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The Prison Sentence

It’s been a long while since I’ve specifically talked about why Frank and I live the vagabond lifestyle today. I had a recent conversation with someone though, and felt it might be good to talk about it. Besides, I’ve been tagging my blog posts with phrases like “depression”, “anxiety”, “PTSD”, and the like. And continue to do so despite the fact that a lot of recent posts either don’t address those subjects anymore or only address them in passing.  

I’ve pictured some people who come to the blog via one of those particular tags and start thinking, “What the hell?”

Sure, they could go to the original “About” page and learn about the symptoms I had when I started this blog, and some of what was going on back then. But unless they were to go back and read through earlier posts, there hasn’t been much here lately to directly address those subjects.

I have been a long time sufferer from what was diagnosed as complex-PTSD, the result of more than a decade of horrible physical and mental abuse as a child. The primary symptoms I experienced were depression and anxiety. They manifested themselves in many ways, such as: low self-esteem; overeating; an inability to open up and trust others, especially in relationships; a belief that I was an imposter at work, combined with a fear of failure; OCD things, like having to go back and check lights to make sure they were turned off (sometimes locking and unlocking my office door as many as 10 times before I could leave); the need for the more than occasional thrill, whether it was speeding, unnecessary risk taking, or cocaine abuse; nightmares and night-time sweats; and suicide ideation. It’s not an exaggeration to say that I probably spent 4-5 years where I woke up every day wondering if that was the day I was going to “do it”.

The one symptom that I’d like to address, though, is guilt. It’s not one of the things you necessarily think about when it comes to PTSD, but if you’re like me, it manifests itself in a significant way.

I’ve spent a good portion of my life feeling overwhelming guilt. I think it comes about because when you’re abused as a kid, you tend to think of it as being your fault. I know I did. I’m a pretty smart guy, and I was a pretty smart kid, too. So when one gets beaten for something they did, you would think the intelligent thing to do when facing the same situation again, is to do exactly the opposite, right? Well, that’s what I’d do. The problem though, was that it didn’t work!

Here’s a tiny example. You start getting yelled at, so you try to explain yourself. What happens? You get beaten for talking back.  So the next time you’re getting yelled at, you logically think that the best thing to do is to keep your mouth shut. Only this time, you get hit because you were supposed to reply.

If that happens enough times, it can pull a real mind fuck on you! After a while, when you start feeling like it doesn’t matter what you do. You start to believe that it’s your fault. You shut down. And when there is no positive reinforcement to counter the negative, you begin to feel worthless.

It’s one thing to feel that as a kid, but it reinforces the same thinking as an adult, with dire results. Your first reactions to bad situations are affected. You stay in bad relationships longer than you should. You stay at bad jobs long after other people would quit. You question your own  decisions  constantly. And you live under constant stress because whenever something goes wrong, your first reaction is to feel responsible. Whether you are or not!

That’s not to say I don’t have things I’ve done for which I should feel guilt or responsibility. Everybody does. But when you feel that way about everything, it’s hard to separate out the justifiable ones from the noise. And you carry the burden with you much longer than you should, justified or not.

Anyhow, guilt was probably the hardest thing for me to overcome. It was certainly the last major symptom I had to deal with to get to where I’m at today.

It was something I used to talk about a lot with my buddy Larry. He would do his damnedest to get me to see that I needed to let go of things. And that was regardless of whether the “thing” was or wasn’t my fault, or perhaps was only partially my responsibility. And I spent the vast majority of those conversations arguing against myself.

We were in another of those discussions early last spring. It was about something that is very personal to me. When I started the blog. I made the decision that I wouldn’t talk about it. Maybe someday, but not now. But it’s something for which I have felt almost unbearable guilt for a long time. I’ll just say it involves a family relationship with an extremely bad outcome, and leave it at that.

For whatever reason, Larry took a different tact during this particular conversation.

“Okay. Let’s say that it’s your responsibility. What type of sentence do you want to give yourself?” I didn’t understand what he meant, so he went on.

“People commit crimes, they get sentenced to jail. But when a court hands down a sentence, that’s it. They serve their time and are then released. They are considered to have ‘served their debt to society’.

Sometimes they get out early for good behavior, sometimes they’re placed on parole. But there’s an end to it. It doesn’t change what they did. It doesn’t change the past. But they get to move on with their life. Their life changes as a result of what happened, obviously. But they get to move on the best that they can.

Now I know that you believe in justice, Jeff. You care about people not being treated harshly. You believe In fairness. You’ve been the judge, jury, and prosecutor here. So what type of sentence do you want to give yourself? Be fair now. And after that, are you willing to accept that once it’s over, you can let yourself out of the prison that you’ve put yourself in?”

You know, that reached me! For the first time in my adult life, I had something to consider that took the emphasis away from guilt and put it on something else. I don’t remember what I said to Larry at that point, except that I would consider what he said. But this was a way I hadn’t looked at things before and I needed to think about it more.

