May 14th through May 24th 2016 Beacon New York, West Point New York, Lee New Hampshire

Upon arrival at the only campground within an hour drive of Beacon New York, the New York City/North Newburg KOA in Newburg, we settled into our site, long level gravel, full hook-ups and friendly neighbors. The ride in was bumpy with bug swarms because of the small lake at the entrance but we are only here for two nights so full hook-ups are our only necessity. Plans are to meet up with our Texas friends for dinner tonight and the four of us will connect in the morning for a tour of West Point.

With KatieBug guarding LilyPad, we drove through rolling hills and giant oak lined roadways to the picturesque town of Beacon, NY. Blue skies, puffs of white clouds, green trees and grass, pops of color hanging from baskets and in patches on the ground, the result of Spring plantings. Multifold buildings still standing from the 1800’s, many of them carefully repurposed into shops, businesses, non-profits and café’s. We enjoyed visiting the town last year and our return evokes pleasant memories of friends and relaxation.

Located on the Eastern shore of the Hudson River, the town is a rather petite hamlet with enough to do and see within walking distance to earn the description of “cozy”. An hour from New York City, it is close enough to transit for employment but far enough away to distance oneself from big city life, big city stress and big city prices.

An outdoor paradise in seasonal weather, the town is near tree shaded hiking trails in and around Mt. Beacon Incline Railway and hike and bike paths along the Hudson. In town and along the outskirts of town, opportunity for exercise is abundant.

We arrived and met up with our Texas friends, dined out at a local restaurant and socialized after we finished eating, relaxing and chatting away the dinnertime hours, then returning to LilyPad before dusk to enjoy a quiet going-to-sleep-early evening.

Morning arrived and we were off to the Town of Highlands in Orange County New York for a tour of West Point. Founded in 1802 by Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, West Point, a.k.a. “The Point” is a military school on a 16,000 acre plot of land on the western bank of the Hudson River. Its graduates are predominantly engineers and after graduation, typically serve as Army officers. Striving for well-rounded cadets, all were expected to earn excellent grades, attend all classes and be present in church. After General Douglas MacArthur became commandant, inclusion in sports became compulsory.

West Point, NY

West Point houses the campus of the United States Military Academy, West Point Cadet Chapel, The Old Cadet Chapel, Cemetery, Visitor Center and museum.

Abrams Gate Entrance

Our tour was partial bus ride, the balance, relaxed walking. Our guide referred to the tour as the Boot Camp Tour, meaning for us, welcome leg stretches and much needed exercise. Our first stop was the West Point Cadet Chapel.

West Point Cadet Chapel    Inside West Point Cadet Chapel    Chapel Alter

The church serves to welcome and provide spiritual support to West Point cadets, staff and faculty. Until recently, attendance was required but there are still large numbers in attendance each service, something expected considering cadets and soldiers who enter have been, or will be, “in harm’s way”.

We boarded the bus and drove to the Old Cadet Chapel, built in 1836, the first house of worship at the Academy. Originally located near the cadet barracks, the chapel was removed from the parade grounds to be reassembled, piece by piece, in the West Point Cemetery. It was relocated in 1911 with funds raised by the cadets. The focal point of the Chapel is an impressive half circle mural above the alter titled, “Peace and War” by Robert W. Weir, Professor.

Peace and War

Inside, positioned in orderly lines up and down the walls, are plaques and unusual memorabilia of outstanding Generals of the Revolutionary War, George Washington being placed at the head. In the far rear, above the railing of the choir loft, is a plaque dedicated to the infamous Major General Benedict Arnold, his name defaced, the plaque showing only his rank and date of birth.

Major General Benedict Arnold

Outside were the cemetery grounds. We walked reverently through the tranquil grounds, stopping at several grave sites to hear a story about the hero buried there, a service the deceased had done for our country or an interesting piece of historical information. It was pointed out, although already noticed by most, that some graves were father and son, some father and daughter. There were even a few grandfather, son and grandson graves. One alone is sad enough but how unbearable, unimaginable and heart wrenching is the sight of three losses especially if all were taken at early ages.

The Cemetery

The Mission Statement of the West Point Cemetery is to: “deliver the Final Salute to those members of the US Corps of Cadets, its Faculty, Staff and those West Point Graduates who have dedicated their lives in the service of this nation. We strive to commemorate and memorialize these Graduates and to care for their final resting place in perpetuity. May it be said, “Well done; Be thou at peace.”

Cemetery older headstones

Sylvanus Thayer, class of 1808, was a former Superintendent (1817-33) and considered to be the Father of the Military Academy. President James Monroe ordered Thayer to West Point to become superintendent of the Academy. Under his administration the Academy became the first college of engineering in the nation.

Thayer established traditions and policies still in use today at West Point. Values of honor and responsibility, strict mental and physical discipline, the demerit system, summer encampment, high academic standards and requiring cadets to maintain consistent outstanding military demeanor and appearance, all attributed to Sylvanus Thayer.

Leaving the Army in June 1863 with the rank of Colonel in the Corps of Engineers, he spent the majority of 30 years as Chief Engineer for the Boston area. He oversaw the construction of both Fort Warren and Fort Independence to defend Boston Harbor.

He died on September 1872 at his home in Braintree Massachusetts, his remains were removed from South Braintree Massachusetts and re-interred at West Point Cemetery.

Sylvanus Thayer

In 1879 the legendary Custer statue was unveiled. George Armstrong Custer arrived at West Point in June of 1857 with 107 other cadet candidates and made the whittled down cut to 34. Making friends easily, he excelled in socialization. The rules stated that during a six month term, one hundred demerits resulted in expulsion. Our tour guide told us that Custer was rowdy as a cadet, playing jokes and pranks, earning near expulsion amounts of demerits. He would attain upwards of ninety each semester. When he had reached near the limit, he would apply himself until the new semester started, not allowing further demerits to accumulate.

Never for anything significant, the trivial offenses included trifling in ranks marching from parade (3 demerits), calling “Corporal” in a loud and boisterous voice (3 demerits), hair out of uniform at guard meeting (2 demerits), late to supper (1 demerit), throwing snowballs on barrack steps (3 demerits). Although he was smart enough to achieve high grades, he lacked the drive and discipline, no doubt why his parents thought West Point would help him improve.

Graduation nearing, his emerging personality exhibited no signs of a willingness to control his mischievous behavior and being no more disciplined, he ran up ninety-seven demerits, a record for him, in his last semester. He graduated with his class in 1861, ranking 34th in his class of 34 graduates.

After graduating, he set out to locate the Second Cavalry. Custer excelled in battlefields and had been a hugely successful leader until his last stand.

George A. Custer

We paused at the headstones of General William Childs Westmoreland,

General William Childs Westmoreland

and H. Norman Schwarzkopf

H. Norman Schwarzkopf

and Major General Daniel Butterfield. When Major General Butterfield’s grave marker was completed, West Point enacted standards for size allowances of markers.

Major General Daniel Butterfield

After leaving the cemetery, our bus took us to the Battle Monument overlooking the Hudson River.

The Hudson River

In 1897, the Battle Monument was dedicated by Civil War veterans who paid for the monument through their pay and donations. Names of the officers and soldiers, 2,230 of the Regular Army, are inscribed on the monument.

Civil War Battle Monument

Next to the monument, a grassy knoll displays an array of cannons. Those cannons planted in the ground, facing downward, were from the battles of the civil war, buried so they could never again be fired.

Cannons buried pointing down    Display of cannons

The parade area is exactly what it suggests…a super-sized field where the cadets march and “parade” by officers and guests in the stands.

Parade Grounds leftParade Grounds right

Accepting its first female cadets in 1976, the U.S. Army recently announced that Col. Cindy Jebb will be the next U.S. Military Academy’s Dean of Academic Board, which makes her the first woman to hold this position in West Point’s history.

While we stood waiting for our bus, a convoy of Army troop trucks passed us by, loaded with Cadets leaving for Summer Maneuvers.


The United States Military Academy’s mission is to educate, train and inspire the Corps of Cadets so that each graduate is a commissioned leader of character committed to the values of Duty, Honor, Country and prepared for a career of professional excellence and service to the nation as an officer in the United States Army.

Depositing us back at the visitor center, we enjoyed a late lunch with friends. Tired and pollen impaired after the outdoor “Boot Camp Tour” we said good-by. I felt a migraine creeping up from the high pollen counts and overpowering bus bathroom deodorant odor and hoped a rest would allow us to join up again for dinner but it was not to be. John did the packing as we readied ourselves for our seasonal workamping experience in Lee New Hampshire. After nearly a month, our last day on the road.

I Love New England and its abundance of historic houses, although in my humble opinion those stately granite stone homes in Pennsylvania do give Victorian, salt box and Mansard styles a run for their money.

Pennsylvania stone home


It is mid-week and we have arrived at our home for the next five months, Wellington Camping Park in Lee New Hampshire. I knew before accepting, this workamp position would be located in a vintage family run camp, dirt roads and homesteaded primarily by seasonal families. I was assured by the former workampers that the people were friendly, the campground was nice and the roads were not dusty. Two out of three ain’t bad. Absolutely Texas Friendly. Nice is a relative term…the entire campground is in a state of total transition. As far as dusty, my answer is given in my strongest Texas accent. “Hell yea, it’s a gigantic dusty dirt ball”.

The campground I saw in Google Maps, had the appearance of your typical trailer trash neighborhood dwellings, more closely resembling a backwoods Georgia hooch distillery camp than a family campground so expectations were met as we drove down the dusty rutty road into the camp. Two levels of small decades old trailers with handcrafted wood or metal roof coverings and wood porches, a hodgepodge of tents, trailers and motorhomes, all tucked under shade trees and along the river.

Our site at Wellington Camping Park

The owner, Pat Wellington, runs the family encampment with a can-do attitude. She will be in your face if you even hint of ignoring the rules. For all of her petite 5 foot frame, she is one spunky senior lady and has no intention of allowing seasonal families to slip by without paying their proper dues. The camp offers reasonable seasonal rates, recently installed 50amp hook-ups and free pump out service, free use of the paddle boat, kayaks and canoes complete with life jackets and inexpensive dry wood for campfires. Her children and grandchildren respect her as the reigning matriarch and decisions are primarily made at her judgment call.

Upgrading began just recently and she has taken on the job of removing the primitive mid-20th century “trailer trash”, cleaning out barely standing and abandoned trailers covered by blue plastic tarps and their accompanying rotted porches and decks. We see her daily out in the park carting away whatever junk she can manage to lift, then instructing the maintenance man to haul the rest to the dump.

Between her family, take-down crews and workampers, the sites are being cleared, one by one, piece by piece, hauling off dead appliances and beds, her sons using the backhoe to crush the various colors of wooden porches into kindling and the campground truck to haul it all to the dump. The family works with a Titan’s determination, all pitching in to complete whatever needs to be done to transform Wellington into a respectable 21st century seasonal campground. Several abandoned sites are on the chopping block. This one will come down next week.

Next to go down

This one is down to the final bare bones removal, the camper will be pulled out and sold as junk.

coming down

Currently the park is inhabited primarily by seasonal families, some living full time, some only on weekends. There are two sections of the park, one down the hill by the river (downstairs) and one up the hill near the open field (upstairs).  We are downstairs.  The park is a mixture of campers who have been returning here for decades, linemen workers who live on the grounds until the job ends, transient weekend campers and the three workampers.

First on the itinerary, before setting up the inside, was to ward off evil creepy crawlies that might sneak inside, chew wires, bite humans or fur babies. Armed with several bottles of granules that promised to ward off spiders, rats and rodents, I sprinkled the area. Squirts of scented oils were used as a backup in case the granules didn’t work, non-toxic sprays around the outer boundary of the motorhome to discourage insects and some fox urine on surrounding trees to discourage badgers and skunks. Fingers were crossed in hopes that anything lurking nearby was met with a fitting discouraging smell.  John set up our mouse trap buckets bated with organic peanut butter. Moderately confident that we were protected, we set up camp and relaxed for the night.

Next morning our mouse trap buckets were completely stripped of peanut butter and unusually large fang marks had pierced holes in the plastic. Hmmm, probably not rodents.

what big teeth you have

We dumped the buckets and scrapped the idea of peanut butter lures for catching mice. No reason to send out invitations encouraging creatures, outfitted with big sharp teeth, to visit our motorhome.

Searching the internet we learned that this immediate area is inhabited by bear, moose, coyotes, skunks, badgers, squirrels and chipmunks. Additional menacing crawlers are ticks, ants and spiders, an overabundance of them, with flying attacks coming from mosquitos and biting gnats.  Thrown into the mix are large quantities of poison oak hugging the trees, a constant generous dusting of pollen, dirt roads billowing dust and smoke from campfires giving us that “total camping experience” for our five month stay in New Hampshire. The “experience” was joyous as a scout leader with my Girl Scout daughter and Boy Scout son.  As a a senior, it comes nearer to unbearable.

When John hooked up the sewer, we discovered that we did not have full hook-ups but two underground tanks. They held only enough for one “dump” of our black and grey tanks. We would need the “honey wagon” twice a week. Unexpected but survivable with careful scheduling of showers, dishwashing and clothes washing.

The bathrooms are old but serviceable, wood, plastic and screen, all in one stage or another of needing a patch or repair. When funds allow, the owner plans to build new facilities.

downstairs bathrooms

There is a large recreation hall attached to the upstairs bathrooms near the children’s play structure, volley ball net and horseshoe pit. It has a small kitchen area, fridge, picnic tables and a pool table inside. The walls are covered with pictures of camping families spanning more decades than I have been alive.

Rec Center   DSC_1269

The camp is located on the banks of the Lamprey River, the trees provide a cooling sunscreen.  Canoes, paddles, life jackets and a paddle boat are free for campers to use.

Our canoes and kayaks

Beach chairs line the river beach area.

Our Beach

John made mention that “lamprey” was an evil name for our river. It wasn’t until I looked up the word “lamprey” that I added it to the list of things I could do without seeing…ever. The internet picture below is of a river lamprey. The article states that a river lamprey can’t attach itself to anything but I think I’ll skip going anywhere near the water just in case.

Picture of a lamprey

We were here several days before we began to understand what was expected of us. There was no training, no meeting, no welcome pot luck.  We work 30 hours in five days, then have nine days off. Our alternate Workamper host is Linda, a single woman living in a small class C camper with her Yorkie mix fur baby. Charlie is the lone maintenance man who helps with removing junk from abandoned sites and does what he can to keep things repaired around the campground. John enjoys working with Charlie on projects and it provides us both with a little breathing room.  I bought a hanging plant to brighten up our site and Pat bought me ground plants to enhance my little patch of color.

Site 5

Good Morning Sunshine! Cough, cough, wheeze, cough, cough, wheeze…dust rises up and covers us and everything surrounding our site, multiple times a day. The site is large and roomy but sadly, we are located inches from the main road loop by which everyone must enter and exit. Our motorhome and car have a thick coating of brown dirt, mixed in with the yellow tree pollen that even the heaviest of rain storms did nothing to strip away.

Our car each morning

Feeling grateful and thankful for “Oh Wonderful Hubby of Mine” who sprays down our road at least once a day to keep the dust quenched. So far, the dust has been mightier but we keep trying. Each morning we wake up to more dust and I have a feeling it is a losing battle.

With all that floats in the campground air, I plan to spend most of my days indoors and as many hours as possible near Portsmouth New Hampshire inhaling the cool salt sea air and cleansing my lungs.

I don’t do Spring well. My lungs object to sky high pollen counts and windy days blow pollen off trees and plants and force them into every facial opening in my head. We usually leave Texas just before Spring and follow blooming trees, grasses and flowers to our final destination, traveling for a month or longer. A maximum amount of multiple drugs offer modern medicine a shot at keeping my lungs clear but unhappily the drugs severely curtail my ability to balance. I am left with lungs that are huffing and puffing while I teeter-totter along. John kindly allows me to use him as a cane whenever we are enjoying outside activities together. I will continue to push myself to do things that are joyful, especially with the companionship of people we like or when there is a possibility of an exciting adventure.  I shall remain determined to enjoy as much of the journey as possible, pushing health to the edge, but hopefully never again over. I don’t do sick well either.

My first day on the job was spent removing spider webs from all the bathroom bare wood ceilings, cleaning bathroom toilets, showers, sinks, wood floors and pulling up weeds from the horseshoe pit. John raked up leaves and cleaned off plastic campground chairs, weed whacked and helped clean toilets. After 4 straight days of pulling weeds for several hours each day in the heat, the horse shoe pit still looks like a weed patch.  Another losing battle.

Our five workamping days at an end, we bought and used our first New England Groupon, a local winery tour and tasting.  Driving through the town square we saw banners announcing Lee’s 250th birthday.  The square is circled by well cared for and preserved early 1800’s homes.

Lee, New Hampshire

Our Groupon was for two tours and tastings at Flag Hill Winery.  The sales/tasting room is a converted 1800’s dairy barn, beautifully repurposed and restored.  White wine is their premier crop but their reds were lite and easy drinking.  They also make liqueur but it was somewhat sharp for my palate.

Flag Hill Winery

Flag Hill’s old vines are near the road we travel over each time we go for groceries.

Flag Hill old vines

Another nearby main road has a sign that made us both do a double take.  This sleepy little town has a nudist park.

Lee Nudist Park

The Country Western song “What was I thinking”, plays repetitiously in the background of my brain.  Music, even in my mind,  calms me and helps to quell the disappointment felt at having taken another workamp position with unhealthy breathing conditions.  Plans are being made for our first get-away, an escape to the seaside, complete with soothingly cool salt sea air.

Someday I will purchase a crystal ball and see if my gypsy blood can detect the negatives of future workamping choices floating through its orb before we accept.  Something has got to work, asking point blank questions does not.  It may be a slightly odd way of getting honest answers but I’m willing to try anything once.

Tomorrow we are off to coast of Maine!  KatieBug will be resting snuggly in her travel crate, the car will be dusted and wiped down inside, we will gas up and be on our way, ready to relax and recoup.  This is the fun part of travel.  A new place to explore, fresh air to breathe, no dust, nothing to fix, dump or clean for three days.  Yea ocean!

May 2nd through May 13th, 2016 Chalk Hill PA, Mill Run PA, Ephrata PA, Lancaster PA, Hershey PA, Lititz PA, Blue Ball PA, Intercourse PA

On our way to Pennsylvania Dutch Country we paused for a tour of two Frank Lloyd Wright homes, Kentuck Knob in Chalk Hill and Fallingwater in Mill Run Pennsylvania. The homes were located within a few miles of each other. Our overnight for this off- track visit was Hickory Hollow RV Park. To reach the campground it was necessary to wind through steep hills, down narrow roads, and cross several bridges with signs warning “no trucks over 10 tons”. White knuckling it with fingers crossed, we rolled over several holding our breath and hoping that our 20 ton heft didn’t collapse the small bridges.

Arriving safely we pulled into our partially shaded long level site and set up for the night. Our site was on the ridge, no one else as neighbors, with views of the tranquil rolling hills and peaceful fishing lake. When night arrived, it was pitch black with tiny piercing white stars covering the sky. After an overload of travel stress, we slipped into an evening of pure relaxation.

Hickory Hollow Campground, Rockwood, PA

There were a few small downsides to the campground, low water pressure and muddy grounds from the storms, but the area was clean and neat, the staff was friendly, the facilities were modern and nights were quiet. I suspected that our exit, a tight turn on an uphill slant, was going to be problematic but I would worry about that later.


Bright and early next morning, we set off to visit the two Unitarian Style homes designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.  Alongside the road we spotted a beautiful covered bridge, Kings Bridge, built in 1806.  It is a 127 foot 4 inch long Burr truss bridge.  I was surprised to find it had an asbestos covered gable roof, although it would have only been a danger to those who built the roof.  Love the design and how well these covered bridges have held up over the centuries.  The bridge crosses Laurel Hill Creek.  It is one of 10 covered bridges in Somerset County.  If we were staying longer in the area, we would search them out.

Kings Bridge 1802  Kings Bridge interior

Arriving early with the dew still on the ground, we walked around the visitor center at Kentuck Knob.  As is standard with Frank Lloyd Wright’s homes, no pictures are allowed inside.

Kebntuck Knob Visitors Center

Kentuck Knob was designed in 1953 for the Hagan’s and their 80 acres of land. They lived in the home for almost 30 years. Owners of a major dairy company, they were friends of the Kaufmann’s, owners of the nearby Fallingwater home, also designed by Wright, and were frequent guests. The Kaufmann’s helped convince Wright to design a home for the Hagan’s, as even at the age of 86, he was still much in demand.

Back side of Kentuck Knob    Little Fallingwaters

The 240 degree L-plan house, based on a module system, curves around a courtyard and blends into the land’s contours.  Wright wanted the first impression of the house to have the appearance of it emerging from the ground and nestling into the hillside.

