hits our winter park.

It’s hard to believe that the summer is almost over! We missed visiting some other friends who were either out of town or too far away. We’ll catch them next time!

Rolling Toward Rolla

After Illinois we backtracked through St. Louis on the way to visit our friends Lori and Norm. They have been trying to get us to visit in the bus for years but the time and place were never right. This time it was. We spent a hot night at the Elks in St. Clair, Missouri where they thankfully had 50 amp service. Both air conditioners on high, please! From St. Clair we made a short provisioning run where we also got our booster shot! Bonus!

Once we decided where in their driveway we should park, Lori took a video of us backing it in. When she played the video back for me I could hear her say, “I’ve been trying to get them to come for YEARS!” Be careful what you wish for.

Old friends from Columbia, we hadn’t seen Lori since 2009 when she came and stayed with us for a pastel painting workshop she took in Kansas City. And we hadn’t seen Norm since their housewarming party in Rolla in 1996! Time to catch up!

Once we got the bus parked, it was time to figure out the electric. The garage had 15 amp outlets, but not enough to run an A/C. Hmmm. The porch had an outlet that turned out to be 20 amp! YAY! Like everyplace else we have been this summer, it was super hot and the A/C truly appreciated. Jim has just about every adapter known to man and soon we were cooling off with the refrigerator plugged into the 15 amp in the garage. Our view from the bus…

Our spot in the driveway

We figured Carmella would be really happy here. They live on 20 acres outside Rolla and their road was not very busy at all. Of course, we forgot to factor in Skye, their 10 year old dog who is quite large and friendly. She wanted to make friends with Carmella so badly but Carmella wasn’t having any of it at first. A few days before we left she decided to come hang out on the deck and they got acquainted, sort of…

Look at her sweet face…

They also have a 16 year old Siamese kitty, Brown Toe. He is a cool cat who has had a kinda rough life. His previous owner died about six years ago and she was so worried about the cat that Lori said she would take him. He’s a lucky boy. He has kidney disease but he loved brushing and I proceeded to brush him daily since he had lots of knots and clumpy fur. We collected the fur in a bag and had a whole grocery sack full by the time we left. I left them the brush I got for Astrid and hopefully he will get more brushing. Lori became allergic to him a few years ago and he really enjoyed the extra attention. You can see how he got his name.

Lori is an accomplished plein air painter. Which means she paints outside, in all weather conditions, often with a limited amount of time. She travels to events all over the country and gives workshops in her spare time. She has a little studio on the property, a whole house actually. Their house is like a gallery with displays of her work, as well as Norm’s excellent photography.

Lori in her studio with a few of her many awards. Not only does she win awards, she sells many of her pieces, along with note cards. See more at her website.

Not only is Norm an award winning photographer, he is what I think of as a gentleman farmer. We sampled his delicious wares throughout our visit. He is also a musician and he and Jim collaborated on the deck in the afternoons. And what a deck! Comfortable, spacious and cool with a ceiling fan, we spent almost every minute out there.

Lori is also a great cook, who loves to putter around in the kitchen. The first night she made BLTs, the next a delicious Brazilian fish stew, served with her homemade bagels. What a treat! Then she made moussaka, a delightful eggplant dish. We contributed spare ribs and salad one night and crappie and salad the next. We just happened to have some of Doc’s crappie in the freezer and it turned out that it is Lori’s favorite. And Norm made rum raisin ice cream!

Before COVID they would have an open house with a personal concert for their guests. This is from one of those.
I love it.

They are also collectors and have art from other people displayed.

Around the house…

And all of a sudden it was time to go! What a lovely visit with great friends. You know you have good friends when after many years, you can just fall back into conversation with them and pick up where you left off. We are fortunate and grateful to have reconnected. Thank you Lori and Norm! We’ll be back!

Friends & Family Tour Rolls On…

Once we left St. Charles it was just a short trip to a really nice recreation area in central Illinois. We wanted to meet up with new friends, Leslie and Rodney. We met online and have many things in common and similar interests including yoga, cats and art. Why not visit? We are always curious to meet up with people and have them show us their world; we learn alot that way.