That little talk occupied my thoughts for at least the next couple of weeks. To be honest, a part of me did everything it could to tear that argument apart. But it couldn’t. The simple fact is that it just made sense no matter how I looked at.

It no longer mattered whether I was guilty or not. My conscience was the jury and had already convicted me. Whether it was fair … or not … was also no longer an issue.  The verdict had been rendered and was in. But now, the Court was back in session – this time to deliberate on the sentence.

How much longer was I going to hold myself in jail? My self-imposed guilt had lasted for almost 20 years. Murderers had been released in less time! So with that in mind, the Court came to a decision. The sentence would be … time served.

Nothing really changed. Like I said before, the past is the past. What happened, happened. But in the mind of “the Court”, I could now go on. I’m still living the consequences of my sentence, of course. While I was in “jail”, I lost a relationship that meant the world to me. I lost a job. And all of the property and material things I had accumulated were gone.

But I was free to move on. And make the best out of the life I have remaining.

The conversation stayed with me. Over the next couple of months, I thought about it less and less. But it  was definitely still in the back of my mind as I went on and made plans for the rest of 2016.

In late May, Frank and I were camped next to a river in Lancaster, PA.  Since that conversation with Larry and the ensuing two weeks, we had gone through a whirlwind of activity. We had travelled from Texas to California and back, picking up the Nutshell. Spent a month visiting friends in Dallas. Gone up to Colorado to see more friends and then back across more than half the country to Lancaster. And it was the first time in a long while where we really had time to stop and relax.

Anyhow, I was up early doing my morning meditation and prayer as usual. I typically get up before dawn. I like to watch the beginnings of the day – how the world gradually comes alive as the sun rises. And sitting there looking at that slowly flowing river as first light appeared, I realized that I was at peace. Letting it sink in for a while, it “dawned” on me that I hadn’t felt that way in my entire adult life. But there was no mistaking it. I felt totally at peace.

The thought then came about how  I almost served a death sentence.  How  I was ready to do myself in before starting out a year earlier.  Hell,  I was still looking at eventual suicide as  the likely outcome  when I drove away from Charleston in May 2015. But that expectation had totally left me now. And I broke down in tears.

In the year that’s gone by since that morning, I can honestly say that peace has never left me. Sure there have been some things I’ve had to deal with that have caused anxiety. But the anxiety has been event-specific, and that sense of peace has remained throughout … as each of those anxiety-provoking things were handled, the peace returned.

At the beginning of this post, I mentioned that I had a conversation that spurred me to write about this. When I was at the Tearjerkers event at First Landing State Park the weekend after Easter, I met a fellow named Kenny.  He had arrived in a 50 year old camper that he had restored and stopped by to visit a few times over the weekend.

Kenny is a substance abuse counselor at a VA Hospital in West Virginia. He had shared a little about his life before embarking on that career, and how it had helped him in dealing with some of the vets he was now working with. And for whatever reason, I felt moved to share my “courtroom” story with him.

It moved Kenny, too. He said it was something he had never heard put quite that way, and that he knew of guys he’d seen who would definitely benefit from that perspective. He then said that if I didn’t mind, he wanted to borrow it to use in his counseling. He even said he intended to share it with other counselors, he liked it so much!

Of course I told him that he was free to use it! After all, it wasn’t mine to begin with, that it came from a friend. Kenny, if you happen to be reading this, I hope that the analogy has been put to good use since we last saw each other a few weeks ago.

Some people believe that you’re here on Earth for one particular purpose. I remember seeing a friend in Dallas last April. I had worked for her husband at a gas station while in high school. She said something along those lines to me one morning when Frank and I were visiting their home … that I had been kept from suicide because I hadn’t yet done what God had put me on Earth to do.

I don’t know that I believe that. That we’re here for a specific purpose, other than just working out our individual lives. But if that’s the case, a part of me would like to think that my purpose was served by giving Kenny something that he and his fellow counselors will put to good use helping others. Finding peace is something that everybody should do!

—————–

Frank and I head out tomorrow to Pennsylvania. I should put the following in a macro, so I don’t have to keep typing it : “it’s hard to believe it’s already time for us to leave this place.”

Bad weather’s kept us from doing all the sightseeing we wanted to while staying in Williamsburg. We did get to drive down to Jamestown and to Yorktown, but didn’t get to do a lot of exploring because of the rain. Nevertheless, we had a great time here. On to Pennsylvania!

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Posted by on May 15, 2017 in Musings, Travels

 

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Val and Dave

Frank and I have moved on from Lake Gaston. We’re actually in our second campground since leaving. We spent a very nice weekend at First Landing State Park, in Virginia Beach, VA. We went there to take part in another Tearjerker gathering. This one was sponsored by the Virginia chapter and there were about two dozen teardrops present.

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Our setup at First Landing – look at all the room we had!

The campground itself was really nice! One of the nicer state parks we’ve been to. Like Myrtle Beach State Park in South Carolina and Goose Island State Park in Texas, it’s located right on the coastline. We weren’t able to spend a lot of time over by the water because of the weather. And we didn’t hear the surf from where we were, either.