Kentuck Knob car port

The hilltop, a few yards south of the home, has a magnificent view of the valley.

Valley view from Kentuck Knob 1  Valley view from Kentuck Knob 2

In 1986 Lord and Lady Palumbo of the UK bought the property, using it as a vacation home. The couple occasionally use the home for entertaining but since 1996, they allow the public tour program to continue, a method of historic property management common to Britain.

One of the notable features of the home were the hexagon shaped windows allowing light to come through the overhang on the long rear porch.  The picture below is compliments of the website.

Hexagon skylights

Lord and Lady Palumbo have a substantial collection of large scale art pieces located along a half mile trail called “Sculpture Meadow”. Beginning near the stunning valley overlook behind the house, and ending at the Visitors Center where we were parked, the perfect weather and interesting pieces made for an enjoyable purposeful walking exercise through the forest.

Kinetic Art                                                 Bailey Sculpture

Kinetic art    Bailey Sculpture

De Creation Sculpture                              Troilus Tortoise bronze sculpture

De Creation sculpture     Troilus tortoise bronze sculpture

Untitled Sculpture                 Berlin Wall Section              Apple Core Sculpture

Untitled sculpture     Berlin Wall Section   Apple Core Sculpture

The Kaufmann residence, also known as Fallingwater, was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1935 for Edgar J. Kaufmann, owner of Kaufmann’s Department Store.

Fallingwater by Frank Lloyd Wright

The home was built partially over a waterfall on Bear Run in the Mill Run section of Stewart township and the multi-level home has direct access to a swim deck and swim hole just above the falls.  The entrance to the house was tucked away under stone columns and cement overhangs.

Fallingwaters water platform   Fallingwater side entrance

It was designed as a weekend home for the family. Wright designed a later addition, on a hill above the family home, as a guest home with a back deck that included a natural spring fed swim pool.  You can barely see the guest house over the top of the main house.

Layers of Fallingwater

While I was drawn to Wright’s earlier work, the older and more famous he became, the less I appreciated his architectural reasoning. Narrow dark entrances with low ceilings that opened up and made rooms look larger was appealing but his determination to have total control over the design went awry with several inconvenient features.

His insistence on low ceilings at the entrances left anyone six feet tall or over having to duck their heads to enter his homes. Another insisted design feature was the absence of screens. The intricately designed woodwork across opening windows allowed cross breezes to flow but also allowed in bugs and critters. Wright did not allow screens. He believed they blocked the progression of the outdoors into the indoors, despite the damage that resulted from entering crawlies and creepers. Many of the home owners sensibly added screens after the home was completed.

Built-in seating that stretches along walls and discourages intimate guest conversations was another odd feature. Both homes were owned by well-to-do families that entertained. The odd seating and small dining tables that have seating designed for only immediate family added to the clash, pulling the home’s purpose in opposite directions. The narrow stone passageways designed as halls were uncomfortably claustrophobic and kitchens were designed for preparation of small meals with little storage.

Mr. Wright would never have been able to complete an agreeable home design for John and I. He believed that everyone was entitled to his opinion but then, so do I. One of us would surely have ended up buried six feet under a solid cement foundation before the house was completed.

Near both homes is the small town center of Ohiopyle. It is quaint, sits alongside the river, is filled with small shops and eateries and is the center for dozens of activities and outdoor adventures.  Ohiopyle State Park’s 20,500 spectacularly scenic acres, the Youghiogheny River and waterfalls make this area a quality one-on-one experience with Mother Nature.  We had lunch in a small café across the street from the river and drove around the area sightseeing before returning to LilyPad to pack up and prepare for our early morning departure.


Our morning exit was complicated by the downpours that happened sporadically over the past two days. The rain produced wet grounds, wet grass and some areas of mud with less-than-perfect road conditions. It resulted in LilyPad sliding as we climbed the hill to exit the campground. Stopping each time the wheels spun, we inched our way up, thankfully without having to unhook the car, my teeth clenched tight throughout our sluggish climb and eventual exit. Relaxation, stress, relaxation, stress…there is always a roller coaster of emotions each travel day.

Storms across PA

Soon I will be checking off something on my Bucket List and am happily anticipating the experience the nearer we draw to our next destination. A visit to Lancaster, PA has been on my Bucket List for decades and shortly we will arrive. Reading up on both religious groups for a better understanding of each, the people and the area, was done nightly over the past week.

Wikipedia describes the Amish as a group of traditionalist Christian church fellowships with Swiss Anabaptist origins.  They are closely related to, but distinct from, Mennonite churches.  The Amish are known for simple living, plain dress, and reluctance to adopt the many conveniences of modern technology.  The history of the Amish church began with a schism in Switzerland within a group of Swiss and Alsatian Anabaptists in 1693 led by Jakob Ammann.  Those who followed Ammann became known as Amish.

The same source describes the Mennonites as Christian groups belonging to the church communities of Anabaptist denominations named after Menno Simons (1496-1561) of Friesland in what is now the Netherlands.  The early teachings of the Mennonites were founded on the belief in both the mission and ministry of Jesus, which the original Anabaptist followers held to with great conviction despite persecution by various Roman Catholic and Protestant states.  Rather than fight, the majority of these followers survived by fleeing to neighboring states.  Mennonites have become known as one of the historic peace churches because of their commitment to pacifism.

Although Lancaster , in the heart of Amish and Mennonite country, was our original destination, we settled comfortably in Ephrata at the Ephrata Elks Lodge, tucked between dozens of Shaggy Hickory trees and a short distance away from the Lodge.  It is an effortless drive to any town we wish to visit.

LilyPad under Shaggy Hickory Trees   Ephrata Elks Lodge, PA

Capturing the Amish on film, being mindful of their intense faith and strict adherence to traditions, is a delicate task and not easily accomplished as they are integrated within the county. They hold a fascination for myself and many other “English”, which is what they call outsiders. Their culture is marked by separatism and a rejection of modern technology even as they continue to thrive within communities that so passionately embrace individualism and staying connected to a state-of-the-art world.

We began our Amish adventure by traveling over roads that split fields of chestnut colored soil, dotted every so often by plain white houses and barns, all lacking “English” electrical pole and phone line attachments to their homes.  A red barn among the white buildings often implied a Mennonite farm.

Farmhouse laundry  White and brick red

Simple somber blue, white, tan and brown colored clothing, hand washed and hanging wet on outdoor clotheslines, were a common site.

Fields and farms

While driving along, one had to be watchful of horse drawn carriages touring briskly down asphalt roads, sharing lanes with motor vehicles.

Horse and carriage    Carriage on the Main road

Carriage at Shady Maple

Some even traveled down the road where we were staying.

Carriage passing our RV site

Teams of colossal horses, guided by a single farm hand, working in unison to drag plow equipment across fields, turning lush greenery into fertile tilled soil.

Farming the land   Horse drawn field work

Restaurants and grocery stores offered horse and carriage parking.

Carriage stalls in Blue Ball

Each of these scenes were all signs that we had truly entered Pennsylvania Dutch Country.

Our first excursion was to Hershey Museum in Hershey Pennsylvania. My keep-on-rollin-on mantra is: Just give me chocolate and no one gets hurt. Chocolate is my drug of choice. It has become a powerful tool in stress reduction or any other excuse I can dream up in order to bite into a square of my velvety addiction.

Milton Hershey’s chocolate factory provided affordable chocolate to all Americans but that was only one of his gifts to this country.

Chocolate Avenue

I had read about the Milton Hershey empire before we visited but didn’t realize how much was not included in the writings. He was a devout philanthropist, designing a company town that encouraged his employees to seek education, offering them a well-rounded life that included sports and the arts, availing loans for them to purchase housing, building swimming and sports facilities for leisure time and constructing a gigantic community building for offering a variety of events and gatherings. Hershey was one of the first successful planned communities. Neither he nor his wife had children and he left his fortune to the Hershey Industrial School, a home for orphaned boys which he founded in early 1900.

We drove through the neighborhoods where Hershey employee homes still stand.  Lovely homes, well manicured neighborhoods.

Employees homes

Hershey began his confectionary business with Lancaster Caramel Company which quickly became successful. Using the funds from the sale of his caramel company to build The Hershey Company, he established the Hershey Industrial School for orphaned boys with a Deed of Trust in 1909 and in 1918 he transferred the majority of his assets, including control of the company, to the Milton Hershey School Trust fund, renamed in 1951 to the Milton Hershey School. The school trust has 100 percent control of Hershey Entertainment and Resorts Company which owns the Hotel Hershey and Hersheypark among other properties. Milton took great pride in the growth of the school, his town and business, placing the quality of his products and the well-being of his workers ahead of profits.

The museum was a wealth of information about the chocolate making process.  Original manufacturing machines were displayed in several rooms along with the process used to make the chocolate and lots of interactive screens to keep the kids entertained.

There was a cocoa bean grinder,

Crushing cocoa beans

and the Hershey kiss wrapping machine.

Hershey kisses production

We purchased a Groupon for the museum that included a “drinking chocolate” flight.  Six different flavors and densities made from beans around the world.  From milk chocolate to dark chocolate, each had a different yet amazing flavor.   We left with major chocolate highs.

Chocolate Flights

Hershey’s Chocolate World was a short drive from the museum and the heavenly bouquet of chocolate filled the air even before entering the doors.

Hersheys Chocolate World

There was an enjoyable animated ride with funny singing cows,

Happy Hershey Cows

samples at the end of the ride and more chocolate than imaginable divided among dozens of rooms.

Chocolate overload

The M.S. Hershey private charitable foundation established in 1935 provides educational and cultural opportunities for Hershey residents. The foundation funds the Hershey Museum, Hershey Gardens and Hershey Theater.

The Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center was founded by an initial endowment of $50 million, a gift from the Milton Hershey School Trust to the people of Hershey PA. The teaching hospital has an annual budget exceeding the initial construction cost.

In 1912, the Hershey’s were booked to travel on the ill-fated maiden voyage of the RMS Titanic. They cancelled the reservations at the last minute, instead booking passage to New York on the German luxury liner SS Amerika. The loss of Milton Hershey would have affected generations of Americans and legal immigrants who benefited from his continuing generosity.


Another day, another town to explore. Today our pick is Lititz, a borough in Lancaster County. Founded by members of the Moravian church in 1756, its name was taken from a German castle near a village where ancient Bohemian Brethren’s Church had been founded in 1457. The historic picturesque downtown is filled with remarkably well preserved stone and wood buildings, some dating back several centuries. I would have no objection to living in any of the buildings, anywhere along the downtown streets of this fascinating town.

Homes on Main St in Lititz PA    Lititz farm house

Lititz is home to Linden Hall, the oldest all-girls boarding school in the United States. The school was founded by the Moravian church in 1746 as a day school, a decade before the borough was incorporated. An amazing stone building surrounded by beautiful grounds.

Linden Hall School

Our day started with breakfast at Tomato Pie Café, an eclectic urban style eatery in a vintage building. Friendly service, expansive menu, yummy food.

Tomato Pie Cafe

We walked along the downtown streets, window shopping until we found Julius Sturgis Pretzel Bakery and entered for the bakery tour.  I had read about the tour, it sounded interesting and indeed, was worth the time spent.  Founded in 1861, the bakery is the first commercial pretzel bakery in America. The smell of fresh baked pretzels wafted through the gift shop so we split a soft pretzel and covered it with spicy brown mustard, munching while waiting for the tour to begin.

Julius Sturgis Pretzel Factory

Although the exact origin of the pretzel is unknown, legend claims that around A.D. 610, Italian monks rewarded their young students with baked dough twisted in the shape of crossed arms. At that time, the traditional posture for prayer involved crossing arms over the chest, hands flat against the shoulders. The pretzel’s three holes represent the Holy Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit and the bakery item became associated with good luck, long life and prosperity.

The Catholic Church dictated strict rules for fasting and abstinence during Lent in the seventh century so the pretzel, made of water, flour and salt, was an ideal food. These early pretzels were soft baked and were originally called “bracellae”, the later term for “little arms”, from which the Germans later derived the word “bretzel”. According to the church, the earliest pretzels were called “pretiolas”, meaning little rewards, and handed out by monks when their pupils recited prayers correctly.

Spreading across Europe during the Middle Ages, these pretzels were easy to prepare in ovens like the ones we toured at the bakery that are pictured below and pretzels were commonly distributed to the poor as a way of providing both spiritual and literal sustenance.

Baking Ovens

Our tour guide taught us the original meaning of the shape of the pretzel, allowing us to use raw dough while she explained each step. First, roll the dough ball out to the length of the dowel, approximately 12 inches.

Pretzel making

Second, bring ends up to form a “U” representing a child’s prayers going up to heaven. Third, cross the ends of the dough to form an “X”, then twist one time. This knot represents the union of marriage between the child’s parents. Fourth, pull the ends of the dough down and press them into the bottom of the pretzel. The three openings represent the Christian Trinity. The shape also resembles a child’s arms crossed in prayer.

John's Pretzel

We accepted our complimentary packages of hard pretzels, bought another soft pretzel to share and continued walking around town.

Just before reaching our car, I spied the word “chocolate” on an old building across the street. We were not leaving until I had a taste of what was sure to be stashed inside the Wilbur Chocolate Company.

Wilbur chocolate Company

Purchased by Cargill Cocoa and Chocolate North America in 1992, the company was founded in 1865 by Henry Oscar Wilbur and Samuel Croft in Lititz, where most of the Wilbur brand was produced. It is one of the four brands manufactured by Cargill Cocoa & Chocolate North America. The parent company produces hundreds of millions of pounds of chocolate a year and sells to dozens of manufacturers throughout the Americas.  The museum held a wall of molds for brick chocolate and many of the names were immediately recognizable.

2 pound chocolate molds

Cargill cocoa and chocolate labels include Peter’s Chocolate, bought from Nestle in 2002, Gerkens Cacao and Veliche Belgian chocolate. Cargill closed the Wilbur Chocolate Factory in early 2016 officially ending Wilbur’s celebrated 125 year old tradition of chocolate making in Lititz.

Happily for us, they kept the gratis Candy Americana Museum that tells the story of the company and how their chocolate was made.  They also have free samples.  Hooray for samples!   Although they closed the factory, workers hand fill chocolate molds for sale in the store.

Speciality mold making

We strolled through the exhibits and I paused in front of the full wall of dainty porcelain antique chocolate pots, exquisitely designed.  I inherited my mother’s antique chocolate pot set and I am amazed that something so delicate survived for so many centuries.

Chocolate Pots

The museum also included a room full of tins and boxes, molds and chocolate miscellaneous.

Making Wilbur chocolate  Wilbur Molds

Here is an interesting fact for your Trivia file. The Wilbur Bud was introduced in 1893 and closely resembles the Hershey’s Kiss which debuted in 1907. Although both are chocolate and both are wrapped, doesn’t it seems strange that one is well known and the other almost obscure considering the close proximity of their manufacturers?  Lititz is a mere 20 miles from Hershey.

Hershey kisses      Wilbur Buds

After sampling our fill of chocolate, we drove around while I picked out a few dozen houses where I knew I could live happily ever after. I pretend we will buy a house in one of these towns and John plays along. It works for my imagination of home ownership and John’s lack of ability to buy a sticks and bricks home.  I must admit, if I had been to this part of Pennsylvania before living in Boston, I would have lost my heart to the charming little town of Lititz.

Returning to LilyPad for the evening, we made plans to rise early and attend a local farmers market.


It was an overcast day, perfect for wandering through the indoor market and outside stalls. Roots Country Market and Auction in Manheim Pennsylvania is the oldest single family-run country market in Lancaster County. It began as a poultry auction in 1925 and over the years, has evolved into a part of Lancaster County’s heritage, offering fresh foods along with a large variety of handcrafted items for sale.

The country market was a jumble of bakery goods, cheese, fresh fruits and veggies, flowers, handmade baskets and blankets, fish, deli meats and fresh meats, jewelry, handmade wooden items, antiques and scads more, all temptingly exhibited under numerous roofs and spilling out onto the side streets. We didn’t go to the auction. Neither of us could think of a single item we needed badly enough to buy it by the box, and haul it around in our motorhome.

Root's Country Market and Auction

I had to be cautious taking pictures as most of the produce farm stands, dairy farm counters and meat merchant cases were Amish owned and staffed. I tasted everything that was available for sampling, all of it delightfully palate pleasing. Our special treat was a melt-in-your-mouth sticky bun from Michael’s Home-style Breads Bakery.

Sticky buns

We took home a selection of Amish homemade sausages, Amish homemade sauerkraut, Amish homemade goat cheese spread (a yummy Cajun spice and crab combo) and a small Amish handmade basket. Prices were low, quality was exceptional, the market was brimming with first-rate people watching opportunities and it ranked high up there on my happy camper meter.

cream cheese mixes     Root's veggies

We walked through several buildings.  At the end of one of the buildings sat a gentleman dressed to the nines.

Simply Santa

I must preface the meeting of this Lancaster county resident by stating that in The Woodlands Texas, our Santa ranked supreme among Santa’s. Search as we might, year after year, none compared to our Santa’s authenticity and exceptional Santa-like demeanor, until this exact moment.

I stopped to chat with this fascinating looking character who introduced himself to me simply as “Santa”. I visited with Santa, a.k.a. Louis Meevers-Scholte, for a while before I realized that his life was so full of amazing experiences and such a positive influence in the world, it would have been a genuine honor to have known him throughout his life’s journey.

Santa is as serious about the name as he is about the title’s obligation. He has been donning the Father Christmas suit for more than 45 years.

Santa Meevers-Scholte

Throughout the year he collects food and toys, about 3,000 gifts, to be distributed to the less fortunate homes and children for Christmas. Now in his 80’s he reflects on his life as a musician, lyricist, story teller and Santa. His book, “Look Only Upward – A Reason to Be Born” is his story, his travels through a lifetime. From snippets of his conversation, I began to understand how difficult a journey he had traveled.

His childhood life was one of sorrow and suffering during World War II in Nazi-occupied Holland. When he was 10, he was with his father, a Jewish member of the underground resistance, while his father was tortured and killed. Remarkably, he made his way to America and Pennsylvania while still a child. Years later he was able to bring over his Christian mother.

The bitterness for all Germans eventually faded as he lived and worked among the Amish in Pennsylvania. He became friends with them and credits the friendships that developed between them as the reason he overcame his hatred for Germans.

I thanked Santa, thinking to myself how infinitesimal most troubles seem compared to his lifelong struggles and how tremendous were his contributions to his adopted town. I walked back to our car and resolved to add reading his book to my Bucket List.

On a large parcel of land near the town of Ephrata sat a number of unique European style buildings, giant in size, a few being multiple stories high and all dull in color. The name on the side of the building nearest the road read, “Ephrata Cloister”. We were about to walk in the footsteps of German settlers who came to Pennsylvania in the 1700’s seeking spiritual goals rather than earthly rewards.

We bought tickets in the Visitors Center (picture on the right) which held articles that belonged to the Cloister and we watched a short film about how the Cloister evolved.

Museum store Shady Nook Farm   Visitors Center

The community consisted of celibate Brothers and Sisters and a married congregation of families making up one of the oldest religious cults in America.

Founded in 1732 and at its pinnacle in the 1740’s and 1750’s, the community of about 300 members worked and worshiped at the Cloister. Their lives were structured, orderly and benevolently guided by Conrad Beissel (1691-1768) founder and Superintendent of the Ephrata Cloister.  Conrad was one of America’s earliest composers of hymns and anthems, organizer and teacher of the cloister singing school and publisher of America’s first book of original compositions, the Turtel-Taube, 1747.

Dorm, meeting house

Born at the end of a century of devastating wars in Eberbach am Neckar Germany, Conrad was orphaned by the age of 8, learned the trade of baker and began traveling the region to perfect his skills. He encountered Pietists who met in small groups not sanctioned by the church to read the Bible and pray.

Eventually banished from his homeland by the government in 1720, he immigrated to Pennsylvania attracted by William Penn’s policies offering freedom of conscience.

Moving to the Conestoga area, he joined with the Brethren, an Anabaptist group who offered admission to the faith to those who had reached maturity. He was appointed leader in 1724. His radical ideas of Saturday worship and promotion of celibacy caused a split within the congregation and in 1728 Beissel withdrew his membership from the church.

Because of his charismatic personality, he attracted followers until 1732 when he left and sought the hermit’s life. Settling along the banks of the Cocalico Creek in northern Lancaster County, he was followed by like-minded men and women wishing to follow his teachings.

Beginning as a hermitage for a small group of devout individuals, the community grew to include nearly 80 celibate members supported by nearly 200 family members. Beissel’s theology, a hybrid of pietism and mysticism, encouraged celibacy, Sabbath worship, delaying baptism until the candidate reached maturity and a self-denying lifestyle.

Our tour guide walked us through several building, explaining and answering questions about life in the Cloister.  The meeting house (smaller building) was impressive, open, airy and light.