The Washington County Recreation Area is a really nice campground on Lake Washington. We had been warned that they might have some electrical “issues” due to their outdated system but Jim has every kind of adapter we might need and we figured it would be OK. We pulled in and picked a site. The camp host, Cathy, came over and we told her we would get set up and then I would come and give her a check. She reminded us that the site we picked was “Reservable” which meant that unless we reserved our first night online we couldn’t re-up with the camp host and someone could reserve it out from under us and we would have to move. Hmmm… We plugged in anyway and the electric was not cooperating. Jim finally set the inverter to “Charge” and it held then. But there was still a possibility we would have to move if somebody reserved for the weekend.

Cathy showed us where the non-reservable sites were where we could stay for up to two weeks without moving. We found a really good one and moved the bus there. This turned out to be a great spot for Carmella. We got there on a Monday, paid for a few nights and discovered a fire pit and LOTS of fallen wood to make a fire with. Naturally, I started collecting and soon had a fire built for that night with lots of wood to add.

The second night we were there, Leslie and Rodney came over with a lovely and delicious snack tray and a couple bottles of wine and we proceeded to get better acquainted. She is a fifth grade reading teacher and he is a chiropractor, practicing in their town and one down the road. She is back in school now after teaching virtually last year. Can you imagine fifth graders doing that? She has a calm and steady manner and it was a success but she is glad to be back in the classroom and so are the kids. Masked, of course. We waited a while to take a group selfie and had to turn on the sidelight.

It was still very hot, like 99 degrees every day! I found that it took about 2000 steps to gather wood for a fire and build it. We didn’t get the bikes out due to the heat. Carmella was able to roam around without her string, supervised of course, and her mood picked up quite a bit. A change of scene does everybody good. I decided to start walking to get some exercise and made it to over 10,000 steps several days.

A couple of nights later we went to their house for dinner. Rodney took us on a quick tour of their town with many stately homes. He has lived there his whole life and we saw his childhood home and a couple of the places they lived before their current home. I wish I had taken more pictures but they had dinner in the oven so we headed to their place. And what a place! Close to town, their house sits at the end of a winding, wooded driveway totally secluded and peaceful. They have their own lake and her parents live across the lake from them.

We explored the property a bit, met Kevin the cat and had some cocktails made with these super large ice cubes Rodney makes. Then it was time to eat. He grilled the biggest steaks I have ever seen and they were delicious, from a local supplier. We had baked potatoes and salad, a perfect meal. They even gave us doggie bags since there was no way we could eat all that in one sitting. It lasted us each three meals!

Their kids are grown up and have moved out now, but can you tell that the pink was the girl’s room? That’s me with Gus the cat. We also met Remy the cat and Murph, their 14 year old Collie/St. Bernard mix. They have some tough decisions coming up with Murph, our hearts go out to them. It was a wonderfully relaxed evening with friends. Besides the steaks, Rodney also sent us home with some of those big ice cubes!

On Saturday it was still hot but we all went to the American Thresher’s Show in nearby Pinckneyville. I have never seen so many tractors in one place. From early steam driven ones to modern ones with air conditioned cabs, they covered the fairgrounds. A lot of the tractors had cool graphics so I concentrated on those for the pictures.

It rained some, perfect muddy ground for the tractors. Leslie kept dry and shady with her umbrella.

They had old steam tractors which were noisy and had what seemed like train whistles on them. They had belts connecting to a power takeoff, concrete mixers, one that they were mixing up ice cream with and everything in between. It was a Midwestern experience, for sure. This guy built this 95 year old Ford pickup truck from a coupe and gave me a ride. It was his grandfather’s.

We ended up staying for almost a week so it was a good thing we moved to the unreservable site! The last morning Cathy brought over some of the ornaments she is working on for a craft sale in Alabama. She has an embroidery machine which she says “keeps her out of trouble.” She was also making a cover for the camp gator. I wish I had gotten a picture of her, she is beautiful inside and out, best camp host ever!

On our last night, Leslie and Rodney came over to say goodbye and brought their son, Ethan. We had another fire and enjoyed a short visit.

Leslie brought us some tomatoes from her garden and we have been enjoying them. One last sunset then back through St. Louis to Rolla to meet up with Lori and Norm, more friends!

What an excellent stop! Good for Carmella and for us too. We enjoyed meeting these new friends and look forward to getting to know them better. Even though this trip didn’t include any of my immediate family, you know what they say… Friends are the family you make for yourself.