Instead, we heard Reveille and the Star Spangled Banner every morning from NAS Oceana, the military base just south of the park. And while we missed the Blackhawks flying over the park at near tree level as they had done during a training mission earlier in the week, we were treated to multiple tests of the emergency broadcast system every afternoon. Frank was pretty funny – the first time we heard it, he came darting out of the Nutshell like it was on fire! He started looking all around trying to figure out where it was coming from. And when it was over, he came back to sit in front of me, with a look on his face that said, “What the hell was that!?!?”

That Friday was Heaven! After spending months freezing our asses off,  the 90° temperatures felt fantastic! Unfortunately, the weather didn’t hold up for the entire weekend and it started to pour by late afternoon on Saturday. And since Frank was freaking out about it, we weren’t able to join the others at Pizza night.

Nevertheless, we had a wonderful time! We made a lot of new friends; met a couple of teardrop camper owners that we had been corresponding with online like Bob, who ran the event, and Doris, who has been following our travels through the blog and through the Teardrop Camper Group on Facebook; we even had time on Saturday afternoon to enjoy burgers and brew with Ella and Matt. They live in Virginia Beach and came out to the campground to meet us.

Ella and I have been friends for a few months now, both being members of another Facebook group. Its funny how when Frank and I first started out, I was not all that interested in dealing with people. Decompression was first and foremost on my mind back then. But that changed pretty quickly. I’ve mentioned before how campers are a family. I don’t need to go into that much more. Suffice it to say that perhaps the biggest blessing out of this journey … aside from reaching a point where I feel at peace with the world … has been getting back to a point where I can deal with people and not experience anxiety as a result.  And it’s not just dealing with people now … it’s looking forward to who we get to see at our next stop, without worrying that it will cause any anxiety or hesitation! That’s a huge change for me, and one for which I am incredibly grateful!

But it’s Tuesday now and like I said, we’ve moved on. This afternoon, Frank and I find ourselves sitting next to Currituck Bay, at the Bells Island Campground, on the way to the outer banks in North Carolina.  We arrived on Sunday after a very short drive from First Landing. There was purpose to this stop – it was to spend a little time with another good friend from my youth. Bear with me a bit, please as I digress …

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The downtown Pompton Lakes that I grew up with

Pompton Lakes was a pretty cool place to grow up. I don’t know if you could call it a typical small-town, because I don’t know what typical was back then. The population was less than 10,000. And while the homes were typical of Suburbia, it didn’t really have the same feel to it that the towns on TV had. To me, it was less like Leave It to Beaver and Father Knows Best and more like The Andy Griffith Show (which had nothing to do with the fact that my father looked enough like Andy Griffith when he was younger to have been his clone.)

Whenever you saw them, the homes on those first two shows were pretty big, with big front yards. That wasn’t really the case in Pompton. It had a mixture of styles. First, there were homes that had been there for forty, fifty years and longer. I remember some with big porches on them, that were close to the downtown area and the high school.

Then there were homes like the first one we lived in when we move there in the middle of my second grade. These were bedroom community, “set-em-up-quick” homes, built  after the war, that were less than 1,000 square feet, with tiny living rooms and even smaller bedrooms.

Lastly, there were the newer homes that were being built. A big section of Pompton was undeveloped when we arrived and builders were at work tearing down the woods on our side of town to put up the next phase of larger, multi-level houses. We moved into one of those when I was in 7th grade. My sister had been born about six months earlier and my grandmother moved in with us two months after, when my grandfather died suddenly of a massive heart attack. There was no way we could all manage to live in that first house.

The Ramapo River ran through the backyard of that second house. It was pretty cool having a river in our backyard. When it was a vacant lot, some of the neighborhood kids had built a swing on one of the big trees that hung out over the water. And when we moved in, my father had me shimmy up the tree and replace the rope with a newer one while he replaced some of the wooden platforms the kids had built to jump from.

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My backyard, before it was my backyard. Photo courtesy of Facebook friend Robert Beck.

As an aside, imagine my shock and surprise when Robert, one of those neighborhood kids, posted a photo of their swing on Facebook about two years ago. I go online, visit Facebook to see what was going on, and the second image I see is … my … back … yard??? That was incredibly cool, especially given the fact that I have virtually no photos from my past!

I think it was the river that gave the town a bit of a rural feel, at least to me. I can’t tell you how much time I spent swimming in, boating on, and fishing in that river growing up. As soon as school let out for the summer, it would be pretty much from the moment I got up until it was time to come home. Even during school, my buddy Leo and I would get up to go fishing early in the morning before school started.

The other thing that gave Pompton its “Andy Griffith feel” was Wanaque Avenue, our “downtown”. It branched off the Hamburg Turnpike, the main road that ran north out of Paterson, the county seat. Downtown began about where the library sat, a couple of blocks past the Turnpike. It ended less than a half-mile away, at the train station. And in between, you could imagine that you were in Mayberry. Except for the accents of course! Just take a look at this photo shown up the post a bit.