Dorm    The Saal, Meeting house

The Brothers and Sisters slept in small sparse rooms, in separate buildings, for no longer than 6 hours per night on wood benches with blocks of wood for pillows.  Their garments were plain and uncolored.

Sisters bedroom    Brothers and Sisters dress

The cloister provided room for families and their own dining room, not luxurious but comfortable.

Family house      Dining room

The families cooked, baked and helped with other needs of the cloister community.

Front of the bakery                                     Back of the bakery

The Bakery      Bakery house

Inside the bakery

Bakery Kitchen    Baking kitchen

Sisters dining hall and Sisters kitchen, minimal but sufficient.

Sisters dining room    Sisters Kitchen

There was limited industry.  They made their own furniture in the carpentry shop. Furniture making    Carpenters house

They spun the wool from the sheep they raised and wove their own cloth.

Spinning house and visitors bedroom     Loom room

Creative expression was encouraged and the cloister became known for self-composed A Cappella music, Germanic calligraphy known as Frakturschriften and a complete publishing center with a paper mill, printing office and book bindery.

Frakturschriften, German calligraphy   calligraphy room

The Cloister originally contained no less than eight major structures, dormitories or meetinghouses, several smaller dwellings, workshops and mills and a cemetery.

Back of the cloister   Cemetary

In 1745 an internal disharmony came to a head when there was a dramatic challenge to leadership posed by Israel Eckerlin. Israel was expelled from Ephrata.

In 1768, with the death of Beissel, the society quickly declined. His successor, Peter Miller, realized that the monastic life was no longer attractive to new generations. In a letter written to Benjamin Franklin he stated, “the mind of Americans is bent another way”.

Conrad Beissel Epitaph        Family Grave marker

The last of the celibate members died in 1813 and the following year the remaining members of the married congregation formed the German Seventh Day Baptist Church. Poor members of the church moved into many of the original buildings on the Cloister property and altered the spaces to fit their needs.

By 1929 the remaining church members living at the Cloister were in disagreement regarding the disposition of the site and its artifacts and took legal action against one another. In 1934 the court system revoked the incorporation charter for the Church at Ephrata and the property was placed under the care of a court receiver who sold the remaining 28 acres of the historic site to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in 1941. Restoration on the nine surviving original buildings began immediately.

We walked through the gift shop and museum before the tour and afterwards we walked around the property poking around inside the many buildings on the grounds. A full day under our belts, we returned to LilyPad relaxing under cover of the Shaggy Hickory trees.


John chose our next town.  Breakfast at LilyPad and then off to Intercourse Pennsylvania.

Intercourse, PA

We toured the back roads before stopping at The Amish Experience to ride in an Amish carriage and view Amish farms. After, we watched a multi-media show about Jacob, a young man going through Rumspringa, a time period in the life of youths where each is allowed to participate in “English” experiences until he chooses baptism within the Amish Church or leaves the community.   As a courtesy, I chose not to attempt taking pictures.

Back to LilyPad for dinner and a Red Box movie.  We remain, our entire stay, the only people camping on the peaceful wooded grounds of Ephrata Elks Lodge.

Pennsylvania brought another “Best of” to my list. Best Smorgasbord: Shady Maple Smorgasbord, Blue Ball, Pennsylvania. It was approximately 40,000 square feet on the restaurant floor with a gift shop of the same size downstairs.  Vegas style buffet supersized!

Shady Maple Smorgasbord

You may wonder why several of the towns in this area have unusual and somewhat provocative names considering the large numbers of puritanical residents.  Well, wonder no more!

The town of Blue Ball was named after a two century old hotel that was built in Earl Town.  The owner hung a blue ball on a post outside the hotel and called it “The Sign of the Blue Ball”.  Locals began calling the town “Blue Ball” after the inn.  In 1833, Earl Town officially changed its name to Blue Ball.

The town of Intercourse was founded in 1754. The community was originally named Cross Keys, after a local tavern. Intercourse became the name in 1814. The use of language during the early days of the Village may have resulted in the name change. According to the Village website, “The word ‘intercourse’ was commonly used to describe the ‘fellowship’ and ‘social interaction and support’ shared in the community of faith, which was much a part of a rural village like this one”.  And now you know the rest of the story.


Back to Ephrata to ready LilyPad for our departure and our next adventure.  We will be moving on to Beacon New York where we will meet up with friends from Texas and tour West Point together.

April 11th through May 1st 2016 Canton TX, Conroe TX, Galveston TX, West Memphis AR, Memphis TN, Nashville TN, Cave City KY, Loreto KY, Danville KY,

Our time at Mill Creek Ranch Resort in Canton Texas at the Texas Tiffin Owners RV Rally was informative, entertaining and 100 percent no stress, no strain, relaxation. We volunteered for several events and enjoyed a fun filled week of interesting RV seminars, informal talks about our Tiffin motorhomes, 50/50 cash drawings, nightly Door Prizes at the Pavilion and laid back comradery with new and old friends. John and I walked away with two great door prizes on the last day. We thoroughly enjoyed every aspect of the experience.

Our prizes

There were pot lucks, several meals provided by the rally, breakfast provided and cooked by some of the men and a bar-b-q hosted by a vendor. One of the ladies hosted morning exercise walks and a wreath demonstration was given by a local craft shop. We participated in a motorhome garage sale and came away with several excellent books on tapes. Many of the attendees, including John, left items on the “free” table and we snagged another book on tape.

Vendors were in attendance to do recall work, repairs and upgrades. Our favorite Red Bay former Tiffin employee turned self-employed custom work guy, Brannon, came to do work for those who signed up. Our car battery died so we were overjoyed that there was a service vendor for testing and selling batteries along with a washing/waxing service and Aqua Hot service. Vendors stayed for the entire week working long hours to reach each attendee that requested their services.

Nearly 100 Tiffin motorhomes and their owners were merrily taking part in all that our grand Pooh-Bah, Richard King, so successful brought together. It was his first, and he claimed his last, rally coordinating project. But we plan to help sweet talk him into volunteering again. His yearlong work on the project produced excellent results. If he does it again, we will sign up immediately. Yep, we had that much fun!

It is April 15th and we will roll back to Conroe in the morning. Although I am unable to read while rolling down the road, one stop allowed me to browse an article in our motorhome magazine about an RV blogger who received a question from a family who wanted to full-time with four children and 2 dogs, using only their RV travel blog as income. Long story short, they were told it was not possible to make that size of an income from blogging. They believed a higher power would take care of them and their needs so they ignored all advice. It has been my experience, when a higher power avails to you a group of bona fide knowledgeable people, you should listen.  Wonder how that worked out for them.

Back to Conroe KOA, floodwaters nipping at our wheels, to wait out the massive storm and rising waters predicted to arrive in Houston and The Woodlands area in the next few days. We were extremely thankful that State Highway105 was above water during the flooding. Both of the other RV parks, where we have previously stayed, flooded either in the park or at the entry. Sometimes we catch a welcoming break from trouble.

We were able to have lunch with our friends, all retired employees of the company John worked with for 30 years, at Schilleci’s New Orleans Kitchen at Market Street in The Woodlands. Yummy.

Next night was game night with our friends from the bike club that John road with for 25 years. An excellent home cooked meal and several thoroughly relaxing hours with our “old fogies” game night group.

Somewhere in the distance Willie’s voice started softly crooning On The Road Again, louder still as we begin our slow roll to New England. Our first overnight is in Galveston, TX to visit with family who live nearby in Seabrook. Glad we found this place. In the dark of night, the waters near the dock are full of miniscule twinkling and blinking green organisms. The iridescent emerald Tinkerbelles floating under water are mesmerizing to watch.

Galveston Bay RV Park and Marina

We arrived in time to drown under major thunderstorms and endure severe weather alerts. After lunch with family, we sat quietly scanning the sky for tornados as the swift advancement of dark rolling clouds swooped in from the ocean. Storms and lightning are never a comfortable situation when living in a metal rolling box.

Storm rolling into San Leon

Early am, off and rolling onward to Texarkana RV in Texarkana Texas for an overnight, somewhat wet but not overpoweringly drenched. Tornado’s, large hail and strong winds are creeping up close behind us. Grocery shopping, TV and early to bed for another first-thing-in-the-morning departure.

Again with an early rising to be out of storms way. Having my fill of the Elvis experience while paused repetitively in Red Bay Alabama, we sought alternatives to Elvis and his Graceland for our stop in West Memphis Arkansas. We will have the waters of the Mighty Mississippi out our front window while spending two overnights near its banks. Surrounded by giant cement plants, gas and oil refineries, tug boats and their cargo all giving off foul odors, it came close to detracting from the long wide ribbon of graceful flowing waters.

Nighttime and rains came first, then the snow. Not the cold wet kind but the fluffy white floating-through-the-air kind that irritates noses and inducing sneezes, causes runny noses and itchy eyes. It is the snow that comes from Cottonwood Trees. Tree pollen was maxed out at the top of the charts, exactly what caused my lungs to give out last year, so we opted for indoor entertainment for the two day traveling respite.

Tom Sawyer RV Park is in a flood zone. The trees housed many tiny houses and on the ground sat several tiny houses on wheels. All the utilities are mounted sky high among the tree tops, all dead giveaways to regular flooding.

Tom Sawyer tree houses

We were given a peaceful end site with an exceptional water view.

Tom Sawyer RV, West Memphis AR  Mississippi out our front window

The waterfront is landscaped on both sides by stately old growth oaks. The river takes on a fairyland appearance at night, small white and yellow lights mounted on barges twinkle in strange patterns, flowing past just shy of the river bank.  During the day, the wide stretch of water dominates the view.

Tom Sawyer RV Park  Tug on the Mississippi

We crossed over the Mississippi River to Memphis Tennessee.  You can see the top of the Bass Pro Pyramid from the top of the bridge.

The Mighty Mississippi  Bass Pro Pyramid from the Bridge

Memphis is home to several iconic Blues, Jazz and Rock n Roll establishments, the hang outs and businesses of well-known musician superstars. Looking over our tour choices, we decided on Backbeat Bus Tours. The concept sounded interesting and a fun alternative to mundane canned speech bus tours. Each bus had musical instruments. Ours were two tambourines and a bucket full of tiny egg shaped rattles that sounded like rattle snake tails when snakes get ready to strike.

When the tambourines were given and accepted by one lady in front of us and one lady in back of us, I cringed, expecting a noisy racket for the whole ride. Catherine, our guitar player and entertaining informational guide began the tour and the sing along commenced. To my surprise, no racket, all jangling was in perfect timing with the guitar strumming. Who knew there were folks who could rock a tambourine?!

On the Memphis Bus

We began the tour at Beale Street in a bar, with me purchasing a scotch and water for John while he purchased the tour tickets. Drinking is allowed on the blocked off streets and on our tour bus.

Beale Street  Beale Street Memphis

One of the sights we drove past was The Blues Hall of Fame music museum that, until recently, was not a physical building but a listing of people who significantly contributed to blues music. The Blues Foundation began the list in 1980 but the actual building for the hall opened to the public in 2015.

Blues Hall of Fame, Memphis

At the end of our bus tour, we were dropped at Sun Studio for an add-on tour of the vintage recording studio that is still in use today.  The studio was opened by rock-and-roll pioneer Sam Phillips in 1950.  When the building that held the original broadcasting booth of Station WHBQ was being demolished, the studio removed it from the building, piece by piece, and reassembled it at the recording studio.

Sun Studio  Station WHBQ

The vintage museum displays items from historic and iconic music legends including Elvis’s high school diploma,

Elvis Presley Diploma

the original recording microphone, guitars and pictures of Elvis, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins.  It also displayed a vintage TV, radio and phonograph console.  Myself, and many others in the group, recognized the console as one like their parents owned when they were young.  The lone guitar has a dollar bill wedged under the strings on its neck.  Unable to afford drums, it was said that Johnny Cash used the “cash” to make the sound of a snare drum in his 1956 hit, “I Walk The Line”.

Studio guitars     z     Noise maker on Johnny Cash Folsom State Prison song

The studio is still being used by stars such as Ozzie Osborn and our guide was very knowledgeable about the studio’s history and the history of those who began the Rock-n-Roll era.

When our two-part tour was complete, Bass Pro Shops giant Pyramid, spied from the bridge towering over the Mississippi, drew us into its parking lot.

Bass Pro Shop Pyramid

When we entered the building, whoa, so cool! It’s gigantic inside! A store and multiple story luxury hotel, its décor is Disney-like with tiny lights, Louisiana swamp atmosphere and their trademark giant fish tank taking center stage. There is the ability to take an elevator ride to the top and walk outside the pyramid’s top, for a fee. Water venues with swimming fish and reptiles with huge flashing teeth squirm through the water on the base level.  John and I walked around, soaking in all the atmosphere. Definitely worth a look-see if you are in the area.

Inside Bass Pro

It is our last evening along the banks of the Mississippi river. Time to pack up and roll our way into Nashville.

We use Passport America campgrounds for evening stops along our way to a destination. It is a discount club for RV’ers. Park owners embrace the offer when they are a small park, do not fill to capacity, or want to attract more business. There have been times of pulling into these parks that I have wondered why it was Passport America. Tanbark Campground in Dixon Tennessee’s reason was obvious. Older park, lots of permanent residents, skin tight parking. We could see the whites of our neighbors eyes as they pulled into their site.

Tanbark Campground   close neighbors in Tanbark, TN

In route to Tanbark Campground we passed an accident on I40 West. A TDOT truck was paused on the side of the road while another worker was in front of the truck. An 18 wheeler didn’t obey the Move Over law and hit the TDOT truck and pushed it into the worker, killing the worker. The accident stopped the flow of traffic in the opposite direction for hours and we were witness to the obscene amount of 18 wheelers that roll down the road at one time.

I 40 East Bound

Shocking to see a 20 mile stretch of predominantly 18 wheelers at a standstill. Five hours later the flow was released.

Stand Still I 40 West Bound  I 40 West Bound mile 15

A quick grocery run, a restful quiet night at Tanbark Campground, come morning we were headed to Nashville. If you listen to The Highway, a country western music station on channel 56, you would think that Nashville is the new Las Vegas. The difference, a southern twang and minus the hordes of card snappers forcing skin flick pictures on unsuspecting tourists. Nashville’s The Highway claims that what goes on in Nashville, stays in Nashville. With all the trips we’ve taken to Las Vegas, there is a familiar ring to that statement.

With our enjoyable musical experience on the Memphis bus tour fresh in our minds, we opted for a comedic style musical experience in Nashville. This was an adult only tour, no one under 18 allowed. We were not the oldest on the bus but the songs were those of which most seniors would have familiarity. John and I had more fun than we expected. We knew the music, both of us being country western fans, and enjoyed all the little tidbits of funny comment that was tactlessly imparted by our two comedy guides.

Our Adult Nashville bus tour

We sang our way past many historic buildings, one being the Levitt Shell where Elvis first sang.

Levitt Shell

Our mid-way stop allowed us to stretch our legs and tour the famous Nashville Goo Goo Candy Factory,

GooGoo Factory, Nashville

and the Johnny Cash gift shop.

3rd Avenue, Nashville   Johnny Cash Museum, Nashville

Kudos to Devon, our musical guitar guide and his excellent rendition of past and present hits and the sharing of his engaging original song. By the end of the tour we were blasting music, and our voices, out open bus windows. Several of us vintage tourists began waving our arm back and forth out the windows in time to the tunes. Most excellent tour, completely obliterated the plain old, plain old.

Our overnight for Nashville was the Nashville Elks Lodge in Franklin, Tennessee. Huge parking lot, no hook-ups, silent night, fair weather days and an enjoyable visit with cousins. Next destination, Cave City Kentucky.

Franklin TN Elks Lodge

Arriving at Singing Hills RV Park and Campground in Cave City Kentucky we could tell we were near Amish/Mennonite families. Listed on our rule sheet: “Please wear shirts and shoes outside. Please do not wear swimsuits in public”. The campground was a cozy vintage style with a catch and release fishing pond and first-rate location.

The country side is beautiful and our drive through the national park turned up several pair of wild turkeys.

Kentucky   Wild Turkey in Kentucky

Mammoth Cave is a U.S. National Park, the longest cave system known in the world. The park became a World Heritage Site in 1981 and an international Biosphere Reserve in 1990. The cave system runs under its 52,830 acres and consists of over 400 miles of surveyed passageways, twice as long as the second-longest cave system which is located in Mexico. New passageways continue to be discovered so its length will extend.

Mammoth Cave National Park

Arriving at the National Park, we viewed the Visitor Center’s excellent display, watching a documentary about the first tour guides and the history of Mammoth Cave’s exploration. A time line, stretching as far back as six thousand years, reveals cane torches used by Native Americans and other artifacts, drawings, gourd fragments and woven grass moccasin slippers that were found in the Salts Cave section of the Flint Ridge system.

The historic entrance, surveyed and registered in 1798 by Valentine Simons, was exploited for saltpeter reserves. In 1812 the cave changed owners and Hyman Gratz mined for calcium nitrate on an industrial scale. An African American slave, Stephen Bishop, was one of the first to make extensive maps of the cave, named many of the caves features and led guided cave tours during the 1840’s and 50’s. After changing hands several times, Mammoth Cave National Park was officially dedicated in 1941.

After you purchase tickets at the visitor center, the tour starts at one of the outside pavilions. You board a bus, it takes you to the entrance of the cave and your Ranger lists the do’s and do not’s. The cave entrance was not what anyone expected. Not a gaping hole with bats escaping but a steel and glass revolving door designed to allow as little air exchange as possible.

Our Ranger    Cave entrance    Cave

The Frozen Niagara Tour, the shortest available, was our choice. We weren’t sure how strenuous the walk would be and how I would fair climbing a little over 100 stairs. As it turned out, the paths had rails, were easy to follow, it was the perfect length of time and even the small children in our group were able to enjoy themselves.  Several of us noticed green on the formations.  We were informed that it was from the heat of the lights.  Money is being set aside for LED lights to help the cave return to a more natural state.

Light results on the cave

A bit claustrophobic in areas and slightly spine tingling when lights were turned off temporarily to demonstrate complete darkness but the experience left me calculating a future visit with the intention of hiking the longer trail. Our Ranger was engaging and the formations were fascinating.

Cave (2)      Cave (3)

Exiting the bus you are directed to wash your shoes to keep White-nose Syndrome from spreading. In North America, as of 2012, WNS disease is associated with 5.7 million bat deaths.

Soapy shoe wash, Mammoth Cave

Another morning has arrived and this day will be a laid back day of exploration. We spied a junk shop, closed on Sunday, during our previous pass through town. Today the Olde General Store was open. The large wooden vintage warehouse and entrance was overwhelmingly stuffed with a mishmosh of everything no one would ever need or want.

Olde General Store

The porch contained rusted out, broken metal everything, in no particular order.

Front porch of the store

John noticed a sign near the door that brought a chuckle.

Signs on the front door

We entered to the smell of cigarette smoke, the gentleman behind the counter drawing in long drags and asking from where we “hailed”. When we answered “Texas”, he smiled and said “that’s OK, you can come in anyway”.

Inside the store   More inside the store

When my lungs had their fill of smoke, mold, mildew and dust, we exited calling back “Thank you” and continued our exploration of the area.

We took the Green River Ferry to Detweiler’s Country Store, a hardware and grocery store. So many wonderful days-gone-by items for the home and health. Not wanting to be disrespectful, I left the camera in the car.

Green River Ferry crossing

R & S Salvage Groceries, another Mennonite run business in Horse Cave Kentucky was our next stop. Our campground host claimed that they made the best doughnuts, fried pies and breads in the county. We arrived at a humongous 10,000 square foot warehouse filled with bulk dry foods, bulk frozen foods, deli meats, surplus and salvage goods and dozens of young workers busily tending the bakery, stocking shelves, cleaning isles and outside receiving. Again, the camera stayed in the car.

Back home to LilyPad to pack up and pull in, getting ready for our early morning departure and the continuation of our journey to Lee New Hampshire.

On our way to the Turnpike, buzzing slowly worked its way up to unbearable so we stopped at the roadside Lincoln Knob Creek Farm to let the car engine cool.  The buildings are not open to the public but hiking trails run through the farm.  The only other couple at the stop were the fully uniformed Family Motor Coach Association (FMCA) National Secretary and her husband strolling around the grounds.  Nice chat to catch up with FMCA events and stretch our legs.

Although Lincoln was not born at Knob Creek Farm, he admitted that the Farm was his first recollections.  In 1928, Hattie Howell Howard and her husband purchased the Farm to preserve the land and share the story of Lincoln’s early years in Kentucky.  To serve the growing number of tourists, they built the Lincoln Tavern which opened in 1933.  It is currently being renovated.

The Lincoln Tavern

The small cabin was made from logs of the original Gollaher Cabin.  Austin Gollaher was a childhood friend of Abe.  It is believed that Austin was responsible for saving Abe’s life when Abe slipped into the river and Austin pulled him out.