The Accidental Astrid

We adopted Astrid and Carmella together as eight week old kittens on August 14, 2006. We had looked online at the kittens at Wayside Waifs and decided we definitely wanted to adopt Carmella, whose name was Camilla at that time. Jim and I were emailing back and forth about the kittens and he said “Astrid is very cute too.” And she was. A little bundle of black fluff with devil horn spikes on top of her head between her ears…

When I got in the “kitten room” Carmella was nowhere to be seen until I reached into a long box and felt the softest fur ever. She was sleeping but I tried to wake her up. Meanwhile, as I sat among the kittens, Astrid kept jumping on my lap as if to say “Pick me! Pick me!” She had been at the shelter for over a month and I couldn’t believe she hadn’t been adopted yet. She was fostered and on her info sheet it described her as “a cuddlebug with those I love.”

She was so insistent that I ended up deciding to adopt them both. We already had two adult cats at home, Tikita and Narcissus but I had never had a little kitten. Now we had two. When I decided to get them both, the staff at Wayside Waifs made me call Jim and make sure it was OK that we got them both. They actually insisted on talking to him themselves! Of course he said it was OK and I brought them home the day before my birthday. I actually asked if I got a discount since I was adopting two and Astrid came home as the ten dollar kitty. That didn’t last long.

Then, the next day Jim gave me a DSLR camera for my birthday so I started testing it out on the kitties. They have been well photographed in the last 15 years.

The day after we brought them home
Astrid and the D-70 box

About the $10 kitty… Because I was adopting them both and because Astrid had been at the shelter so long we got a discount. We kept them separated from the other cats for a few days then let them start exploring.

A couple of mornings later we were lying in bed looking out at the stairway landing. Narcissus, the big white male cat was on one side of the railing and Astrid was on the other, short side, trying to play with him through the railing. I said to Jim “There goes my new vase” which was right below the stair landing. No sooner than I said it Astrid fell off and we heard the loud crash of the new Blenko vase I had just bought for flower arrangements from the garden. She was uninjured, fortunately. At that point she became the $150 kitty. A few years later I found them both on the same table sniffing the flowers. At least they didn’t knock this one over. I still have it.

It turned out that Carmella is a lifelong flower eater.

Astrid didn’t get along that well with Tikita, but they had many adventures together.

When we adopted them in August we decided to delay their going outside till spring. In the spring we got them harnesses and long strings and began walking them around the yard, establishing boundaries they could establish. Eventually we let them out on their own and they were pretty good about staying in our yard and not crossing the street.

Naturally throughout her 15 years, she had plenty of other instances. Once we let them go out on their own, Astrid was basically on the “Vole a Day” program. She knew where to find them in the garden and ate one every day. Once when Jim was on a business trip she got really sick. I took her to the vet but they couldn’t figure out what was wrong with her. We figured she must have eaten a diseased vole. They took blood and all the usual stuff. She was so dehydrated that I had to take her in for subcutaneous fluids and leave her overnight. They warned me that she might not make it. But she did. Her recovery took a long time and after that I promised her that when she was on my lap she would always have my full attention.

Then there was the time she was under the net at the back of our large koi pond and she fell in. She scrambled back out only to fall in again. She steered clear of the pond after that.

One Christmas morning she came running into the kitchen with a piece of thread hanging from her mouth. Closer examination revealed a needle and thread lodged in her mouth! We removed it and stashed all the sewing stuff after that. She also loved paper clips and was an expert at removing them from a sheaf of papers. Eventually we had to have a paper clip free house.

After she got in a cat fight in the yard, she developed a large abscess at the base of her tail. We had to keep the wound open for over a week and administer antibiotic ointment. It took both of us to do that. Another time her tail got caught in the screen door and they thought it might have to be amputated. It didn’t and her magnificent tail was saved.

After she got lost in Minnesota for two weeks, she lost all interest in playing with the other cat. Carmella tried to chase her and play like they used to when they were little but Astrid took everything seriously and as an attack. Carmella just wanted to play. We were just happy to have her back.

This is the first time in 15 years that Carmella has been an only kitty. At first, in St. Charles we thought she was depressed and didn’t want to go out but once we got to a lovely state recreation area in Illinois she could, and did, roam freely. We were glad to see that.

We both miss Astrid. Mornings are the worst since she used to jump on my lap and rub her face against my iPad while I read the paper. We are fortunate that our paths crossed and that we had her for so long. Carmella is too. RIP Astrid.