It’s funny, but I can remember so much about what downtown looked like, and yet I can’t remember what I had for dinner three nights ago! A block down from the library and across the street was the Superette, with the lunch counter where I had my first ever Cherry Coke, and where I got caught trying to lift a Playboy magazine. (It was six months before I showed my face in there again and I’m grateful the guy behind the counter forgot what I looked like … or remembered, but was willing to give me a second chance.)

Just past  and across from the Superette was a side street where Saint Mary’s Catholic Church was, next to Lenox Elementary School. I went to Lincoln, the other elementary school that served the south end of town.  I can’t tell you how many CYO dances I attended in the basement of that church. But I can tell you how many of them I danced at. None! I was way too self-conscious to even give it an attempt. That followed me all the way through High School, where I didn’t even attend my prom. But that’s a story for another blog post. 

I could keep going up the street and describe every business. The pet store that had a monkey for a short while; Tony’s Pizza, to this day the best pizza I’ve ever had in my life; the Colonial Theatre, where I got scared shitless and ran out of the first movie I ever attended on my own – 13 Ghosts. But I’ll  leave it at that … I’m sure the “not interested” sign is already going off in most of your heads! LOL

A huge number of businesses had “Colonial” in their names, by the way. Colonial Cleaners. Colonial Bakery. The Colonial newstand, etc. I never did find out what that came from. I assumed it had something to do with the fact that George Washington headquartered there briefly and iron ore used to manufacture cannonballs during the Revolutionary War made its way via a then-top secret trail (on present-day Cannonball Road) through Pompton down to Paterson.

Like I said, I went to Lincoln School, and it was at Lincoln School that I met Val and Dave. I’m pretty sure both of them arrived in town after my family. I remember Val in 3rd grade and Dave in 5th.

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Dave, from the PLHS 1971 yearbook

Dave lived right around the corner from our first house. As an aside,  he was across the street and down a few houses from Jeanie, who I spent an afternoon visiting with when we stayed in Flagler Beach, FL,  a few weeks back. He and I spent a lot of 5th and 6th grade walking either to or from school together.

I think we were joined together by our mutual love of baseball. He and I played on the same Little League team for a while and we would spend most of our time going to and from school in deep discussion over batting averages, home runs, ERA’s, and other important facts (thank God that statistics like FIP and fWAR hadn’t been invented yet – I still don’t understand some of them). This was all despite Dave’s favorite team being the New York Yankees, of course. By that time, I had sworn allegiance to the Boston Red Sox.

We also had a mutual love of astronomy and I can remember meeting up with him on a couple of occasions to watch meteor showers.

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Val, from the 1971 PLHS yearbook

Val was tall! That’s the first thing I remember about her growing up. I’m not sure why, but I took special pride in being one of the taller guys in class. So it was a little unnerving that she and I were about the same height. I don’t know that we hung out all that much together, but she was part of the same group of kids that we all ran with. But then, you could say that about almost all the kids in our class. Being a small town, that’s the way it was! For perspective, I think there were slightly more than a hundred students in that graduating class.

Val and I were both part of the four “couples” that were chosen to entertain the parents on a PTA night in 4th grade, with a demonstration of the square dancing we were learning in P.E. during one of the grading periods. And I also remember having a summer party in 8th grade, when Val was one of the friends I invited over to the house to swim.

Other than that, we all just hung out. We were all members of various sports teams (Dave was in baseball – I was in football after discovering around 8th grade that I couldn’t hit a curveball to save my soul) or were cheerleaders or band members. We all went to the dances; or to the bonfire before the big rivalry football game against Butler; or to one of the various parks in town where we took lifeguarding classes or played in Shuffleboard tournaments. And we all grew up together.

I have to admit, I hated moving to Dallas at the beginning of my sophomore year. I felt like I was leaving my entire world! And I don’t mean that as an affront to any of the Dallas classmatrs that I’ve maintained such good friendships with over the years. You all mean the world to me – but Pompton was my home. The friendships I formed back then are some of my most cherished as well.

So it was with great joy that I was able to arrange to see both Val and Dave as we headed north out of Florida.

Val and her husband Bill now live in Wilmington, NC,  while Dave’s now living a few hours north, in Currituck.

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Our setup at Myrtle Beach State Park

Val and Bill purchased an RV last year and agreed to meet Frank and me at Myrtle Beach State Park for a few days of camping. It was great to see them! We had dinner together the first night we both arrived and spent some time together the next afternoon. Unfortunately, Val got sick and had to leave early. But we spent a marvelous time reminiscing. Bill is a writer, and I also learned all about a book he has in process. Along with that though, I learned that Val and I had something in common – she had also grown up in a home with a horribly abusive parent.

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Val, courtesy of the PLHS reunion website

“If only you and I had known about what was going on with each other back then!”, Val said at one point. “We might have each been able to support the other one more. Who knows if it might have made a difference or not?”