Gollaher Cabin

KatieBug enjoyed her walk, John and I relaxed and the car got a cool down break.  We climbed aboard and were off down the road.

That high pitched and annoying screech, signaling our car transmission pump is not working properly, is at it again. Unhappily, it has been going off approximately every 60 to 100 miles beginning with our trip to Canton Texas. I’m confident it will continue until we reach our destination in New England. It’s one of many “it’s always something” items that have never been completely repaired. Now on our fourth year of rolling, it is the hardest broken part to which I must adjust. Annoyances are always present but none have noise associated with their in-need-of-repair condition.

With Mammoth Cave a past event, we looked forward to Makers Mark bourbon distillery. The car transmission pump was temporarily quiet and our next turn was within site. New buzzing combined with the flashing red lights on the dash signaling our motorhome engine was overheating. That wasn’t expected.  Noise, flashing lights, horrid smell, something was amiss. John said the strange smell was probably from the dozens of gigantic bourbon aging warehouses we had just passed.

Makers Mark aging warehouses

The stench was increasing and when I glanced to the back of LilyPad, our bedroom was filled with thick white smoke. In my normal calm reserved voice, I directed John to pull over. (Yea, right…but that sounds so much better than the actual panicky horrified shrill screeching voice with which I demanded John to stop.) He wasn’t able to stop immediately and drove on for what seemed like hours, really only minutes, until he turned onto the distillery road and stopped in the middle of the street, inside a marked yellow zone.

Yellow zone    Breakdown

Unhook the car, one visit to town and three hours later, John had fixed the problem of the blown coolant hose that spewed steam up into our bedroom. It took just enough time to make us late, the distillery tours now closed, so we did some purposeful walking to the gift shop, walked KatieBug and continued on our drive to Danville, Kentucky.

Stopping on the side of major highways and freeways are an unpleasant but necessary task when the car transmission pump failure sets off the alarm inside LilyPad. It is a situation made worse by seeing the remnants of the TDOT fatality only days previous. Having dozens of 18 wheelers fly past you shaking your car and motorhome like a rag doll should be a once in a lifetime experience yet here we are, on the side of the road, multiple times a day, for weeks on end, because our Lexus refuses to relax and roll along behind us willingly.

Along with stopping, our trips are made longer by having to slow down over the uneven sections of the some highways and freeways causing the motorhome tires to pound down on the pavement and jar our insides. Until this three year old unsolved dilemma has been mended, we will be stopping indefinitely, every 60 to 100 miles.

A quick overnight at the campground of Pioneer Playhouse in Danville Kentucky to meet the owner, Charlotte Henson, widow of the founder Col. Eben C. Henson. He established the outdoor theater in 1950 and it is the oldest theater in Kentucky. Notable alumni actors include Lee Majors, John Travolta and Jim Varney. The playhouse is the first theater in the nation to be given the legal status of State Theater by act of Legislation. Fingers crossed that we are selected as workampers for the six week season next summer. Finally, a workamp position that sounds delightfully fun!

I’ve made a “best of” list to review when negative thoughts attempt to adjust my attitude. At times, the “it’s always something” can be a real joy killer and happy thoughts are needed to reverse going-down-hill-fast, especially when under severe duress. My list so far includes…Best view: Inspiration Point, Bryce Canyon, Utah. Best apples: Pike Place Market, Seattle, Washington. Best tomatoes: Kruse Farms, Roseburg, Oregon. Friendliest workamping Rangers: Washington on the Brazos, Texas.  Best Elks Lodge: Chico Elks Lodge, Chico, California.

My one page Bucket List keeps expanding, although I have only experienced two destinations on my original list, so I expect my “Best Of” list will change as we continue to roll along.

Our next destination, high on my Bucket List, Lancaster and Pennsylvania Dutch Country.  Land of The Amish and Mennonites.  I am preparing to be fascinated.

March 1st through April 10th 2016 Schulenburg TX, Red Bay AL, Conroe TX and Canton TX

Previous to our Red Bay stop, we spent a day discovering three of the twenty Painted Churches of the Texas Hill Country.  In 1984, 15 of these country churches became listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Tours are provided by the Greater Schulenburg Chamber of Commerce and a map is available for a few dollars for those wishing to take a self-guided tour.

Built by 19th century German and Czech immigrants with a strong faith in God, they came looking for land, economic opportunity and religious freedom.

These churches were often the second or third church building the community constructed. The ones now standing became a symbol of success for the new Texans, proving to themselves that they had successfully survived the transition from their homeland, acquired land, built schools and established churches to nurture their spirits and sustain their faith.

The outsides give the appearance of  American country churches with arched Gothic Revival windows, white frame or stone sidings and long tall Texan steeples piercing the brilliant blue sky.

Saints Cyril and Methodius Church in Dubina was our first stop.  We arrived a few minutes behind a large tour bus and waited while they settled in before entering. History lesson already in session, we sat in the back enjoying the docent’s chat that included entertaining tidbits about the church.

Saints Cyril and Methodius Church  Saints Cyril and Methodius Pulpit  Saints Cyril and Methodius

Crossing the thresholds of each church, one would expect simple wooden interiors but instead you are met with vibrant frescoes, elaborate hand painted details, stenciling and an unexpected wash of colors so intense everything is bathed in its glow. The profusion of color provides a perfect backdrop for saintly statues and intricate art work depicting the heavens and nature in ribbons across walls, arches and ceilings.

Andrew Ammann and his family established the tiny town of Ammannsville in 1870 and in 1917 St. John the Baptist Catholic Church, also known as “the pink church”, was built.  We spotted the steeple long before we came upon the church.  Empty of visitors but invitingly peaceful inside, we sat quietly absorbing the glow from the walls and reading the history of the church from the guide map.

St. John the Baptist Catholic Church

Inscriptions on the walls are in the mother tongue of those who built them, German and Czech immigrants.

St John The Pink Church

The hurricane in July of 1909 destroyed many of the churches but the towns rebuilt them and in the 1950’s, after years of their beauty being whitewashed, they were returned to near their original state.

Pink Church Left Side  The Pink Church Alter  Pink Church Right Side

Nativity of Mary Blessed Virgin Catholic Church in High Hill was built in 1906. One of the first churches built by German trained, educated and noted Texas Architect Leo Dielmann. Leo was the son of a contractor who already had a history of serving the Catholic church of Texas in multiple projects, including churches in Fredericksburg.

In the late 1800’s and into the 1900’s, the Catholic hierarchy attempted to influence communities in Texas to build in the practical “Spanish” or “Mission” style as it was well suited to the hot climate and less likely to be destroyed by fire or storms. The red brick exterior of the Nativity of Mary was important because the interior is wood, while the exterior is protected by brick, making it resistant to fire and storms. It was said that church leadership sometimes refused to bless wood churches upon completion.

Nativity of Mary Blessed Virgin Catholic Church

High Hill’s decorative paintings, by Ferdinand Stockert and Hermann Kern, were completed in 1912. The walls and ceilings of Saint Joseph’s Catholic Church in San Antonio were also painted by the pair. Elders in the parish remember their parents saying that the images were first painted on canvas, then glued to the wood walls. From the choir loft you can still see bubbles in the now hardened canvas.

Until you view them up close, it is difficult to tell the pillars are not marble but wooden columns with baseboards shining like beige and emerald polished marble.

Nativity Sanctuary Marblized Column

As was the custom, men sat on one side and women on the other.  The placement of saint statues also follows the custom inside the churches.

Nativity Sanctuary

The stories behind these churches are of families striving to succeed in a new world while preserving all the values and cultures of their homelands.  Our next trip through, we plan to visit more of these historic and delightfully charming churches.

In a few days we will be parked in Red Bay awaiting repairs. Like having a tooth pulled at the dentist, it is a trip that makes me cringe at the thought.  If I were making the rules, reaching 60 would allow you to abstain from doing anything that makes you cringe.


Today is our first day of waiting for the illusive time schedule for our repairs to begin. On past visits we had been notified the night before, giving us time to prepare. Not so this visit. Our call came early a.m. and the rush was on but we returned an hour later, measurements taken, no repairs happening today.

We have been paused on the dust bowl overflow lot for days watching movies and doing odd chores around the motorhome to occupy our minds and keep a firm grip on our sanity. This morning we were called and told our slide roof top had arrived.

Pull it all in and up, breakfast on hold, entering the bay to find a roof seven inches to long, ready to be installed. After listening to the repair guys talking about hacking off the end, I took John by the face, looked deep into his eyes and commanded, NO HACKING! We returned to our site to wait for the correct size to be manufactured. The silver lining, at finding out their mistake, my ready-to-explode blood pressure was relieved by purposeful walking. Nearly an hour of walking up and down the warehouses’ 45 repair bays to release tension while waiting for them to confirm, no hacking, they will manufacture another roof. Our “hurry up and wait” is approaching its second full week.

Each time we enter or exit Red Bay we take an alternative route just to spice things up a bit.  We had gone for groceries and came back down a road that split the middle of miles of farm land and at our turn, we noticed a sign announcing “Auction Tonight”.  Entering the dirt road, we approached a huge old warehouse with dozens of cars out front.   Free entertainment for the night!

Action House    Friday Night Auction

Sitting down in the back row, we watched as box load after box load of what looked like garage sale rejects was going to the highest bidder.  One box contained grocery store dry goods.  A gentleman down in front bid five dollars, won, dug through and picked out a box of crackers, opened the crackers and began munching.  After seeing the sale prices at the snack stand, he got himself one heck of a great deal.   When the sun began to sink, we left the auction empty handed and drove back to LilyPad to relax in front of the TV.

Although I have no intention of staying any longer than necessary, I am grateful for any Silver Linings, this trip having several. It included learning that the two overflow parking areas offer a special price for a full week stay. Our Red Bay stay is now the least expensive, $200.00 less per month including electricity, than any other place we have stayed while traveling. That excludes our Wally World RV Resort stays and workamping site stays that are free. And Silver Dollar Discount provided a fabulous deal. Now switched to decaffeinated tea, I found 8 boxes of my favorite, Good Earth Sweet & Spicy, expiration 2017, for a savings of $2.00 each box. Lastly, our little mom and pop DVD center rents movies 1/3 less than Red Box. Pausing to see the forest through the trees has its advantages in times of uninvited stress compounded by boredom.

John stopped into the office to check where our name was on the list and was informed that Tuesday the 21st we must be at repair bay 35 at 7:00 am. Our slide roof and entrance steps are scheduled for repair. Once inside the bay, everything must be removed from the cabinets and floor space.

Large slide leak repair

Off to the lounge to wait from 7:00 am through 4:30 pm. At days end we replace what was taken out and roll back to our site. Red Bay repair trips are a continuous rinse and repeat for weeks on end.

Another call came Friday the 25th to bring LilyPad to repair bay 21 for our original problem, fixing the stress crack in the bedroom driver side slide. It is a two day project. Easter Sunday passed without notice, dinner was what was left in the fridge, friends and family to far away to reach.

Because we must vacate LilyPad for the night after she is in the paint shop all day absorbing the strong paint fumes, choosing a hotel that wasn’t remodeling or too old and stinky was a challenge. It took three tries to get an acceptable hotel. Happily on firm ground for our overnight, with dozens of TV shows to watch and a nice comfy bed, all three of us slept peacefully.

Our list had included replacing the top slide roof, calking and riveting our large slide topper to the motorhome, removing the glue mess that John made while trying to fix the slide topper, some warrantee work on our stairs, and repairing for a second time, the stress fracture on the bedroom slide.

From an unknown cause, a mold smell grew to intolerable, the thermostat flipped out needing replacement, our TV antenna became finicky and stopped working and our battery wiring to the car conked out. Our “it’s always something” list was alive and well and we hadn’t even left Red Bay.

The daily repairs remind me of our first car. It could have been assigned the title of “Lemon” but it was pre 1975 and the term had not yet been conceived. The car was a Ford, what I ended up calling a Fix Or Repair Daily. It was the neediest vehicle we had owned to date, excluding LilyPad. Forty-four years later, I have re-assigned the name to our rolling box. Unluckily, the vehicle must be purchased new and “claimed” a lemon within a few months of purchase along with having major mechanical complications. I’m not sure the problems we are having would be considered mechanical but I would have gleefully hired an attorney had we purchased it new.  When you have this many repairs, it never hurts to check all avenues of compensation.

The last few days of March were spent on the road back to Conroe to prepare LilyPad for our trip to Canton Texas and the Tiffin Rally. Mansfield, LA was our midway overnight at our favorite inexpensive resort, Wally World RV Parking.

We paused at Conroe KOA for a rest and grocery fill up before setting off early morning for my first taste of a new-to-me Texas experience in decades, Canton First Monday.

Conroe KOA

Canton First Monday is the oldest and largest flea market in the country. Being a resident of the Houston area for over 30 years, I had never been.  I think John planned for us to go when we were homeless and unemployed with no place to put anything or ability to buy.  This visit will certainly result in me finding a houseful of things that I can’t live without however I still am lacking land with  “sticks n bricks” in which to stuff it beyond full.

First Monday’s began in the 1850’s on the courthouse grounds.  Traveling circuit judges stopped to conduct their business at the courthouse with the locals who were visiting relatives and friends, making business arrangements and getting local news. Stray horses were sold until horses were no longer the main mode of transportation. In the 1940’s, roaming dogs became the next commodity. At first, farmers would bring in strays and unwanted offspring; then the hunters started bringing their hound dogs. Soon the whole town was saturated with hound dogs, some selling for as much as $500. During election years, politicians would center their campaigns around First Monday.

First Monday Trade Days  Canton First Monday

First Monday is the oldest and largest continually operating Flea Market in the country.  It covers 100 acres and has spaces for 6,000 vendors. We walked for three hours straight and barely touched the edges of one area.

Canton First Mondays

For the next two weeks we are settled at Mill Creek Ranch Resort in Canton, Texas. Not the fanciest RV Resort that we have stayed at but clean, well-groomed grounds and the staff are friendly.  It has all the necessary perks and a few extras luxuries.

Mill Creek Ranch Resort

Not since our stays at Red Bay have I seen such an abundance of Tiffin motorhomes but this time we were all here to party! Our site is near the outdoor Pavilion, perfect positioning for casual drop-in visitors, something I enjoy immensely.

LilyPad  Red Oaks Area

If you plan to visit for First Monday, Mill Creek is the perfect stop over for families.  They have multiple cabin villages surrounding small ponds,


a pool and outdoor clubhouse up front,

RV pool and outdoor clubhouse  Walden Pond

a spacious and elegant lodge in the back area with a pool and sauna out the side door,

Club House Pool and sauna

and within walking distance of the market but save your walking for the sales area and take their free trolley or the small bus that stops at all the local sleepover spots.


After the flea market, we had a week before the rally group arrived.  Getting this close to any kind of a wildlife refuge without visiting is never an option and the day was begging for us to step outside in the warm breezy sunshine.  KatieBug was happy after a big breakfast and already snoring away, hardly noticing us leaving.  Less than an hour away is Tiger Creek Wildlife Refuge.  The containment systems are open, full of activities for the cats and bigger than a full size tennis court for the larger cats.

John at Tiger Creek

Our guide was Jared, Director of Animal Care.  The tour lasted about an hour and we walked over smooth pathways to each of the areas.  Jared was full of information about the large and small cats, telling us about behavior that is taught so each animal can be checked over daily and properly cared for during their stay.  As most of the animals here were pets or born in captivity, none would qualify for being released into the wild and will stay here to live out their lives.

Jared our docent

They have an area devoted to those cats who have departed.

Those who have gone on before

The refuge houses lions, tigers, leopards, bobcats and mountain lions in large open cages with lots of exercise toys and lookout perches for the comfort of the cats and visibility of guests.  Many of the cats are older but they are a healthy looking assortment of felines.  large cat area  Tiger resting benches

The smaller cats, like Katie the Puma, are housed in large covered cages full of climbing limbs, toys and a sturdy bed that the staff makes from old fire hoses.

small cat areas  Katie the Puma

Being a warm day, most of the cats were lazing around on the ground but their cages contained huge balls, wood logs, large steel water containers and toys should they choose to be active.

Kumari, Bengal Tiger    Tiger

One of the big cat areas has a large in-ground cement pool large enough for swimming and the cats are rotated to give each their chance for a deep dunk.

Tiger in the swim hole area

They look sweet and cuddly but we were assured that they could do a fair amount of damage with their weight alone.  One of the areas had a shock wire around the lower part of the cage to keep the cat from leaning up against and pushing the fence polls out of their sockets.  None are trying to escape, they just enjoyed leaning.

Gunther resting   napping tiger

We met CFO and Director of Programs and Services Lisa Werner on our way out.  She happily assured us that they welcome singles, couples or groups of any kind and they enjoy hosting special events like their 2nd annual Autism Awareness Day being held April 9th, the day after we arrived.

Living in the gray area and relaxing until our Texas RV Rally begins on Monday, April 11th.

December 2015 through February 29th, 2016 Walt Disney World FL, Conroe TX, Red Bay AL

As hard as I try to find the pleasant and positive sides of life on the roll, they remain further away and fewer between the mundane, day to day struggles of a life made more complicated by living in a 350 square foot, minimally airtight/watertight, rectangular box. The incessant repairs, inside dust so thick you can write in covering the inside regardless of how much I clean, lack of room to easily move about and the frustrations of waking up to a plethora of troublesome situations more often than not, is beyond tiresome. Believing our adventure would have good outweighing bad had started the box rolling. Now, chronicling our experience is all that is left of my determination to continue.

That being said, the good  is just around the corner.  Our December started off happily in Texas with several dining dates arranged between us, family and friends, and the cheerful prospect of our upcoming family vacation.  Only being minimally settled at the Conroe KOA for a few weeks, we pulled it all in and set off for Florida.

Our travels to Florida were as direct as a weeklong travel could be, stopping one overnight at the Fort Walton Elks Lodge in time to view an amazing ocean sunset.

Fort Walton, Florida

New Orleans Elks Lodge was our overnight for an unnerving stay perched on the edge of uncomfortable. I love New Orleans and have thoroughly enjoyed our dozens of visits over the last 30 years but there are some areas best left undiscovered. Although in a questionable area, it did meet several of our requirements.  It had low cost electrical hookup, was flat cement and was close to major grocers. We were but a few blocks from Whole Foods Market allowing us to stockpile homeopathic remedies and specialty snacks.

After returning for the night, we slept fitfully without incident. Up early, John made a left turn down a spacious side street and came face to face with an unexpected wire strung low across the road, haphazardly connected to a pole, unnoticed until moments before LilyPad snapped it, flinging it up over our roof and bouncing along the top of the roof protrusions before settling behind us in the middle of the street. John hit the brakes, looked around and gunned the engine to exit the area, making a zigzag left then right turn quickly enough to send our floor storage crates skidding sideways into the bathroom walls. I watched for police in case we were spotted.  Not sure how we could have outrun a police car in LilyPad but we might have given it a try.  Later we learned it was a common practice to “borrow” cable and other utilities by illegal wire connections without adhering to proper heights and placement.

Another overnight was a stop at Beaver Lake Campground in Quincy Florida. Unusual place to land for the night but quiet and 50 amp electric hook-ups, no amenities I would consider using but these sleep stops are never destinations.  There were a row of permanent mobile homes in the back area, nothing but a field with hook-ups where we parked.  Before dusk we were joined by several more overnighters.  Safety in numbers allowed me to sleep peacefully through the night.

Beaver Lake Campground, Quincy FL  Beaver Lake Campground Washateria

We arrived at our rented villa early evening. It was to be our home for the next seven days. LilyPad was settled comfortably in overflow parking and we unpacked a weeks’ worth of liquor, food and clothes for our family vacation.

The Walt Disney World adventure was as near a vacation as I have had in the last few years. At a fraction of the cost of a luxury Disney hotel room, minus daily cleaning services, we rented a five bedroom house with three in-suite bathrooms, one for each couple. The house had a swimming pool, sauna, full size pool table and game room in the garage along with a washer/dryer, TV’s in every bedroom, a gas grill on the back porch and a fully outfitted kitchen. It sat on a quiet street in a gated community just minutes from the entrance to Walt Disney World. Expectations for an amazing family get together exceeded what actually occurred but this was Disney and our family was together so I was an immensely happy camper.

Animal Kingdom

Sadly, now that I have reached my senior years, I realize that visiting Disney every year since childhood and watching the Hallmark Channel’s sugar coated “every day is perfect” and “every ending is a happy ending” does little to adequately prepare one for real life and its occasional disappointments. Reality is that not everything runs smoothly or has a happy ending. Adjusting to this fact is a far greater task with me being in my 60’s than it would have been in my 30’s. To late a lesson learned for me, hopefully not for my adult children.

Our days at Disney were enjoyable and carefree, two amazing but headstrong young women and their opinions clashed only once and all considered, it was a relaxing entertaining week. Happily, mama bear had her two cubs and papa bear all under one roof.   Life, for this week, was good.