Who knows, indeed.

I don’t think the conversation got much deeper than that. We caught up on what each of us had been doing since we last visited together at one of the reunions. Val’s son and his family had recently made the newspaper in their small town relative to some doings at their farm and I enjoyed reading the article she shared. We talked about our dogs – I forgot to mention that Val and Bill brought their three standard poodles with them. And I filled them in on our upcoming travels.

“Give Dave a big hug for me!”, was one of the last things Val said on Monday afternoon before she left.

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Our set up at Bells Island Campground. Currituck Bay is in the distance.

We arrived in Dave’s neighborhood in the middle of a lull between raindrops. It lasted long enough for him to come over  after finishing up some chores.

Dave and I mostly caught up that afternoon. We talked about everything from school to jobs to movies to you name it. I think one of the things I’ve enjoyed most about seeing old friends is how you can just start up a conversation as if you saw each other last week. That’s the way it felt talking to Dave.

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Full disclosure – Dave’s lost weight since this photo was taken for the reunion website and he looks fantastic today!  Alas, we didn’t have a chance to take photos.

We were able to get together again yesterday afternoon for a short while. Dave teaches now, a career change born out of the economic downturn in 2008. I have to say I think he’s one of the most interesting and thoughtful guys I know. Thoughtful, as in considerate, yes. But also thoughtful in terms of how he considers his views on a subject. I guess that’s what comes from being a philosophy major in college.

Dave also brought by the 1971 Pompton Lakes High School yearbook and we had a great time going through and looking at everyone in the class and talking about where everyone is now. We’ve lost a lot of folks from that graduating class, unfortunately … including Dave’s twin sister a couple of years ago.  A lot of others from the classes before and after ours, too. Dupont chemical had a plant on the north edge of town and it was discovered that they were responsible for toxic chemicals leaching into the water supply. It’s been in litigation for decades. They’re doing some remedial cleanup, but continue to fight any and all medical claims arising from their  irresponsibility. Regardless,you’ll never convince me that the number of deaths of classmates from unusual cancers isn’t tied to them somehow. And it makes me question how I’m still here today, given how much of my life involved that river, where all those chemicals eventually wound up and passed right through my backyard. 

Tomorrow, we move on to our next stop in Williamsburg, VA. After hopscotching around with short stays here and there, it’ll be nice to be in one place for a full three weeks.

Before I finish this post, I thought I’d share one other funny story with you. When we were at Myrtle Beach State Park, there was a family with two young boys in the campsite next to us. They took a real liking to Frank and spent a lot of time over by us so they could pet him. Frank certainly enjoyed the attention!

Anyhow, their mother came over to me on Wednesday morning before they left to say that all they were talking about at bedtime was Frank. She asked them, “ what about the man that’s camping there? You know Frank’s name, but who is the man with him?”

The reply? “Oh, he’s just the man that takes care of Frank!”

Yep. That’s me. Couldn’t have said it better myself. LOL

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Actually,  We do a pretty good job taking care of each other!  : o)

 
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Posted by on April 25, 2017 in Musings, Travels

 

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The Time of our Lives

We’re enjoying our third day here alongside Lake Gaston. Third day? I have a problem, if you can call it a problem.

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Late afternoon at Lake Gaston

I have been taken out of time. Completely. I’ve mentioned it before, but only giving way to the possibility. Each reference to a sense of timelessness would start with a qualifier – “It’s almost as if …,” or, “It  seems/feels like …”  Never full acceptance. But I’m willing to acknowledge and accept it this particular afternoon.

It’s not only that I’ve lost track of the day of the week, or the particular date of the month. I have to calculate how many days we’ve been here. I have to go to my Excel spreadsheet to see the date of our arrival and then go to the calendar to see today’s date. It’s only then that I can do the calculation.

As an aside, losing all track of days and dates has its downside, especially if you are having to pick up and head off to a new home every couple of weeks, or have to know when it’s time to make your next reservation. It’s never good to find out it’s “Move Day” when the ranger comes over and says, “Checkout was supposed to be an hour ago. Are you staying an extra day?” Not that I’ve been in that situation, but I started worrying about it after the first you occurrences of, “Gee, it’s Wednesday, not Monday.”

That’s part of the reason why I plan so far in advance. All our reservations are now planned out through mid September. But we can reserve Thousand Trails campsites no more than 90 days in advance, and because of space availability, it’s important to reserve the moment you get a chance.

So I have all that information in an Excel spreadsheet. And I’ve set it up so that it lets me know what’s what. I have little reminders that pop up on my calendar to let me know that it is “Move Day -2’” or “Reservation Day.” It’s helped immensely in dealing with the “Alz-time-rs Syndrome,” but to agree, it’s also accommodated it and made it easier than ever to simply not have to worry about what day or date it is!

Getting back to the opening thought though, after doing the calculation, yes, today is the 3rd whole day of our stay, after arriving late Wednesday afternoon.

It’s been incredibly relaxing and peaceful here. And that’s despite the hustle and bustle going on all around us. Our section of the park has filled up, I’m assuming for Easter. Because we’re on a lake, the campground has a boat ramp and a lot of campers have showed up with their speed boats and outboards. So there is lots of activity on the lake as well.

There are conversations going on all around and with only one exception, nobody’s loud. But even that’s cool. He’ll get loud telling a story and then all of a sudden his voice lowers a few decibels. I have a feeling his wife is telling him to take it down a notch and I chuckle in the immediacy of the moment when it happens.

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Frank, taking a break from Sentry Duty

Yes, it’s been a totally relaxing and enjoyable time. At least it has for me. I’m not sure about Frank, though. He has his moments … hell, who am I kidding? He has his hours asleep in the Nutshell. But he will suddenly appear, stretch, and then go on self-appointed guard dog duty!

I’m not sure if it’s new smells or what. In the first part of our journey, when we were still in a tent, Frank would do guard duty at night, from a bottom corner of the air bed.  I’d wake up in the middle of the night sometimes and see him just sitting there, staring out the open flaps. He feels like he doesn’t have to do that at night now, given the close confines of the Nutshell. So maybe he’s thinking that he needs to find other ways to earn his keep. Hence daytime guard duty.

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Sentry Frank, one evening before bedtime

He likes to take up position right in front of me as I sit in the camp chair. I watch him scoot his haunches back so that he is sitting right directly between my feet. And then the head starts going – first left, with a pause long enough to take everything in; then a quick turn to the right, as if he heard something.

Once he’s figured out that no one is sneaking up on us from over there, he slowly turns his head back to center and stares out into nothing, contemplating whatever beagles contemplate.  After a minute or so, he repeats the whole process. And again. Over and over.

I’ll laugh at him and say something like, “You know, you can relax. No one has said you have to stand guard!”

At that point, Frank will usually glance over his shoulder and give me one of two looks. The first is worry. As if he’s thinking, “Well, if I don’t do it, you certainly won’t …  What was that? Did you hear that?” (Frank doesn’t appreciate the weight of my walking stick. Neither does he pay attention to the machete I keep handy at all times.)

The other look he will sometimes give is one of disdain. Frank does “disdain” better than any dog I’ve ever spent time with. There’s a, “Don’t tell me how to do my job!” feeling to that look. And he’s a little put off that I’m so dismissive of his protective capabilities. I get the same look when I disturb him trying to get into bed at night and he’s already there.

But there’s almost always a second look. I’ll laugh again and ask if I pissed him off. And I almost always get another look with a smile … “We’re cool. I’m just messing with ya.”

I can communicate with him better than I can with probably most people. At least I don’t have to worry about whether what he’s trying to communicate is filtered, or if it’s what he’s really thinking or feeling. But I digress…

We arrived as late afternoon was approaching. We actually got a great start out of Myrtle Beach State Park. It took almost exactly 30 minutes to break camp and that was it! I couldn’t believe how quick it was. I guess it’s because we’ve been setting up the same way now for so long that there’s nothing to really think about. Most of it is almost muscle memory.

Anyhow, we got on the road about 10 am. Google Maps said it was about a four and a half hour drive. Which I’ve now been able to translate to “Frank and Jeff” time – the amount of time it will actually take including a couple of stops. I also have to figure in how much highway driving we’ve been routed for. Google Maps doesn’t know that we don’t travel 65 mph anymore.

So, we arrived at the front gate around 3:30 p.m. This camp is pretty spread out. It’s a long way down the hill from the entrance to where most of the sites are. And while it might have normally taken 5 minutes to get down to the bottom, we took 10 as we started looking at some of the sites that were situated along the hillsides.

I saw Michael after we got down to the lakefront sites. I knew he was going to be here. He had sent an IM message with a video of geese flying over the lake and that was when we discovered our stays here would overlap by a day.

I sat down at this picnic table and we did a little catch up before I realized we hadn’t yet checked in with the office and told them which campsite I had selected. Plus, I still needed to set up. Frank and I went off to the office and agreed to spend more time with Michael later on.

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Our setup at Lake Gaston

I really had to laugh once the setup started. I posted a few Facebook photos of our set up at Myrtle Beach State Park and jokingly said that we had been living on the starboard side of the Nutshell for what seemed like forever, and wondered if Frank and I would know how to get into the cabin at night if we ever had to set up differently. Sure enough, you would have to know that that’s what we had to do at Lake Gaston!

It’s not that it’s any more difficult. It’s just

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Lake Gaston setup, second view

that the canopy orientation is different. In order to tie it down to the front hitch and back bumper of the trailer, I have to tie down what is normally the back leg of the canopy to the front hitch and vice versa. So I had to untie some stabilizing ropes that were attached to the canopy and reverse them so it could be anchored to the roof.

It also meant that where the main opening to the canopy looks frontward in port position, it was now opening out behind us. In this case, it was extreme serendipity! Without any extra effort, we were set up to look out over the lake.