I bought three sets of Mickey Mouse ears for us ladies to wear to the parks and we all enjoyed the spectacular weather Florida provided us while we strolled around the parks throughout our week long stay.


When our week came to an end, we each packed up and departed in different directions. For us, travels home allowed us a relaxed pace.  We overnighted in Florida at a well appointed Broward County park in Pembroke Pines, CB Smith Park, and side stepped a colorful local resident next morning on our way to breakfast.

Florida critter

Our next destination stop led us to Bellingrath Alabama and we revisited Bellingrath Gardens for their Magic Christmas in Lights 20th Anniversary.

Bellingrath gator  Bellingrath rows of flowers

Listed on USA Today’s List of “10 Best Public Light Displays in America” the short detour from the freeway, friendly campground and reasonable tickets made it impossible to bypass.

Bellingrath Toys  Bellingrath Dragon

After watching an amazing sunset the dazzling displays of twinkles, shifting and rearranging their configurations, awed guests of all ages.

Bellingrath candy land   Bellingrath lake

The choral performance on the South Terrace of the home gave our feet a mid-trail breather from the two hour walk.

Bellingrath singers  Bellingrath manger

Spread out across the 65 acres of public gardens, the displays were exceptional with extraordinary details.   Being open to the public but still a privately owned entity, a crèche was set up mid way.  Onlookers agreed, it was an appropriately fitting Christmas display.

Bellingrath Santas SleighBellingrath train

Bellingrath Gardens Alabama   Bellingrath under the seas

The mansion was home to Walter and Bessie Bellingrath and the gardens were their creation. The estate is located on the Fowl River in Theodore, near Mobile Alabama. First opening to the public in 1932, they placed an ad in the Mobile paper, announcing that anyone who would like to see the spring Gardens could do so, free of charge. After an overwhelming response, the couple decided to keep the Gardens open year round, beginning in 1934.

Enjoying our two day tranquil sidestep from our journey home, we continued our trek, returning to the boredom of long hours on the road with the prospect of tedious everyday chores looming ahead. The next few weeks will be spent taking care of “us” as soon enough, LilyPad and her “it’s always something” must be returned to her maker in Red Bay AL for repairs. Doctors, dentists, vision checks, haircuts, KatieBug vet visits and Ribbits checkups will take over our lives for the next few months.

Because we were “banned” from our usual landing in Spring TX for having the audacity to write an honest review of our account of the damage our LilyPad, and a million dollar plus motorhome, received at the hands of their lawn crew, we settled on Conroe KOA for a month and Woodland Lakes RV on 242 for the next month. Neither are as close to the Woodlands or as nice but the cost and time expenditure of driving to Alabama for repairs was not worth letting them take an additional shot at damaging LilyPad.

Our last month before our “it’s always something” trek back to Alabama for repairs was spent at Woodland Lakes RV on 242. Once settled, the peaceful ponds inhabited by egrets, wood ducks and other waterfowl were a pleasant scene to view each day.

Woodland Lakes RV Park, Conroe TX

“Us” time is over and John has the route mapped to Red Bay Alabama. A relaxing stop in Seabrook to visit Amy and Josh and all my grand-chickens and grand-dogs at Casa De Seascape started the journey on a positive note.

Red Bay is my least favorite stop.  Arguing with Tiffin repair bay supervisors and managers after work is incorrectly repaired for a second and third time is stressful. The ever-present smell of the odiferous dog food manufacturer is unpleasant, our site is crushed concrete and dust is tracked and blown inside each time the door is opened, only one restaurant worth dining for dinner within 10 miles and one grocery that has a fair selection of dry good staples.  Been there and seen everything within a 2 hour radius so the days will be long and uninteresting.

Upon arrival we learned that the CVS had gone out of business, severely limiting current Red Box movie viewing.  Thankfully, the small mom and pop DVD rental store hung around and still provides interesting movie choices.  Tiffin friends saved us a space in the overflow area.  No sites were available in our regular spot, the repair bay lot.


Settled in the dust bowl RV overflow parking, currently soaked, additional storms incoming, we had dinner with Tiffin friends Joe and Jan and drinks with past Tiffin Hosts Art and Gerri while listening to stores of extensive repairs lasting months.  Feeling grateful.

A few days later we were visited by Norris, Tiffin’s scheduler, and placed on the waiting list for a repair bay.  Three days following, with a 30 minute warning, we entered the repair bay and learned that the stress fracture on the bedroom slide is but one problem. Along with a faulty gear on our electric entrance step, our sixth leak will require the entire large slide roof to be removed and replaced.  The original sealant was done incorrectly, the patch was done haphazardly so it leaked, buckling the inside roofing material and sending a crack down the entire length of the inside slide roof.

collapsed roof and leak

Oh, the joys of owning a motorhome.  We are facing additional weeks here in the armpit of Alabama while we wait for the roof to be manufactured and installed.  Our large slide must be retracted to keep the leaking area sealed, giving us an even further reduction in living space.  Yep, love this life.

Wanting to share all of our “adventure”, I brought our camera to take pictures of Red Bay AL and Belmont MS while our wet towels and floor mats were getting a cleaning at the laundromat in Mississippi, a short drive away .  We would not want y’all to miss out on seeing the area where we sit and wait for several weeks, several times each year.

Our RV site is a long narrow strip of crushed cement with hook-ups at the back.  A block away is the RR tracks and abutting the tracks is Sunshine Dog Food Manufacturing.

Sunshine Dog Food Mfg

Across the street is the local market.  Good for basic dry good necessities but minimal on produce.

Big Star Grocery

Across the road is Subway, the safest place to eat lunch.  Bob Tiffin, owner of the company, eats lunch here often and we’ve run into him dozens of times.

Red Bay Subway

A view of downtown from the Subway parking lot.  It runs a few blocks down the road.

Downtown Red Bay

Tiffin Repair RV parking lot office, several blocks down from where we are staying.  It’s our usual place unless it’s full.  Bob built the RV lot and repair bays on an old airport runway.

Tiffin repair front office

This is Red Bay Town Center Park.

Red Bay town center

In the four years we have been coming to Red Bay, the Red Bay Hotel has been slowly and steadily renovated.  It was just a brick structure when we first visited.  Now it has double pane windows, a/c, new doors, floors and a secure roof.

Red Bay Hotel

Down the side street is the Tiffin RV Welcome Center where you can take a tour of the plant or visit Bob in his office.  Been there and done that too.  After three times, booth loose their novelty.

Tiffin Welcome Center

The best restaurant around is in Belmont Mississippi, 15 minutes away.  Besides being the only real restaurant in the area, Costa Oaxaquena has an impressive menu and great food.

Costa Oaxaquena restaurant Belmont MS

Across the street is the Belmont Hotel, circa 1924, another hotel being renovated by an elderly gentleman.  It’s guests are permanent and we often see them walking across the road to eat at Costa.

Belmont Hotel 1924, MS

Belmont has the best junk store in the area.  Silver Dollar Discount is jammed with “stuff” and we visit several times each stay.  Can’t say we have ever been to anything like it in our adult lives.  The fun part is never knowing what might pop up on their shelves.

Silver Dollar Discount

And the most unique grocery store title goes to Belmont ACE Piggly Wiggly.  It’s a combo grocery/hardware store.  John loves shopping at the ACE Piggly Wiggly.

Hardware grocery MS

Our closest laundromat is in Belmont.  John has to do the wash because of the strong perfumed smell inside.  At least that’s the reason I give him.  We only use it for washing rugs and floor cleaning towels and with all the rain, we’ve accumulated several piles.

Laundromat in MS

And the prettiest part of the area is the Belmont cemetery when the Cleveland Pear trees bloom.

blooming Cleveland Pear Trees  Cleveland Pear Trees in Belmont, MS

So there you have it folks…our life and times in the Tiffin repair city of Red Bay AL.  Next route we take will be back home to Texas before we leave in April for another season in New England.

October 1st through November 30th, Red Bay Alabama, New Orleans Louisiana and Home 2015

On the road again. Driving through Pennsylvania and Ohio. Heavy rain storms beating down on LilyPad while we struggle along at a snail’s pace, lots of road work making the tires pound over the separations, multiple holes in the asphalt jarring everything without mercy. The ride was tough on LilyPad, Ribbit and our backs. Our overnights are spent tucked in, only the bedroom slide out. When traveling, overnights are best spent cinched together tightly to keep rain from settling on our slide toppers.  They have a nasty habit of stretching out when they fill up with water.  No TV so I am eternally grateful for our WiFi hot spot. Worth every penny.

The drawbacks of being on the road, the slightly unpleasant prospect of overnights in strange areas, always on my mind, always imminent. Even with help from my trusty TripAdvisor reviews, not everyone rates the noise or the smell of RV Parks and Campgrounds the same. Both points are of utmost importance to me. John, of course, has problems with neither. All night trains and their lonely long drawn out whistles, overly smoky wet wood campfires, howling barking yippy dogs voicing their opinions all night does not make me a happy camper but John has given me permission to poke him and wake him up to keep me company until we both fall back to sleep. Awww, such a nice hubby.

Arrival at the asphalt and gravel parking lot, a.k.a., Tiffin Motorhome Manufacturers Campground, set up camp, filled out forms, again with the “hurry up and wait”.

Rows of Tiffins

We will be directed to a repair bay in the upcoming days, timeframe, somewhere inside of three weeks. I didn’t bother to fully document this repair stay. No one would be able to tell the difference between this trip and our six subsequent trips, all of them spread out over the past three years.

After registering, we drove to another diesel repair shop for an up, up, up in the air tune-up.  One thing now crossed off our long list.

LilyPad up in the air

Ahead, a whole weekend of killing time. Elvis and the vintage hardware store in Tupelo were beckoning. We watched the movie of Elvis’ life in tupelo at the Elvis pavilion and stopped at the park on the hill. Perfect Kodak moment of statues depicting Elvis as a boy, and as a man, overlooking his boyhood church and home.

Elvis, boy to man

Looking forward to a lazy morning with plans for a few side trips while we await an open repair bay. The phone rings. Nope, our lazy day just turned into a put-away, pull-up and move-into-town day. All for a $25.00 piece of painted plastic that John assured me, two years ago while in a Tiffin Motorhome repair bay, was not an issue. It was a decorative piece and nothing to add to the list way back then.  Now its replacement is the reason we will give up one full 12 hour day of peaceful rest and relaxation.

Back to the campground, our new piece of plastic firmly in place, we settle down again while waiting for a bay. A necessary grocery store stop for supplies turned into a major find for me. My favorite Skinny Pop, Hatch Chile flavor, piled high in the discount bin and now that mound was settled comfortably in my shopping basket.

discounted hatch chillie popcorn

A lazy mid-morning rise, breakfast and plans to scout out an alternative view other than Tiffin rigs, dust, gravel and a 40 bay repair warehouse.  Muscle Shoals Alabama was where vintage country stars made their mark in the music business. We had passed up this modest music hall the past three years while in Red Bay and decided it was time to see what the museum held inside.

AL music hall of fame

Small but interesting, the museum was filled with pictures and memorabilia from stars that made Rock, Rock-a-Billy and Country music famous.

Country Musicians

My first intro to country music were songs from the band “Alabama”. Their tour bus was prominently displayed and available to poke around inside.  Very sparse and plain inside.  Tour buses have come a long way, from the no-frills Alabama Tour bus to exorbitant luxury Prevost’s of today’s super stars.

Alabama Tour Bus

On January 3, 1950, Sam Phillips opened the “Memphis Recording Service in Memphis, Tennessee which also served as the studios for his own label, Sun Record. Sun Record Company was instrumental in bringing an impressive list of artists, now vintage entertainers, into the limelight and rocketing them to stardom.

Sun Record Company

Sam began as a DJ for the Muscle Shoals Alabama radio station WLAY and because of the stations open format, broadcasting music from both white and black musicians, it inspired his work.

Muscle Shoals Recording Studio

He became a record producer and was considered to be the first to record a rock and roll record, “Rocket 88” by Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats, led by a 19 year old Ike Turner who also wrote the song. He is credited with discovering Elvis Presley and is associated with other noteworthy rhythm and blues stars of that period such as BB King and Howlin’ Wolf who made their first recordings at his studio.

Blues Singers

Sam’s pivotal role in the early days of rock and roll was exemplified by a celebrated jam session on December 4, 1956 which came to be known as the Million Dollar Quartet. Jerry Lee Lewis played the piano for a Carl Perkins recording session at Sam’s studio. When Elvis Presley walked in unexpectedly, Johnny Cash was called into the studio by Sam, leading to an impromptu session featuring the four musicians.

Sam challenged the four to achieve gold record sales, offering a free Cadillac to the first. The contest is commemorated in a song by the “Drive-by Truckers”. Elvis Presley, who recorded his version of Arthur “Big Boy” Cruddup’s “That’s All Right (Mama)” at Sam’s studio in Memphis, met that goal and the rest is history.  Elvis’s singles became a drawing card for Sun Records. Singers such as Charlie Rich and Billy Lee Riley recorded for Sun with some success while others, Jerry Lee Lewis, BB King, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison and Carl Perkins became superstars.

An excellent specimen of a vintage Wurlitzer played songs from the rock and country  super stars.  Enjoyable mood setting music as we strolled around the museum.

Wurlitzer Jukebox

The museum included many famous Memphis celebrities.  Gordon Edward Burns, also known as Country Boy Eddie Burns and “Happy Hal” began his career in radio.  He was a singer and instrumentalist who could play fiddle, guitar, banjo, bass, mouth harp and accordion.

Raised on down-home country, bluegrass and gospel, he was born and raised in Blount County Alabama on a farm. Host of his own radio show, Hillbilly Bandstand, he appeared at the Grand Ole Opry and performed on Armed Forces Radio Network during the Korean War. Best known for being a host of “Country Boy Eddie Show,” his happy folksy demeanor, corny jokes and ability to improvise on the spot earned him a wide fan base. His show, a variety series, aired mornings in Birmingham on WBRC-TV, 1957-1994. The show included music, comedy, interviews, chatter, funeral announcements and commercial spots. One of his trademarks was braying like a mule, ringing a cowbell for emphasis and making quips such as, “We’re going to have as much fun as a gallon of red ants in a barrel of sopping syrup!”

Colleagues praised his tireless work ethic, business savvy and marketing abilities. He interviewed Dolly Parton, Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield, Steve Allen, Pat Boone, Roger Miller, Chet Atkins and Eddy Arnold.  He discovered a star, giving Tammy Wynette her first break when she was an unknown hairdresser from Midfield. She sang regularly on his show before moving to Nashville in 1961 but never forgot her mentor.

His impressive western outfitted Bonneville occupies the center of the museum, near the Alabama Tour Bus.

Happy Hal Burnes car  Inside decor

Back to our site for the night.  That evening, a call was received from the office giving us our Express Bay arrival time, sadly for us, before most decent folks are awake.

After almost three weeks of waiting, we were invited to have repairs done in the Express Bay, $150.00 per hour offering general repairs, at best. I immediately asked that we not be scheduled for Bay (number removed to protect their identity). That’s where we had work done last year, neither of us being pleased with the results. Assigned Bay 9, excellent offering, one that we had successfully used in the past, immediately turning my frown upside down.

Morning held enough time to grab a cup of coffee, pull slides in and sit idle at the gigantic metal roll up door in front of bay 9 until being invited inside. If all goes well after the repairs, we will be back on track and rolling home the next morning. After entering the bay, we quietly sat in the motorhome while they worked, the smell of ancient diesel repair garage grime and grease permeating the air. Three hours later, almost all was fixed.  Our allotted three hours now up, we pause here overnight and early tomorrow morning we will leave.  And yes, that means we must return again to finish the balance of the repairs in the near future or wait here for another three weeks.

Homeward bound, our diesel guzzling rolling box was demanding another refueling so John pulled up at the local Neighborhood WalMart gas station. I had never been inside a “neighborhood” WalMart so I wandered through the store while John filled up. It was extremely compact and carried bits of everything a regular WalMart had on their shelves. Next stop, New Orleans Louisiana and a much anticipated visit with family in the “Big Easy”.

Neighborhood Walmart for diesel

Next morning we met up with everyone after parking LilyPad at a local RV park near an inlet boat pier and “RV Resort”.  Our group of nine spent several hours traversing across the Manachac Swamp waters with Cajun Pride Swamp Tours.

Cajun Pride Swamp Tours

Captain Tom, our guide, spoke English with a Cajun accent and it took a few minutes to adjust our brains for translating the Cajun idiosyncrasies into Texan.

Captain Tom

Liz’s friends and their two children, all visiting from California, looked quizzically whenever Captain Tom said a word that was not immediately identifiable.  We listened to tails of Brutus, a local alligator legend, perpetually mean and tightly wound, that disposition of course, as opposed to the sweet cuddly disposition of all the other alligators.

The swamp was peaceful except for an occasional squawk of birds and a few swift swishing tails cutting squiggly waves through the muddy waters.  Again, we were warned to keep hands and heads inside the boat.

historical Manchac Swamp

A baby alligator was passed around for those brave enough to hold the villainous looking miniature reptile.  He was docile but we were all appreciative that his mouth was tightly bound.

Little gator

The boat ride was pleasant and we stopped frequently.  A stop to admire a vintage 1915 grave yard, another to view a long ago abandoned trapper cabin inhabited by raccoons.  Several pauses near inlets with alligator topped logs floating near the shore.  The raccoons carefully extracted  Captain Tom’s cast out marshmallows from the water, moving quickly once the watchful eyes of alligators spotted prey and moved in close.  The food chain in action, thankfully, was not demonstrated.

1915 Graveyard  Swamp shack

Another gaze of raccoons scurried to the cove for a sweet treat from Captain Tom.  racoons

Our group met up again at night to celebrate the 30th birthday of Liz’s friend and it didn’t take much convincing to organize a meet up in downtown New Orleans for the Krewe of Boo parade.

Krewe of Boo  Float at Krewe of Boo

Free “stuff” flew through the air, caught by those up close.  The mini kids of our group were cautious at first but after a few floats passed by, they became brave, arms raised and waiving, squealing with glee as they snagged handful’s of trinkets.

Parade  Parade Beads

Graveyard float

The parade nearing the end, good-by’s to all, stuck waiting in our car and blocked by the end of the parade, patiently idling.  We listened to the weather warning of impending storms already pounding down on Houston.

We arrived at the RV, packed up and readied ourselves for the long wet journey home.  We would be traveling beneath the wide path of a major storm.

The brewing cloudburst turned torrential downpour the next morning and we rolled slowly towards home.  Kinder Louisiana was our quick overnight. We drove through the deluge which was made additionally stressful by our fifth leak, this time in the front cab by my window.  John ran over a dead skunk which added a putrid smell to the stressful mix.  The rain, window leak and skunk smell stayed with us all the way to Houston.  We arrived at our volunteer position, Escapees Care Center, early evening and thankfully the rain ceased.  We were still unsure as to what would be our duties.

Upon arriving, our schedule and information was handed to us by the maintenance man, he left and we struggled to back into our small narrow site located a few short yards from a busy highway. The traffic noise continued the rest of the evening and all through the night, so loud you could hear it above our three a/c’s, our two large Austin HEPA filters and the TV. This situation was not flowing in a positive direction.

In our four decades of volunteering for non-profit organizations, this one exceeded absurdity. We talked with the Care Center Volunteer Scheduler over a year ago. We signed applications but stated that we come to Texas specifically to visit our friends and family so we require 2 days off in a row. We were told, for over a year, that a schedule would be forthcoming. In July we were sent something resembling a schedule that would have allowed us visits with family and friends. When we arrived in October, the schedule had been changed to a very restrictive time schedule allowing no time to visit family or friends, no two days off in a row, additional hours and responsibilities not previously scheduled.  Now we were unhappy with the position as well as our designated site.  Being located a few feet from a major 18 wheeler transit road resulted in neither of us sleeping that night.  In addition, we were required to pay our own electric bill, TB tests were paid for by our own funds (an X-ray for me because of my COPD) and although lunch and dinner were included, the food was a weight gaining overly salted and starchy diet, nothing we would be able to eat. Very unpleasant surprise after traveling several days through one of Louisiana and Texas’ worst flooding rain storms to arrive in time for training.

We packed up, John walked to the office to tell them we would not be staying, hooked up the car and left.  In the words of Groucho Marx, “I’ve had a perfectly wonderful evening but I’m afraid this wasn’t it.”

Now we are planted near the Woodlands until our December Florida family trip to Walt Disney World.  On returning, we will relax the next few months while searching for a small piece of property with a tiny house settled snugly into a forested partial acre on which to land for our Texas Winter rests.


Rested and ready to socialize, we had lunch with friends in the country and made a discovery in the parking lot of the restaurant.  A Texas country style tiny house mounted on a vintage pick-em-up truck.  It even comes with an appropriately positioned glass whiskey jug mounted on the running board so I can yank it up into our front seat and take a swig of my Grandma’s Apple Pie Moonshine whenever the mood hits me.

Next trip, Walt Disney World or bust!

Sept 26th through October 2nd, 2015 Niagara Falls New York and French Lick Indiana

Our next few overnights were spent at 4 Mile Creek State Park, Niagara Falls New York. Beautiful spacious sites, a mammoth family oriented campground run by the State of New York. We arrived on a Friday and the campground was filled with families, lots of kids, our site sat directly in front of the playground, one the size of a city block.

No camping trip is complete without a marshmallow roasting fire but these weekend campers weren’t building fires…they built dozens of gigantic smoke bombs that spewed thick clouds of choking smoke lasting from early afternoon until far into night. I am at a loss to understand why anyone would consider starting a fire with wet wood. The smoke kept me trapped inside the first night, unable to enjoy Lake Ontario waters that were lapping at the shore a few yards from our campsite.

Arriving early afternoon, we took a side trip so KatieBug could have some family time and see the sights. Walking along Niagara River on The Whirlpool Scenic Overlook Trail for about a mile, we enjoyed the winding path exposing river views in-between giant trees.

Niagra River by the dam  Niagra River

Returning to LilyPad with a movie rental, we spent the night with popcorn and our fur baby snuggled in our laps.

Next morning, rising just after dawn and happily before anyone was up to start fires, we began our Canadian side Niagara Falls adventure. At the pickup office, we met our wide awake and cheery bus tour guide, Deb. The first of 8 people to be collected, it was a modest group for our 20 person mini-bus.

Deb our driver

The next two people that were collected were from New Jersey and the last four were from Texas. Deb chatted merrily away, asking questions of each of us and giving out an overload of information about what our trip would entail. We stayed in our early morning brain fog until our first stop, the Canadian border.

Border Patrol Agents carry guns and do not smile. You don’t joke, make smart ass remarks or disobey their orders. You show your NEXUS cards/passports, answer the questions and walk through to the other side. Deb gathered us all up and we all set off on our Niagara Falls experience!

Niagara Falls is a world-famous set of three large waterfalls on the Niagara River. The falls can best be seen from the Canadian side of the river so the city of Niagara Falls Ontario Canada is one of the major tourist attractions of the world. Horseshoe Falls has the predominant view and is amazing from any angle. Deb dropped us at the visitor center.

Deb with 4 of our 6 person group  Canadian side overlook

John and I walked around enjoying the views and the cool mist that clouded up and over the area, cooling off the heat blanket surrounding us down at least 10 degrees.

Mist from Horseshoe falls  Horseshoe Falls from ground level

The roar of the falls is almost deafening and you are hushed in awe by the enormity and strength of the swift thundering waters.

Niagara Falls Canada skyline

We sat and took in the Canadian Skyline while we waited for Deb, enjoying the views in every direction.

Elvis in Canada

As we walked through the pavilion to our van, we spotted Elvis!

Deb gushed a wealth of interesting facts and figures throughout our trip. I’m sharing just a few of the dozens she imparted to us.

Between 1901 and 1995, fifteen daredevils have gone over Niagara Falls. The first person to conquer the falls was Annie Taylor in October 24, 1901. She was inside an airtight wooden barrel, used a bicycle pump to compress the air inside and, although suffered bruises from the fall, she survived. Expecting fame and fortune from her Daredevil stunt, none was received and she died impoverished.

The last was Kirk Jones who went over with only the clothes on his back. He started upstream, swam over the 175 foot drop and swam to shore. Treated for minor bruises at a local hospital, he was released and fined $2,300. 00. Along with the fine, he was banned from entering Canada for life. Because he and his friend had been drinking before the stunt, their camcorder malfunctioned and did not capture any of the jump for prosperity.

Additionally, 12 – 15 people per year purposely take their lives jumping over the falls, that number being fairly consistent for the past century.

The first Europeans began arriving in Niagara in 1615. In the history of the falls, there have only been three incidents when the water flow was reduced or restricted. The earliest was 1848 when ice nearly stopped the flow.

The original International Boundary line was established by the Paris Peace Treaty of 1783 and later, the Jay’s Treaty of 1794. The Treaty of Ghent in 1814 followed the War of 1812. Since being drawn, the international boundary has not been changed.

Canada was the first to harness the power of the falls, building their gigantic power facilities in 1903.

The split of water was 90% Canadian, 10% American until the United States reconstructed an area known as Terrapin Point and the Army Corps of Engineers expanded the land mass outward so that 340-400 feet of Horseshoe Falls lies in American territory. As erosion continues, the crest line will continue to be extended within the American border.

Giving us time to explore and take copious amounts of Kodak moments, Deb repeated her herding of us together and drove our group to the Skylon Tower for our ride up the needle to see the amazing panoramic views.

Skylon Tower, Canada

It was a crystal clear and impressive 360 degree view!

American and Bridal Falls  Horseshoe Falls from the Tower

Our stop at the power plant turbines to view the United States side was an interesting lesson in harnessing the power of water.

US side power plant turbines

Next up, the Floral Clock, built by Canadian Hydro in 1950. The clock changes its 38 foot wide planted area yearly. It is one of the largest of this type clock in the world.

The Clock

Whirlpool State Park, Canadian side, is a 109 acre piece of recreational land where the river bends 90 degrees and causes swirling waters in the Niagara River. Deb told us the waters cease to swirl when the water level is low. We watched the Niagara Spanish Aero Car, built in 1913, glide from the Canadian side to within a few yards of the US, then stop and reverse direction because neither side wants transients to cross borders unrestricted.

Whirlpool State Park  Whirlpool

Our lunch stop was also an e-commerce stop. I passed on the movie theater type food and overpriced trinkets to watch a glass blowing demonstration while John downed his favorite food addiction, the hot dog.

Deb drove us to our last location of our tour, The Maid of the Mist Boats, bringing us up close and personal with the three falls.

Leaving shore behind    IMG_20150927_145110107  The falls up close and personal    Bridge and overlook

Our group was so small we finished our tour early and were able to stop at the duty free store for a liquor sampling and shopping experience before making our way back to the United States.

Crossing back over the border was quicker, we stayed in the bus while our border patrol officer asked questions about our purchases. I thought I saw him smile but it could have been my imagination as we were all busy sharing comradery and happily exchanging photos of the breathtaking views from our excellent Canadian adventure.

Back to LilyPad late afternoon, we had to leave just after arriving to seek fresh air until the motorhome outgassed the smell of smoke. Not horrid but just enough to uncomfortably irritate my lungs. Out to dinner to let the odor clear, then back for the night.

Next morning, up early for a family visit to the town of Niagara, Canadian Side. KatieBug would not be left behind today. Our NEXUS cards allowed us through fast and easy, no line, no wait, only three questions, one being “is that a dog?” before entrance into Canada.

We stopped at a few of the roadside markets but none of the fresh veggies and fruits were allowed to cross back over into the United States so we looked but left empty handed.

Niagara on the Lake farm side, Canadian

Parking street-side at the edge of town, the three of us walked to the furthest edge of town and back, the entire stretch of town, stopping to peek into stores. The town of Niagara was populated by Loyalists in 1780 and has continued to be a much visited part of the country ever since.

Town of Niagara, Canada

Pet friendly, business in town welcomed KatieBug with dog treats and water along our stroll. She loved going into the shops and sniffing everything ankle level. The sniff fest was a fitting reward for the days she had been stuck for hours inside LilyPad.

One of the wine tasting venues allowed dogs inside so we partook and purchased another thick fruit flavored liquor and a local cabernet sauvignon. The upcoming street was dotted with boutiques.

Canadian Fashion shop

Across from the shops, the Prince of Wales Hotel, rich with historic furnishings and period wall coverings, built in 1864 and not dog friendly. KatieBug walked with John on the outside while I walked through the inside, an entire block long.

Prince of Wales Hotel  Prince of Wales side

Tiring of the crisp cool air, we walked back to the car and drove back to the New York side of Niagara.  One quick pause along Ontario Street to enjoy a view of a most interesting colorful house.

Ontario St, Niagara Falls, USA

Continuing on our way back to the New York town of Niagara, we slowed to a stop, parked and walked along a few blocks of the downtown enjoying a town celebration. Booths lined both side of the street, selling their various wares for an unknown festival.

Next morning was Monday and families had returned to their real world lives, dousing their smoke bombs, the air soon completely cleared of floating soot. KatieBug and I walked to the lake and enjoyed Lake Ontario’s peaceful shores and calm waters.

Lake Ontario, NY

Lake Ontario is one of the five Great Lakes and contains 20% of the world’s fresh water. The Lake is about 6,000 years old. The expansive waters are beautiful and serene this time of year.

Up early, packing up, moving out, on the road again. Our new wake up music…Queen.  Next overnight would be in the tiny town of Butler Ohio.

Outbound New York took us past beautiful Lake Ontario and Lake Erie and some very bumpy lumpy roads that tossed LilyPads insides off beds and counters sending me scrambling back to replace fallen “stuff”. Went by a Ton A Wandah, a Lack A Wandah and then passing Go Wandah.  Wandah is a very popular lady here in New York.

Onward to French Lick Indiana. This teensy town in Indiana made it to my updated Bucket List because of the historic West Baden Hotel. The dome covered hotel darn near made it to one of the Wonders Of The World back in its Hay Day. Naturally, Houston’s Astrodome passed it by after they were built but this hotel looked incredible in pictures and was just slightly off our pathway home.

Passing up Butler Ohio and having to U-turn to return to Trail River Crossing Campground, we became the only non-residents at the park. Next to a hard packed bike path, grassy sites with plenty of room above and to our sides, we were a little afraid we would sink into the grassy packed dirt. Voltage on the pole was 128, so high it shocked LilyPad several times and she shut down repeatedly. Stuck again with 30 amps for the night but not a big deal or problem as we have survived much worse for much longer a period. The price was right and the campground was peacefully dark and quiet.

River Trail Crossing Campground, Ohio

Refreshed, we awoke and drove a half day to arrive mid-morning at French Lick Resort RV Slips. The “slips” were a bit of a disappointment. Through a narrow entrance, we drove into a gigantic open parking lot with 12 spaces at the back of the lot marked for RV’s. Connections at the back, a small skinny patch of grass, two picnic tables and a porch swing sitting on the grass made up the entire enterprise. When we drove to the hotel to get our key, we discovered our “site” was the first two spaces, abutting the trolley tracks.

French Lick, Indiana RV slip

After we set up, we noticed that the trolley traveled past our bedroom slide every 15 minutes and blew its very loud whistle several times as it passed. Whoever designed these RV slips must never have slept in an RV Park. Certainly not going to be the quiet, restful few days I was expecting with that whistle blasting in our ears from 6 a.m. all the way through 10 p.m. at 15 minute intervals. Their extravagant luxury resort price did not fit the mediocre space being offered.

We walked over to the trolley station office and spoke with Sheryl, a most delightful lady, who helped us find interesting things to discover while in town and gave us information about the RV slip, although that wasn’t her department. She even spoke to the trolley conductor about cutting down on the trolley whistle noise during the wee hours for our stay.  The view below is of the station from our dining area window.

French Lick Trolly Station

Our original plan was to stay four nights but we cut it in half due to the noise. If not for Sheryl, we would have left when we arrived and stayed elsewhere. The Reservation Department, supervisor over the RV Slips, was clueless about procedure and the noise. Sheryl gets our vote for Customer Service Extraordinaire for her willingness to help with whatever was necessary to make our stay pleasant.

Our 6am trolley wakeup call got us out of bed and moving. We boarded the trolley just a few steps outside LilyPad’s door for our journey to West Baden Springs Hotel. The décor inside of the trolley prepped us for our step back in time.

Inside the trolley

Breakfast was being served at Café at Sinclair’s, inside the hotel. Our trolley conductor greeted us, smiled and chatted, depositing us a few feet from the hotel’s fabulous wrap around porch.

Trolley Driver

The grounds were beautifully green and well manicured.

West Baden Grounds

The surrounding porch supplies morning guests with comfy rockers and tiny tables perfect for holding that first cup-o-joe coffee cup in the morning.

Hotel wrap around porch

We walked around looking at the structure and took the side entrance into the hotel.

Side entrance   Outside windows

Inside, the dome of the circular expansive and open ceiling was covered by clear glass panes and sunlight streamed in from every direction.  The walk-in size fireplace was beautifully hand crafted.

Center dome  Fireplace inside

Dining inside the open concept restaurant was elegant and delicious. It met every one of my criteria for breakfast perfection. A soft bench seat for me, comfortable chair on the other side for John, white tablecloth with linen napkins, a full place setting of silverware, generous coffee cups and a thermal coffee pot on the table, a wonderfully tasty gratis fruited bread with real butter left with our coffee, no problem with altering any of the menu offerings, reasonable prices, tasty and plentiful food and wonderful friendly service. Restaurants like this were few and far between. We were gratefully impressed.

After breakfast we walked the circular halls and peeked into each area. Giant pictures of the original hotel were mounted along the walls.

Original dome

The hotel had a few items that pertained to the circus but most of the information available at the hotel was in direct relation to the past owners.

Model Circus rides

A few of the original rooms were brought back to life and left as-is with museum quality exhibitions of days gone by.

Shoe Shine  Shoe Shine Barber Shop

Ed Ballard, of humble beginnings turned self-made billionaire, entrepreneur and circus owner, purchased the hotel in 1923 and sold it to the Jesuits in 1934 for $1.00. He used the hotel to house his circus for the winter.

After our self-guided walking tour around the hotel, we visited the French Lick West Baden Museum and learned of the local history.

Most of the museum centered on the Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus, one of Ed Ballard’s, that used the French Lick West Baden Hotel as a winter staging and tent repair home. A huge detailed diorama of the circus took center stage at the museum and included performing tents, animal tents, dressing areas, dining tents with every detail you could imagine.

Circus  Circus 1  Circus 2  The Big Top 1  The Big Top 2  The Big Top 3

Information circa 1900-1930, famous artists, politicians, sports figures (Larry Bird) and French Lick’s gambling casino days that spanned several decades, all were prominently displayed with goods and descriptions that brought life to the vintage settings in the museum.

Model Circus Wagons  Casino gear

The young man from which we bought entrance tickets was cheerfully helpful, offering answers to any questions and imparting details about French Lick life and society. It is small but if you love digging into the history of an area, it was well worth the price.

After spending time at the museum, we wandered through town, had a mini bite at a small German diner and sat near a window draped in hand made German lace.

German lace in French Lick

A few blocks away we spotted a winery and stopped for a wine tasting. Lite and fruity but not our preference, we passed on a bottle but enjoyed the extensive gift shop and the view of the hotel from the porch outside.

Hotel at a distance

Back home to pack up for our departure early morning.

The sun came up, the trolley rang out its 6 a.m. “wakey-wakey eggs and bakey” whistles, we said quick good-bye’s and a hug to our buddy Sheryl at the trolley station and pulled out of the parking lot, waiving adieu and ready to face the next leg of our journey home.

Castle Knoll Farm Barn  Castle Knoll Farm

Exiting French Lick, we past dozens of historic Castle Knoll Farms buildings, 1,100 sprawling acres of beautiful woods and fields, over 30 miles of hiking and biking trails and zip lines.  One of the most impressive farms we have driven past in our travels.  I read about their festivals and quickly added them to my “minor” Bucket List, should we pass this way again.  Next stop, the birthplace of LilyPad, a.k.a., Tiffin’s giant motorhome parking lot.

September 22th through 25th 2015 Gloversville and Watkins Glen New York

Up early for our first stop, Gloversville New York, traveling at a relaxed pace. Down time is spent making a list of all our “to-be-fixed” items, or as I call them, our “it’s always something”. We will slowly make our way to Red Bay Alabama, home of the Tiffin Manufacturer and LilyPad’s birthplace. This is the second of our twice-yearly treks to the dusty parking lot with RV hook-ups in the middle of nowhere. The list grew because they didn’t fix some things correctly last visit, even after being stalled there patiently for 30 days. Among other things, the separated sewer vent pipes and the separated diesel heater vent pipes are a must do.  The horrid smelly odors seeping inside of LilyPad makes our travels far less pleasant.  Along with the yucky smell, being pulled in tight each night while on the road can irritate even the calmest of nerves.

Life on the Road

Two overnights in Gloversville, one for dinner with an old high school chum of John’s and the next night, dinner with our niece and nephew before we move-it-on-down-the-road.

It took a full day of driving before we arrived at our next few overnights, Clute Memorial Campground in Watkins Glen New York. Nothing special about the campground but a premier location for visiting wineries and Watkins Glen State Park. Within walking distance of WalMart and across the street from Seneca Lake, one of the Finger Lakes in New York, the campground is close to dozens of wineries, enough to keep one busily sampling wines for weeks. Grape vines are packed together along the lakes edge and sporadically placed craft breweries and liquor distilleries are squeezed in-between the crowds of wineries.

Clute Memorial RV Park

This is a “don’t miss” area even with dogs and kids in tow. Most of the wineries are kid and dog friendly, room to roam for the kids, water bowls and uncarpeted floors for dogs. All have amazing views, scenic areas to stop and relax, parks with lots of room for youngster and fur-babies to run and much for all to discover in the natural beauty of the lake.

Watkins Glen Winery

Woke up early to explore Watkins Glen State Park. This adventure would be without KatieBug as dogs are not allowed on the trails. We began our hike at a slow pace, cane clutched in my hand, walking up the trail along the wide stone pathway,

Water over shale   Rock trails

watched an artist construct a stone meditative art piece,

Building Meditative Art

more stairs to reach Central Cascade,

Central cascade

further up, making a hairpin turn, steps rising up and over the suspension bridge and the wondrous birds eye view of the water carved stone of the Narrows.

Suspension Bridge   Gorge Trail up river    Gorge Trail down river

Higher up the trail, another fantastic view before winding back down the mountain.

Higher up the trail

Back down through the Narrows,

Into the Narrows    Walking through the Narrows

past the completed meditative art piece and

Meditative Art

a pause to observe the centuries old shifted rock plates along the canyon walls

Plates shifting

and following the path along the water, out to the Main Entrance.  Most of the walking was level enough for me but I was armed with my trusty cane for the stairs and uneven areas. Even with there being 800 of them, the stairs were nothing to stop anyone from enjoying the park.  Our slow and steady pace kept us from becoming intensely overheated and gave us time to savor the views.

800 steps   Trail going up

An abundance of places to stop and rest along the paths, all walkways very well marked, this late in the year there were lots of small, medium and large waterfalls scattered along the trail.

Small falls in the distance

A TripAdvisor review forewarned us, suggesting we bring water and wear comfortable shoes so our day was pleasant, even with no bathrooms until you return to the gift shop.  KatieBug would have loved the hike had she been allowed.

The mist while standing under the Cavern Cascade Falls were wonderfully refreshing after our long trek.

Cavern Cascade and John   Cavern Cascade and me

We came about two weeks too early for the fall leaf colors but that gives us a reason to return.

Next morning we had breakfast at Berta’s, a small diner owned by a friendly senior lady who prepares all her dishes with the fresh herbs that she grows out in front of her café.

Berta's outside

After breakfast, we drove around Seneca Lake. Several areas had signs to slow down for horses and carriages.  Mennonites live in the area. They are Christian groups belonging to the church communities of Anabaptist denominations named after Menno Simons (1496–1561) of Friesland. At that time they were part of the Holy Roman Empire. Through Simon’s writings, he articulated and formalized the teachings of earlier Swiss founders. I was uncomfortable taking their picture so I used one from the internet.

Mennonite horse and carriage

We stopped to visit a dairy owned by Mennonites and sampled several different seasoning infused cheeses. Came away with two wonderful flavors of cheese curds, or as our daughter Liz calls them, squeaky cheese…it squeaks against your teeth as you chew and they have a delightful flavor and texture.

With noon mere moments away, it was close enough for us to begin our marathon of wine tasting. We picked three wineries close by, those having the most interesting names, along with one distillery. Deciding to start the day off with the biggest kick, we drove to Finger Lakes Distilling and sampled several wonderful sips of whiskey, gin, vodka, grappa, brandy and one liqueur.

Finger Lakes Distilling  Distillery

Reminiscent of my favorite small batch distillery in Las Vegas where they make Grandma’s Apple Pie Moonshine, their brass distilling apparatus came from the same German company and looked as if it, too, were built to last several generations.

Our first choice was a “good-un”, a word my family refers to as a grandma-ism.  I hold these words close to my heart and they tend to creep into my speech whenever I need to keep in touch with my roots.  On this beautiful sunny weekday afternoon, the tranquil surroundings were well-received by both John and I, now that we had temporarily returned to retiree status.  We brought home two bottles, a spicy cinnamon whiskey and another berry liqueur. Our liquor cabinet is coming along nicely. If our next contract or volunteer position is anything like our last, I’ll have plenty of choices for a variety of moods to dispel.