Now I could have switched out the inserts to see the lake and would have done so once I realized our positioning. But the point is, I didn’t have to. And whether it’s true or not, I had a feeling that the universe, God, whatever you want to call it, was looking out for us … and also reminding me that it’s never a good idea to take one’s self too seriously, given how immediately after my comment we were forced to “go starboard”. I had to stop, give a nod heavenward, and smile.

We finished setting up the table and  put out all our “essentials”. It was now time to relax.

I met Michael in January a few months back during our first stay at Peace River in Wauchula. Tim, another camper that would come by most nights to shoot the breeze, said after our first night there, “I have another friend here you should meet. I think you two would get along together.”

I think it was the next day that Michael rode by on his bicycle. If I remember correctly, he mentioned that Tim told him about me “sitting over here,” and figured he would stop to say hello. I acknowledge that Tim had mentioned him to me as well and we proceeded to have a casual conversation.

Tim was right. We do get along together. I think it’s a combination of shared philosophies, similar experiences of life on the road (although for different reasons), and that we have perhaps come to a shared belief in what things are valuable in this lifetime. I think it also helps it we’re somewhat contemporaries.

We ran into each other at another camp but it was again only in passing. It wasn’t until we both returned to Peace River and spent a little less than a week camp next week other that we had an opportunity to really get to know each other. That’s when we got to do the, “Two old guys sitting in their camp chairs and shooting the shit,” thing. And it was very much enjoyable!

Michael lives in New Hampshire, but spends his winter months traveling the southern part of the United States. He has a very interesting gig – he introduces people to the idea of “mindfulness” using a labyrinth as a tool.

Now this isn’t what you might think. It’s not set up with hedges or other objects. Nor is it a maze. Michael taught me something new – a maze has multiple paths and is meant to confuse you; a labyrinth has one path that takes you to the center and back out.

Michael’s labyrinth is laid out on a huge piece of carpet. I think he said it was 30’×30’.  He sets it up at festivals, fairs and at the camp sites he visits. He explains how a labyrinth can be used in meditation to center one’s self. Or to contemplate a decision. As you enter the labyrinth, you’re supposed to hold your thought in contemplation as you move towards the center.

The other idea is that as one focuses on the path, it also brings them into a focus on the present rather than the past or the future. By putting all your energy into the present, you become less influenced by regrets of the past and anxieties over the future.

Its funny, but I didn’t have this particular thought in mind when I started out writing this post. But perhaps one of the reasons that time has less influence on me nowadays is the work I’ve been doing to address my own complex PTSD symptoms, primarily depression and anxiety.

Meditation has definitely helped to bring a focus on to the moment. But all the writing exercises have led to that as well. They were designed to counter bad habits one builds up from the past such as negative self talk, or bad dreams, or dissociation. They also helped to keep me from worrying about what might happen in the future.

Perhaps I need to stop referring to it as being taken out of time. I realize now that what I’ve actually been doing is living totally in the present!

Anyhow, Michael and I spent a great evening together sitting in the fresh air, next to the lake and amongst the trees. We shared stories, told jokes, laughed at stupid stuff, and generally just let the conversation flow. Half of the stuff isn’t worth mentioning and the other half was personal enough that it stays between the two of us.

Michael was off early in the morning, but that won’t be the last we see of each other. I’ve taken up his offer to come spend a few days at his home when I’m up in New England. It actually solves a little scheduling problem for me since I’ll be at his place over 4th of July. I’m looking forward to that immensely.

This has turned into another long post. And I haven’t mentioned anything about our stay at Myrtle Beach State Park. I’ll do that in a post tomorrow.

 

 
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Posted by on April 15, 2017 in Musings, Travels

 

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Mid April Reflections

We’ve come and gone from Myrtle Beach State Park and are now situated next to beautiful Lake Gaston, on the border between North Carolina and Virginia. We’re on the North Carolina side.

When I say this place is heavenly, I mean that this setting is what I sometimes envision heaven to look like. Without all the RV’s. Although you figure even in heaven, everyone’s got to live somewhere, right? So why not an RV? Except maybe in heaven, everyone gets to have a beautiful, unobstructed view like I have right now.

I’ll soon post about the wonderful time we’ve had over the last few days, staying in some wonderful settings and enjoying some good times with a couple of friends. I’ll include some photos. But I wanted to post about something else today.

This morning, Robin … another friend from the teardrop camper group … mentioned on Facebook that she was just returning from a three-day camping trip and how, “women that camp are down to earth wonderful people.”

It really got me to thinking about the people we’ve met while camping. You know, I’ll bet that Frank and I have met and spoken with over 1,000 fellow campers. It ranges from exchanging pleasantries as people walked by all the way up to deep  conversations  that could only be had while sitting in the camp chair.

These are people from all walks of life. Some were in little pup tents while others were in RVs that had to cost $300,000! And everything in between. Campers who would go home to cities, suburbs, and out-of-the-way places.