This region is known for dry Rieslings. Being red wine drinkers and not finding any that pleased us in our random winery choices, we began asking the next few stops for the names of the area’s top red wineries. We were directed to Miles Wine Cellars and Anthony Road Winery.

Miles Wine Cellars also had craft beer but we kept our taste buds zeroed in on fermented crushed grapes. The grounds were lovely with a vintage wine press posing underneath an old-growth tree.

Wine press

The historic old plantation style home sat relaxing near the lake, benches overlooking the water and dense grass all across the grounds, an inviting atmosphere. We met one of our campground motorhome neighbors and chatted during the tasting.

Miles Wine Cellars  Seneca Lake

Our next and last stop was Anthony Road Winery.  Zen like setting, no fee for the tasting but again, no rich bold reds.  Someday I will learn to enjoy white wines and expand my taste bud experiences.

Anthony Road Winery

We returned home for a KatieBug break. Although most wineries were pet friendly, KatieBug stayed back at LilyPad enjoying animal planet on TV, surrounded by air conditioning and staying cool on this warm sunny day. She and John stretched their legs while walking across the street to Seneca Lake, down along the water’s edge and back home.

We visited as many wineries as possible before resigning to the fact that we could never visit all of them on this trip. With KatieBug at home sung as a bug, us growing tired from the arduous task of bending our elbows repeatedly, hour after hour, standing up sampling wines…yea, I know, it’s a rough life…we drove to the opposite end of the lake to our pre-planned evening destination, Ventosa Winery.

The entrance is gorgeous Italian style décor that continues inside, the perfect setting for formal or informal weddings. To my relief, dozens of nooks and crannies to sit and relax as opposed to the usual required standing position for tastings. We sampled the reds, John ordered us a lite bite to eat and a full glass of wine.  We sat on the verandah unwinding while listening to live guitar music.  When evening approached, we had a front row seat to a peaceful sunset over the tops of grape vine branches that reached out and touched the calm shores, while their roots sunk into the depths of Seneca Lake.

Ventosa Winery  Ventosa sunset

Although all were acceptable wineries, we both considered the winery tours only marginally satisfying our wines of choice are the big and bold flavors of California, Spanish and Italian reds. Still, the area is worth another visit to further explore its endless natural beauty. Next time we’ll plan to arrive when the fall leaves turn colors and do less tasting but more exploring.

John wanted to visit Pleasant Valley Winery, formerly Taylor Wineries, one of the oldest wineries in the Finger Lakes region of New York. Located in Hammondsport New York, not far from Watkins Glen, KatieBug came along for the drive, taking us passed dozens more wineries.  We arrived, John went in to check out the wine offerings while I stayed in the car with KatieBug. John took a few pictures of the small wine museum inside but didn’t like the tasting choices so we took the long way home to enjoy the sights.

Inside the museum, cork as it appears the first time it is stripped from a tree.

Wine bottle Cork

A tree must be 25 years old before it can be stripped for the first time. Subsequent harvests from that tree are allowed only at 9 or 10 year intervals. Every time this occurs, the quality of the cork is better. Cork trees are native to Spain and Portugal.

There were several vintage bottling machines in the museum.

Vintage bottling device  Vintage bottling devices

Hector Falls, a full block-long water fall along the side of the road, was a nice pause and Kodak moment as we continued our drive back to LilyPad.

Hector Falls

Sunset, dinner at a local diner and early to bed for our sunrise departure.

Sunset over the lake

Rolling down the road by 8 a.m. Next destination, Niagara Falls New York.

September 17th through 21th, 2015 Downtown Boston, last call for family and friend visits, make ready for our journey home

This September, the end of our third year also became the beginning of our fourth. Hind sight brings reflections of each roller coaster experience along our journey and all of the adventures in-between. After three years I was expecting a stronger adjustment to the “rolling” but expectations continue to fall short. Life on the road is not a quiet relaxing retirement and sadly, the work load and repair expenses exceed that of our sticks-n-bricks home.  I rethink this decision daily, rolling on in case it improves with age, either mine or Father Time’s.

Of prime example, this morning I dusted the closet clothing rods. Even with my marginal senior memory, I’m sure I have never dusted off closet rods anywhere we lived, nor have I heard of anyone doing so after they have settled in their home.  I wipe down rods every few months. Our tiny size should equal a reduction in the housework load but it is quite the opposite.

After our “sell all and travel small” 3 year experience, I have a deeper understanding of why my mother, both grandmothers and my mother-in-law stubbornly clung to their homes and households.  It’s the “Scarlett O’Hara” syndrome held by every woman. I shall stay in my home because I feel safe, things are orderly and tomorrow will be another day. Like the country western song warns, don’t blink.

Fortune did come our way with multiple visits to my beloved Boston, three times in the four months we were contracted at Buffumville. The first time I was dizzy from the overabundance of breathing medications and couldn’t walk but we drove to several old haunts. Second time I was still wheezing and on medications so we drove to a few places and I walked a few blocks here and there. The third time was my birthday trip and I was determined to use our Hop-On, Hop-Off tickets and go, without stopping, until I dropped. Nothing would be neglected and seeing everything in my mind’s eye of the Boston I knew years ago was the goal. Armed with a backpack full of anything that may go wrong with my lungs, we parked and hit the ground running…well walking actually, but full speed ahead. Not one section of Boston went unexplored. The city graciously provides rest benches every few blocks so my determination was rewarded with shade tree cooled, gently breezy, rest stops across the entire city.

Parking in a downtown garage and walking past the New England Aquarium to the start of our Hop-On, Hop-Off bus tour, we spotted some rescued seals swimming around in clear tanks at the front of the aquarium. They posed lazily while I and several other tourists took pictures.


This aquarium has an extraordinary story about a seal. John and I had visited Rockport Harbor looking for the statue of Andre, a harbor seal who spent his winters at the New England Aquarium in Boston and his summers in Rockport Harbor. Every spring, for over 20 years, the Seaquarium would release him and Andre would swim north over 150 miles to Rockport. His reappearance was always a highlight for local residents. Elected Honorary Harbor Master, a granite statue of Andre was dedicated at harbor-side in 1978 with Andre unveiling it himself. Andre died in 1986. He became the subject of a 1994 feature film but oddly, they used a sea lion instead of a seal. We never did find the statue but we watched the rescued seals bob, swim and float for a while before moving on to catch the bus. The web had a picture of Andre’s statue, elusive to us when we searched in Rockport.

Andre the Seal

On board and comfortably seated, our first point of interest was the Zakim Bunker Hill Memorial Bridge. It is the first and most glaring change we noticed. The Zakim crosses over the Charles River with the “Big Dig” under the water. The Dig was the most expensive highway project in the U.S. and was plagued with scheduling overruns, leaks, design flaws, charges of poor execution, use of substandard materials, criminal arrests and one death. The project was to be completed in 1998 at an estimated cost of $2.8 billion however, the project actually completed in December 2007 at a cost of over $14.6 billion, 190 percent overrun. It is estimated that the project will ultimately cost $22 billion and will not be paid off until 2038. Just a small example of why Massachusetts is also known as “Taxachusetts”.

Zakim Bridge

Each section of Boston was described by the tour bus driver but most of the information, because we lived in town and worked downtown for years, was a refresher course. We lived on Commonwealth Avenue and Newbury Street downtown before moving outside the city proper and into homes. Both of us continued to work downtown so we frequently stayed in town to visit friends. Boston is an easy walk-about city, fun to explore, lots of after work activity.  Some very interesting art work added recently.  One floating net sculpture, spread out between the buildings.

Downtown  Floating Net Sculpture

Hop Off for exploration at the Boston Common, Boston Public Gardens, Newbury Street, the Boston Public Library along with the churches that stretch across blocks of the city on most every street corner.

Church of the Covenant

Our favorite apartment stay, when Boston was our home, was on Newbury Street, now known as the Rodeo Drive of Boston. It is saturated with upscale shops and eateries. Our apartment was on the 6th floor, the tiny two person elevator broke down regularly but with 2 bedrooms, a great location and reasonable cost, it made having to walk up 5 flights of stairs on occasion worthwhile.

Newbury Street

Closing its doors in 2011, Priscilla of Boston, the high-end bridal boutique that began in 1945 and rose to fame after making Grace Kelly’s wedding gown, displayed gorgeous gowns in their windows across from our front window. Although Liz was not even a twinkle in our eyes, I dreamed of having money enough to dress a daughter in one of Priscilla’s gowns.

Back in the day, we parked our Volkswagen Beetle in the alley behind our apartment where the local downtrodden would pull cardboard boxes out of the restaurant trash bins, pull them up to the car engines and sleep underneath for warmth. We made a habit of searching under our car before backing out, just in case someone was still asleep.

On the corner behind our apartment was the Old South Church. Its bells rang out on Sunday inviting the neighborhood to join in their service.

When I would come home early from work and John worked late, I spent time walking around the Boston Public Library in Copley Square, a few yards from our apartment. In my 20’s, I had never seen anything so remarkably grandiose, expansive in size and lavish in décor.

Boston Library

The entrance, polished marble and stone, mosaic tiled, beautiful.

Entrance Ceiling  Assending staircase

The hall leading upstairs, awe inspiring.

Staircase to upper floor  Library hall

The reading room and lecture hall, rich dark woods with beautifully carved details, resembled Hogwarts study.

Upstairs hall  Lecture room

Across the street, Trinity Church, founded in 1733. From the outside you can see the incredible stained-glass windows. The inside holds vintage organs. The church is home to several high-level choirs, including the Trinity Choir and angelic notes float out onto the street during choir practices.

Trinity church

On the sidewalk next to Trinity Church is the Boston Marathon marker.

Boston Marathon

In my younger days, I walked the long stretch of park paths from work, through Boston Common, Boston Public Gardens and on to Newbury Street. On balmy afternoons, floral colors burst from their raised flower beds, giant shade trees and green grass surrounded my pathway, perfect setting to remove the stress and tension from my job and far less cost than a full body massage.

The “new” Massachusetts State House, built in 1798, is located across from Boston Common on top of Beacon Hill.

Massachusetts State House

Boston Common, the oldest city park in the United States, was designed in 1634. It began life as a cow pasture and grew into the city center where the politically verbal and religious zealots stood atop their “soap box” expressing personal opinions to the crowds.

Boston Common, 1634  Boston Common, fountain

The Old Granary Burial Ground is the city of Boston’s third-oldest cemetery. It was founded in 1660 and is the final resting place for many notable Revolutionary War era patriots, including three signers of the Declaration of Independence, Samuel Adams, John Hancock, Robert Treat Paine, Paul Revere and the five victims of the Boston Massacre.  The cemetery has 2,345 grave-markers, but historians estimate 5,000 people are buried on the grounds.

Entrance of Granary Burying Ground

The Boston Public Gardens, once a salt marsh, is a 24 acre park built in 1837. It is the home of many statues, the most famous being the entrance statue of George Washing and the bronze ducks from “Make Way For Ducklings”. Floating in the 4 acre pond are the Swan Boats that began operating in 1877 and remain, still powered via foot pedals.

Swan Boats  Boston Public Gardens 1837

No trip to Boston would be complete without an oily smelling, stale air, screechy wheel, hanging-on-for-dear-life ride on the erratically jerking “T”, a.k.a., the underground subways of Boston.  John and my major form of transportation while we lived here, I had to experience it again for old time sake.   Only one thing missing, the suffocating crowds.  Lucky us!

Haymarket Subway

Kings Chapel, an historic Unitarian Christian church founded in 1686 to insure the presence of the church of England in America. King James II ordered an Anglican parish to be built in Boston however none of the colonists were willing to sell suitable land. The King ordered Governor Andros to seize a corner of the burying ground for the Church. The Burying Ground is the oldest in Boston proper. It is the final resting place for many colonists, including John Winthrop, the Colony’s 12 term governor and Mary Chilton, the first woman to step off the Mayflower.

Kings Chapel front Kings Chapel Kings Chapel graveyard

Boston’s Old City Hall was home to its city council from 1865 to 1969. It was one of the first buildings in the French Second Empire style to be built in the United States.

Boston Old City Hall

Across from Kings Chapel, sits the stately and luxurious Omni Parker House Hotel. Opened in 1855 by Harvey D. Parker, its location is not far from the Massachusetts state government and has long been a rendezvous for politicians. The hotel was home to the Saturday Club and included literary celebrities such as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Ralph Waldo Emerson and the senior Oliver Wendell Holmes. Charles Dickens resided in the Parker House for five months in 1867-68 and first recited and performed “A Christmas Carol” for the Saturday Club.

Actor John Wilkes Booth stayed at the Omni April 5th and 6th 1865, ten days before assassinating Abraham Lincoln. It is said that he was in Boston to see his brother, actor Edwin Booth, who was performing at the hotel.

Originator of the Parker House roll and Massachusetts’ state dessert, Boston Cream pie, 2015 marks the 160th anniversary of the 19th century hotel. The original Parker House Hotel opened on this site on October of 1855 but was rebuilt in 1927. It is the longest continuously operating hotel in the United States.

Omni Parker House Hotel

Hop-On again and Off in the historic downtown area. The Old South Meeting House is the building where 5,000 angry colonists gathered in November and December of 1773 to protest the tea tax. Inside, Josiah Quincy cautioned the colonists that protests might stir up a hornet’s nest. Samuel Adams gave his secret signal, sending “Mohawks” to the harbor. John Hancock cried, “Let every man do what is right in his own eyes!” The gate has a fascinating design, most interesting.

Old South Meeting House  Old South Meeting House side gate

The Old State House may be the most photographed building in Boston. Built in 1713, it was the seat of the Massachusetts General Court until 1798. It is one of the oldest public buildings in the United States and the oldest surviving building in Boston. Its museum now contains, for the first time in 250 years, a room as it appeared during the 1760’s, when colonists decided the fate of the British Empire’s involvement in America.

Old State House back

In front of the Old State House, a circle of cobblestones honors those shot down in the Boston Massacre. On March 5, 1770 a minor dispute between a wigmaker’s young apprentice and a British sentry turned ugly. Relief soldiers came to the aid of the British and were met by an angry crowd of colonists. The colonists threw insults and whatever else they could pick up to do damage to the soldiers. The soldiers fired into the crowd and killed five colonists. Samuel Adams and other patriots called the event a “massacre”. Dictionary description of a massacre: an indiscriminate and brutal slaughter of people. The “event” fits Wikipedia’s description of “massacre”.

Old State House front

Hop-On again and Off near Quincy Market. My plan was to get a menu picture of the word New Englanders call a “milk shake”. My reason? When we first moved to Boston, I walked into a Friendly’s, a lunch and ice cream café, and asked for a chocolate milk shake. When she handed me the blended watery drink I asked, where’s the ice cream? Her reply…”you asked for a milk shake…if you wanted ice cream, you should have said Frappe”. In New England, a milk shake is blended milk with flavoring. Another one of the alternative words used to describe the same food or drink in a different part of the country.

Frappes in Quincy Market

Near the waterfront is Quincy Market and Faneuil Hall. Faneuil Hall has been used as a marketplace and meeting hall since 1743. The second floor is a meeting hall where many Boston City debates are held. Speeches by Samuel Adams and other patriots were given at the Hall.  The fourth floor is maintained by the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company, the oldest chartered military organization in North America and the third oldest chartered military organization in the world. Its charter was granted in March 1638 by the Great and General Court of Massachusetts Bay and signed by Governor John Winthrop.

Funded by the wealthy merchant Peter Faneuil, he commissioned a local artisan to create the grasshopper weather vane that still sits atop the building’s cupola.   On weekends, Faneuil Hall hosts the Farmers Market offering the purchase of fresh fruits, veggies, fish and meat from stalls lining the street.  The market area abuts the North End and one ingenious soul thought to bronze the abundance of trash on the sidewalks creating an enjoyable art project.

Bronzed trash at Faneuil Market

Quincy Market is an historic marketplace constructed in 1824-26.  Named for Mayor Josiah Quincy, he was responsible for organizing its construction without any tax or debt.

Quincy Market (2)    Inside Quincy Market

Quincy Market is a conglomerate of fast food stalls, taverns, restaurants, upscale shopping, an overabundance of gift carts, a motley crew of street musicians and street performers and crowds of tourists, day and night.   A violin student was selling his CD’s while providing free entertainment to passing tourists.

Classical Music by Quincy Market

No need to Hop-On for our visit to the North End, the Italian section of Boston. Just cross over the bronzed trash cement walkway and you have arrived.  I fell in love with this area on my first visit.  We had put a deposit down on a North End condo in early 1979 but the developer backed out.  Being of Italian decent, mother and father, I have always felt totally at ease here, even with James “Whitey” Bulger, a North End mobster, traipsing around the area killing off 19 of his enemies from 1974 through 1985.

I wanted John to be one of the little old men sitting in chairs framed by store front windows, smoking pipes and cigars, discussing world events.  I wanted to be one of the little old women who hung out a window, multiple stories high, yelling down at my little old man who became “wife deaf” with age.  I wanted the small town in a big city life, shopping on foot, bags laden down with fresh veggies and meats from small local markets, everyone knowing us, our children, our grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

The North End

Religious street festivals are held frequently and to be in attendance is to become momentarily Italian. If you miss all the festival dates, a trip to Mikes Pastry Shop will delight your taste buds with authentic Italian bakery fare or creamy gelato, a heavenly fresh baked fragrance and a place to sit a spell.

Mikes Pastery

Just up the street is Saint Leonard Catholic Church. It was founded in 1873 in the North End and built by Italian immigrants.

St Leonard entrance

In November of 1891 the churches basement opened for public worship. The number of parishioners at that time was near 20,000. In 1910, restoration of the upper church was undertaken.  A stunning small church.

Front view  Back View  Church Ceiling

Hop-On again and Off at Sail Loft Café. For my birthday dinner I requested a glass of Samuel Adams Oktoberfest beer, steamed mussels and a lobster. Not necessarily at one meal, but if it all appeared, I wasn’t turning it down. When we asked our driver where we might find fresh fish, he suggested Boston Sail Loft Café, one stop past the North End. My happy birthday surprise was that this one small dock side restaurant had the ability to provide all three. Their “today only” special included a whole steamed lobster on a bed of steamed mussels.  And more happy birthday news, the Café just received the Samuel Adams Fall brew beer, their creamy smooth Oktoberfest.  Ahhhh…Happy Birthday to me!

Boston Sail Loft Cafe  Happy Birthday Me

Our Hop-On, Hop-Off tour came with a harbor cruise. Boarding next to the Aquarium, the boat was as large as our whale watch cruise but the inside resembled a dining room.  We supposed they offer lunch or dinner sailings.

Boston Bay Cruise

Up to the top deck for a good view, sail boats dotting the waters as we passed the Boston harbor and skyline.

Boston Harbor

Off one of the piers, the bare bone rusting skeleton of Boston’s Premier Seafood Restaurant, Anthony’s Pier 4, sitting deserted on the edge of the dock. John and I had dined multiple times there in the evenings, sitting by the window and gazing out at the twinkling waterfront lights. Sad to see it closed.

Anthony's Pier 4 Restaurant

The tour paused at the docks of the USS Constitution. Although still in dry dock being refurbished, it was available for tours but we passed, having been there and done that several times in years previous.  Returning to the dock, we disembarked for one final stroll around Boston, on foot, before leaving the city.

Walking up the hill and into the downtown area, my old shopping stomping grounds, now disappeared into the past, leaving an empty vacant lot where the renowned Filenes Basement once was located, several floors underground.  Many a lunch hour was spent digging through the gigantic open bins of jumbled together clothes, piled high, my best buddy Patsy and I trying on, in the isles, as many “special finds” as possible before a post-haste mad dash back to work.

A clothing shop window drew my attention as it broadcasted, in an irreverent manner, my name on the front of its t-shirt. So I look a little different, gray haired, older, etc. Want to make something of it skinny beeotch!? The nerve of some inanimate objects!

Oh My God Becky shirt

Catching another Kodak Moment, one of John standing next to Johnston and Murphy shoe store, the store from where he acquired his childhood nickname “Murph”. It is a mystery to him why the nick name stuck but he’s been told that it fits him well.

Johnston and Murphy

Leisurely making our way back to the Aquarium parking garage, paying a preposterous forty dollars for a garage parking space, exhausted but overjoyed with our day’s adventure, an hour drive to Buffumville, off to bed within minutes of arriving home.

Rise and shine early to stock up on groceries for traveling, pick up KatieBug and one last visit for John to Coney Island Hot Dogs, a regular stop on our way home from grocery shopping. Vintage decor, marginally sanitized booths and tables but amazing homemade meat sauce, onions and mustard topped the hot dog that sat snug in a soft white-bread bun. One, once, was enough for my tummy but John bought two each time we were in the area.

Coney Island

One last visit to my amazing little sis Linda and her husband Dave. We will meet up again next year and will arrange our schedules to spend more time together.

Another last visit with Rich and Judi, vowing to return next year and toast to our decades old friendship with a few overnights at their lakeside home.  It will surely include many bottles of fermented grapes and another dining experience at O’Steaks and Seafood, lakeside view, need another creamy bowl of lobster mac and cheese.

Last visit to John’s sister and brother-in-law with a surprise drop-in by our nephew and niece. Hugs all around before we leave Holden and drive back to Buffumville.

My desire to stop at the Charlton Sewing Center finally came to be…it was open early evening. Entering the back door, the basement was nothing special. Climbing up the vintage wooden hand cut staircase and entering the fascinating 110 year old New England church was worth the long awaited visit.

Original stained glass

The owner was easily talked into playing the antique organ for visitors as they browsed through her tremendous assortment of quilting materials.

The pipe organ  Vintage glass windows

Original stained glass windows, beautiful quilts, old sewing machines, miniature sewing machines…many of her vintage sewing items were museum quality.

Stained glass  Amazing hand made quilts

Great old church, pleasant break in our late afternoon drive. Back to LilyPad to finish making the inside “travel ready”. Early to bed and early to rise.

Leaving Buffumville, I dropped off the keys and my extremely explicit written opinion of the working conditions. Never being one to bite my tongue, this time John agreed with what was listed on the paper so we won’t be back unless that shack is replaced with something healthier to sit inside for 12 straight hours. LilyPad fueled up, Ribbits hooked up and we’re off to see the wineries, the wonderful wineries of Watkins Glen.

September 1st through September 16th, 2015 Trip to Salem and Last days at Buffumville

With KatieBug merrily bouncing off to play in the giant doggy playground with her buddies, we are off on our last overnights away from Buffumville. Our next trip will be “out-a-here” slowly making our way back home to Texas. Plans are to spend three days in Salem and try one last time to use our Groupon tickets for Cape Ann Whale Watch.


We arrived mid-morning at our second choice overnight. Our first choice, a bed and breakfast, was cancelled when we found rooms available at the historic Hawthorne Hotel. The hotel was less cost, located in the center of Salem, immersed in history and had the added bonus of marvelously eerie charm and rumored ghostly manifestations.

Hawthorne Hotel Front

The small but acceptable room we were first given had one glaring exception, a headboard wall with a three foot long vertical split that was leaking plaster dust and a strong cherry scent that bothered my lungs. It was also on the fourth floor and I had requested the fifth. When I mentioned the needed room repair to the front desk, we were immediately moved to the fifth floor, suite 512, directly below the alleged 612 haunted suite. This was a room I would enjoy!

Suite Bedroom  Bathroom  Livingroom

We settled into the suite before riding down the elevator for a late breakfast at Nathaniel’s with their friendly staff, beautiful dining area and excellent veggie omelets.


A quick peak into the Tavern before walking out onto the street for an afternoon explore.

The Tavern

The Salem Witch Museum was cattycorner to the hotel, standing near the statue of John Hathorne, the infamous Witch Trials Judge. Having been there and done that, we passed by in search historic homes and interesting shops.

Salem Witch Museum   a

Salem is an eclectic mixture of unusual Gothic costumed adults hawking the occult, elderly folk strolling the sidewalks, park sitters and their fur-babies, tourists wandering about following guide maps, old money hiding in centuries old homes behind closed doors avoiding all the touristy craziness, witch/warlock and ghoul tour guides leading visitors through the city at dusk, and the downtrodden walking their dogs along the edge of shadows before disappearing into dark alleyways.

Doug Floyds quote; “You don’t get harmony when everyone sings the same note” and is an accurate description of Salem’s harmonious interconnecting vibe. It is a town that screams supernatural celebrations, embracing its sordid “witch trials” past life but keeping a firm grip on the reality of what it takes to captivate tourist dollars. Occult shops line the streets and I readily admit, some diabolical window displays pulled us into a few.

Magic Shops    Omen

When our children were young I was known as the family Witch Doctor, mainly because I used holistic and natural cures for what ailed the four of us. Showing no mercy, John took villainous pleasure, on multiple occasions, teasing me about imaginary Salem family ties and me visiting my relatives.  I paused to admire a magic wand in Wynott’s Wands front window and that sent him off again. I warned him that if he continued, I would buy the wand and there would be another towed, a real live toad, living in our LilyPad with KatieBug and I.

Magic Wand

On the opposite corner across from the hotel, Patrick Dougherty’s natural artistic creation of tree saplings woven together and expertly crafted. It is Peabody Essex Museums first commissioned outdoor artwork. With a crew of 50 staff and volunteers, the project was completed and availed a counterpoint to the wood frame Crowninshield-Bentley House in the foreground that dates back to early 18th century. Patrick designed “What The Birds Know” with shapes suggesting swallow nests but its spectral presence and distorted sway conveniently fit into the upcoming ghostly Halloween celebration decor.

Stickwork frontside   The backside

As you can tell by John checking out the inside, these art structures are gigantic.

John in the nest

We joined dozens of tourists wandering the streets and came upon the Home for Aged Women, donated by Robert Brookhouse in 1861. The home was built for Benjamin W Crowninshield (1772-1851) member of congress and Secretary of the Navy under Madison and Monroe. William Crowninshield Endicott (1826-1900), was born under this roof and became Justice of our Supreme Judicial Court and Secretary of War under Cleveland.

Still in use, a few pale faces peeked out from the half drawn blinds and a frail tiny elderly lady sat in a yard chair on the side of the house, watching me as I studied the plaque and took pictures of her stately home.

Home for aged women, 1811

The home is situated across the street from the Salem Maritime National Historic Site, facing the ocean so that its residents can gaze out to sea. The Friendship of Salem, a reconstruction of the three mast,171 foot Salem East Indiaman built in 1797, is anchored at the Maritime dock.

The Friendship

Dinner by the ocean at a small café and an early evening stroll back to our suite for the night. Nothing floating down the halls, deathly silent upstairs, not a groan or a creak did we hear from shut eye to day break.

Bright sunlight was sneaking under our drawn shades and lighting up the room so we rose to explore the town via walking shoes for a second day. Today’s agenda included a quick breakfast and additional roaming around the town in search of Salem’s intriguing architectural and historic points of interest.

Our meandering down side streets brought us to The House of Seven Gables museum complex which included several period homes and the main attraction, the house that Nathaniel Hawthorne made famous. Caroline Emmerton, a philanthropist and preservationist, founded the present day museum complex to assist immigrant families who were settling in Salem.

The House of Seven Gables was built in 1668 by a Salem sea captain, John Turner. It was occupied by three generations of the Turner family before being sold to Captain Samuel Ingersoll in 1782. When Ingersoll died, he left the property to his daughter Susanna, a cousin of famed author Nathaniel Hawthorne.

The House of Seven Gables

Caroline purchased the old Turner Mansion in 1908 and worked with architect Joseph Everett Chandler to restore it to its original seven gables, as close to the description in Nathaniel’s book as possible. She even had a storefront built into the side of the house to keep the story aligned with the structure of the house. Chandler was a central figure in the early 20th century historic preservation movement and his philosophy influenced the way the house was preserved.

Seven Gables Store

The Retire Beckett House is the oldest building on the museum complex, built in 1655 by the famous family of shipbuilders. It was built in memory of the most famous of the Beckett ship builders. Originally located close to the water on Beckett Street a half mile away, Caroline Emmerton had the house moved to its current location.

Retire Becket House

Another of the museums acquisitions was The Hooper-Hathaway House, built in 1682 for Benjamin Hooper. Caroline rescued the Jacobean/Post Medieval style home from destruction in 1911 and moved it to the museum complex.

Hooper Hathaway House 1682

We had visited Salem when I was pregnant with Josh but at that time we only viewed the outside of the House of Seven Gables as I was uncomfortable with the thought of trying to squeeze up the narrow hidden staircase beside the chimney. This time, oddly enough, I had no fear of getting stuck. With 35 additional years and many pounds added from head to toe, I managed to ascend the narrow circular staircase without becoming wedged between the metal bars and the chimney brick, despite the snug fit. Whew! My tight squeeze was rewarded with an amazing view of the ocean.

Nathaniel’s gothic novel, written in 1850, follows a New England family and their ancestral home. He examines themes of guilt, retribution and atonement and colors the tale with notions of the supernatural and witchcraft. The Gabled house in Salem and his ancestors, who played pivotal roles in the Salem Witch Trials of 1692, influenced the tone of his book.

Nathaniel Hawthorne

It was obvious why he frequented the home, warm and inviting inside with amazing ocean views just out the front door.

House of Seven Gables front yard

No pictures are allowed indoors but, as you can imagine, it is filled with the décor and furnishings of that time period, beautifully decorated and beautifully restored. The house is the oldest surviving 17th century wooden mansion in New England.

After the tour we left the ocean area en route to town. John finally convinced me to break for an early dinner at Bella Verona, a little Italian restaurant we had passed by several times. He was in the mood for linguini with clam sauce so it was the opportune time. We had the enjoyable Italian atmosphere, music, food and service all to ourselves as the restaurant was completely empty of other diners our entire dining stay.

Bella Verona

The Visitors Center in town was showing a movie of Salem’s history so we joined a group of foreign tourists and relaxed in the comfy padded chairs, both of us enjoying the half hour show. Back out on the street to meet up with our evening tour group in town.

As we walked along the town square, street lights with ship figure heads mounted on their poles were being displayed.

Shalimar     Lady of Salem

TripAdvisor rated Hocus Pocus Tours particularly well so we chose the 90 minute sunset stroll that included more Salem history, less kitschy gore.  We met in front of the East India Marine Hall as the sun began to slip into the night.

East India Marine Hall

The Salem Witch Trials, the horrific reality of Salem’s past, was where most of the tours focused attention. Our husband and wife team tour guides mixed in amusing anecdotes, little known historical facts regarding Salem’s rich and powerful, political events leading up to the trials and what transpired after the trials. They skillfully told stories of Salem’s more colorful citizens and kept us engaged by capturing our attention with quirky tales and suggesting favorable local dining establishments.

One of our stops was in front of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church. On either side of the front door stood tightly placed headstones, all unreadable. When someone died, they were regularly buried one body on top of another. The headstones were placed helter-skelter by whichever headstone was brought up from the basement at the time of the burial. No rhyme nor reason, non-specific to the deceased.

Saint Peters Church

Another stop was near the statue of Samantha in Bewitched, placed by the television company near one of the TV program show scenes.

Elizabeth Montgomery

Bewitched, the TV show many of us baby boomers watched religiously, was about a witch housewife played by Elizabeth Montgomery and her adventures being married to a mortal.

The Hawthorn Hotel was used as lodging for the cast and crew after a 1970’s fire damaged the soundstage where the show was filmed. As a solution to continued filming while the sets were being repaired, episodes were filmed in and around Salem and Gloucester. It is strongly believed that Elizabeth Montgomery and William Asher stayed in room 512, our room.

Room 512

Appearing in a few of the episodes as the hotel where Darrin and Samantha stayed, the name appears as it was during that period of time, The Hawthorn Motor Hotel. In the episode “Samantha’s Bad Day in Salem”, the hotel’s elevators appear along with the lobby. The mail chute between them looks the same today as it did on the show.

Hawthorn Hotel Entrance

Although we slept through the night without metaphysical happenings, rumors are that the smell of apples can be detected in the hotel although no apples are on the menu. The owner of the apple orchard that stood where the hotel stands today, Bridget Bishop, was the first person executed during the Salem Witch Trials of 1692. I smelled cherry’s in our first room. Probably no haunted significance, just someone leaving behind hidden fragrant cherry candy…or not.

There are stories about room 325 at the hotel having bathroom lights and plumbing turn on seemingly of their own accord. Strange sounds and sensations, such as a child crying and invisible hands touching guests have also been reported with this room.

Room 612, the suite directly above ours, is said to be the scene of hauntings. A spectral woman wanders the hall, pausing in front of the room. Within the room itself, some guests have claimed to feel an unseen presence sharing the room with them.

Prior to being Nathaniel’s, the restaurant was known as The Main Brace. It featured a nautical theme. The restaurant had a large ship’s wheel as part of its decor. On occasion the wheel was seen to turn by itself, seemingly by a seafarer spirit, maybe the Gloucester Fisherman came for a visit?

Gloucester Massachusetts

There are stories of a hotel employee who refused to work nights in the room known as the “Lower Deck” after witnessing unexplained phenomena. After setting up the room, he would return later to find furniture moved into new positions.

In October of 2007, the Hawthorne Hotel was featured in an episode of the TV show Ghost Hunters. Investigations were made of the 6th floor, room 625 and room 312. We slept sand-“witched” between, in room 525 but slept fitfully through our three night stay without a supernatural episode.

Towards the end of the tour, we walked by the 1692 Old Burying Point graveyard, the oldest burying ground in the city of Salem. Entombed here is Justice John Hathorne who showed no regret or sorrow for the horrific judgments he passed down on innocent people. John was the great-great-grandfather of Nathaniel Hawthorne the writer. Nathaniel suffered great distress at his ancestor’s lack of remorse over the trials and may have adopted the addition of “w” in the spelling of his last name to dissociate himself from the judge.

1637 Burying Point  The Burying Point at night

Next to the Burying Point, the Salem Witch Trials Memorial was constructed as a monument of bereavement for the deaths of the 14 women and 6 men accused of being witches in 1692. Separated from, but alongside the graveyard, are 20 granite benches that make up the memorial. The large granite pieces are cantilevered and set at varying heights protruding out from a low stone wall. Each bench is inscribed with the accused’s name, date of execution and the means by which they were put to death. As we stood in the darkness listening to the story of unimaginable cruelty and suffering, it evoked shivers that ran up my spine. The Witch Trials Memorial was dedicated by Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel in August 1992 as part of the Salem Witch Trials 300th Anniversary.

Witch Trials Memorial


Up exceptionally early this morning for my long awaited Cape Ann Whale Watching Cruise. Although 40 minutes away, it was an easy drive to Gloucester, we had reservations and the owner said today was a go…this was finally going to happen!

The ship was docked next to the office, as ready to get started as I.

Cape Ann Whale Watch  Hurricane II

Our small group stood waiting by the gangplank and were soon welcomed aboard the Hurricane II for our whale watching experience. Padded seats inside, waterproof seats outside, snacks available to purchase, pictures of the sea life we might see posted inside the cabin, greetings from friendly crew and captain, a marine biologist visiting around the boat answering questions and a drop dead gorgeous calm day. Expectations were over the moon.

Our outbound trip was spent reading all about the life and times of whales, what other sea creatures we might see and in what area the whales would appear. Nothing yet. Passing Eastern Point Lighthouse.

Eastern Point Lighthouse

Still nothing. Up ahead, the Twin Lighthouses and beyond, open ocean.

Twin Light Towers

A shout out from the captain, sea junk portside.  The crew tried to pull it to the ship but the weight overwhelmed their poles.  Crew radioed the junk into shore patrol for pick up.

Sea trash

Passing large and small fishing boats scattered along our path. In the distance, an expansive group of fishing boats, paused and bobbing gently up and down.

boats and whales fishing

As we moved closer, huge black humps were spewing salty sea mist high into the air.

Up for a breath

One by one they arched their backs, flipping their giant black and white tails up into the air and disappearing down into the ocean, mere yards away from some of the small fishing fleet of boats.

Whale fluke 1  Whale fluke 2 Whale fluke 3  Whale fluke 4

The fishermen watched, as did we, the dozens of whales performing their feeding gymnastics, over and over.

Fishing 1  Fishing 2Fishing 3  Fishing 4

We saw two, then three and in one area, two different breeds of whales fishing together.

Two fishing together

Our group would dash from one side of the boat to the other, snapping Kodak moments, chatting excitedly in an unintelligible chorus of languages. The captain would hail “whale at 2:00” calling out the sighting direction and everyone would fall dead silent to hear his words before rushing to that side of the boat to see more whales.

Fishing whales

One of the guests spotted a huge Mola Mola (sunfish) floating near the surface and the crowd surrounded him.  No more Mola Mola by the time I got through.

Mola Mola

Whale tails all have different markings and from the captains count, we saw about 20 whales in the fishing area.

Tail 3

As exciting as it was to see all the whales, feeding whales are not the most interesting to watch and do not burst from the water up into the air, breaching spectacularly as we saw them do in Alaska. On the other hand, in Alaska you may not approach as near as is allowed in Oregon and Massachusetts. There are always trade offs.

Tail 1

The captain guided the boat towards a pod of  Atlantic White Sided Dolphins and we saw the waters erupt with bodies pulsing through the waters, splashing their way across the bow of our boat.  We turned, they turned.  Another boat came by and they switched directions.

Babies and moms  Dolphin baby and mom

One came straight towards our boat and ducked under, popping up on the other side.


Mother and babies swam together without separating as the pod moved away from the boats and out to sea.

Mom and Baby

The captain announced that our sea journey time had run out and we must return to land.  All that fresh sea air and excitement kept the crew and passengers in high chat mode as we all sat enjoying the journey back to shore.  Anticipation of the whales now fulfilled, passengers noticed the sights along the shore…a castle,

Castle by the Ocean

the Salem shoreline,

Salem Coast

a small lobster boat returning with its fresh catch from the sea caught our attention just before docking.

Lobster Boat

Mentally pumped but physically drained, we drove back to Salem along the shore, parked at the hotel and strolled around the square before returning to our room to retire.  No ghostly hanky-panky materialize, calm and quiet all night.

Sunlight waking us on our last morning in Salem, we decided a unique breakfast was deserved.  Walking through town square, down a few blocks to our destination, The Ugly Mug.

Ugly Mug storefront

Specialty lighting fixtures, an eclectic attentive staff, excellent choice of designer style breakfast offerings, quirky tables and chairs, this was a perfect ending to our stay.

Ugly Mug lighting

Our return to the hotel took us past a magnificent brick building that stood within 12 feet of a site hugely significant to American history.  A few yards away, from 1718 until 1785, stood the Town House where the last General Assembly of the Province of the Massachusetts Bay met to protest the stamp act in 1765.  These same gentlemen denounced the tea tax in 1769, joining together as American Indians to pitch tea into Boston Harbor.

The current brick building was constructed for, and occupied by, First Church in 1826.  The church rented out the storefront on the first floor to businesses.   Apprentice silversmith Daniel Low opened shop in this tiny Washington Street storefront in 1867.  Gradually he took over the entire floor and by 1889, was running the largest jewelry store in the country.  In 1923, Daniel Low and Company bought out the three story building.  Now beautifully restored, Colonial Hall was resurrected under a new name, Rockafellas, serving the Salem community as an elegant event hall.

Daniel Low and Company    1867 Rockafellas

All packed up and on our way back to Buffumville, picked up an exhausted but happy KatieBug, time for one last special New England meal to complete our amazing mini vacation.

I loved walking around the Wayside Inn and the Wayside Inn Grist Mill grounds when we lived in Marlborough.  The Grist Mill is the first working mill to be built as a museum and was commissioned by Henry Ford.  Work began on the mill in 1924.

Longfellows Wayside Inn Grist Mill

The mill was finished in 1929 and operates with millstones imported from France and high-quality 18th century milling machinery purchased by Ford’s antiques buyers.  When Ford died in 1947, the Mill ceased operations, his family selling off the land until the Wayside Inn property returned to its original 125 acres.

Inside the mill  Millstones

In 1952, the Mill began full operations under a least agreement with Wayside Inn and Pepperidge Farm, providing a full-time Miller to produce the wheat flour for the company’s product.  The Wayside Inn Grist Mill shipped out its entire flour output to Pepperidge Farm plants, 48 tons of whole wheat flour a month, during the 15 year agreement.

The Grist Mill currently produces 5–15 tons of flour per year which is used in the restaurant’s baked goods and is sold in the Inn Gift Shop.

Traditional New England favorites

Along with the fully working replica of the Grist Mill, Henry Ford built a replica of a non-denominational church, named after his mother, Mary, and mother in law, Martha.

Martha Mary Chapel 1940

Entering through the Inn’s hand carved detailed wooden doors with hand blown glass window panes, steps you backwards into the past, 300 years ago.

Wayside Inn

The Inn was frequented by Longfellow and made popular by his writings.  It is reputed to be the oldest operating inn in the country and it retains its original Colonial ambiance.   Just inside the Inn is a room depicting how the dining room would have appeared.

Wayside Inn dining

The David Howe Tavern preserves much of the colonial flavor of its 1716 tavern days and is located just inside to the right.

Wayside Inn Tavern

We sat in the main formal dining area.  The small group of patrons dining in the room were elderly white haired ladies…I fit right in!

Wayside Inn Formal diningroom

We dined quietly, finishing our meal and taking time to relax before our drive home.  Our mini vacation over, we prepped for last visits with family and friends and the arduous task of packing it all up, storing it all away and starting our long journey home to Texas.