Some were retired seniors and others were young adventurers. There were traditional families, kids camping with favorite aunts and uncles, big family reunions, single men and women, and partners in relationships – gay and straight.

There were people who liked rock and rap and country and classical and alternative and just about any other type of music you can come up with … and there a couple of times when I was reminded that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover when people surprised me with musical preferences that ran opposite their looks.

I even ran into a few old retired farts like me, but not like me. All having different reasons why they’re living this lifestyle. Those were some of my favorites, although I will admit to the possibility of a little bias. : o)

And all those above? They were pretty much every ethnicity, political ideology and spiritual belief you can think of.

With all that said, it seemed like none of those differences mattered because all anyone seemed to see was a fellow camper. That sounds a bit cliche, I know. Sure, it’s easy to get along when everybody’s relaxed and away from the office and having a good time. That could be part of the reason why everybody got along. It’s possible.

Except what I saw wasn’t people being “nice” to one another just because they were kicking back having a few beers. I saw campers reach out and genuinely offer help without any thought of identity differences. Help might have been  anything from setting up a tent, to backing a car up to a hitch, to saying, “I’m going in the town. Is there anything you need?” All for pretty much total strangers.

They never showed anything but respect for their fellow campers. And they shared freely of their food, drink, and laughter. That goes well beyond niceties. It demonstrates a basic goodness. To witness that is a blessing.

Obviously there are the exceptions that prove the rule.  But I can probably count on one hand the number of asshole campers I’ve encountered. The ones who stuck out from the others like a sore thumb. Or the number of times I witnessed someone being a jerk to another camper, for whatever reason the bad encounter occurred.

And I  would probably have fingers left over.

I had a momentary twinge of sadness when I thought about that for a while this morning, recalling my mental state the month before I started out three years ago..

I remember back then, when my view of my fellow man was clouded by limited contact with people in the real world. When all my business was conducted over the phone or through email. And any other contact was either through Facebook or political chat threads. I had a few friends that I spoke with on the phone every now and then, but that was all.

But when you come out of isolation, things change. Over the past two years, I’ve met so many great folks. I’ve been trying to think of just a few of them to mention here, but there have been so many examples that it’s simply too difficult to mention only a few without mentioning them all! I’ve talked about most of them here in the blog. Click on any month at random from the index over on the right hand side and you’ll read about them. They have all contributed to the restoration of my  belief that there are way more good people in the world than bad.

It wasn’t the people that had changed. Any changes that happened? They were all inside me, my perceptions, my triggers and my biases. So that’s why I had that  flash of sadness (which hung around for all of 30 seconds and was gone as quickly as it came – another change). I had allowed my vision to become so clouded. And my outlook  to become so cynical. And my faith in mankind to have been replaced by hopelessness. That’s not hyperbole. I felt completely hopeless when I started this journey. It began out of desperation.

But on Easter Sunday, I celebrate my 2nd birthday on the road. I think that’s why I wanted to take a few minutes to reflect a bit on the journey.  And on the blessings I never expected to find. Funny, but all I had to do to find these particular ones was open my eyes and look.

 
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Posted by on April 13, 2017 in Musings

 

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Back on Palmetto Time!

We’re back in South Carolina for the first since we started out from Charleston on this little vagabond journey almost two years ago. This time though, we’re at the totally opposite end of the Palmetto state.

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Our setup at Carolina Landing

We’ve been at the Carolina Landing RV campground, in Fair Play, SC, for a little over a week and a half. It’s another Thousand Trails campground … and if you’re keeping score, it’s another one in the “plus” column for them, as far as I’m concerned!

Speaking of that, I’ve decided to grade the overall experience with Thousand Trails. So far, I have to say I’m very impressed! But what I’m looking for may not be what others are looking for, so I’ve included an explanation at the end of this post as to how I’m grading these campgrounds.

We’ve had a really good time here, despite some weather issues. Yep, we just can’t get past the weather. We’ve had a couple of cold days, but that hasn’t been the problem in the grand scheme of things. I’ll talk about that later. The positive experiences come first.

We arrived a week ago Monday, after a pretty easy drive up from Flagler Beach. We stopped and spent most of Sunday night in a Walmart parking lot in Swainsboro, GA, a ways west of Savannah. I said most of the night – we tried sleeping in the car rather than taking everything out of the Nutshell. I woke up around 2:30 in the morning and decided to just start driving. We made it to Carolina Landing shortly after it opened and were set up by early afternoon.

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I love our view!

It actually took a little while to find a site. We had picked one out and started to set up there, but one of the maintenance crew came by and talked us out of it. He noted that if we did get any amount of rain, the runoff would go right through that site. So we wound up moving up the hill and to the side a little bit. And boy, am I grateful we took his suggestion. Again, more on that later.

I’m really excited about the next few months coming up on our journey. We’ve got plans to see quite a few friends between now and mid-July. It’s funny … we’ve been able to visit multiple times with the folks I grew up with in Dallas. But we’re finally coming to a point where we’re going to be able to see the contingent of “Joisey” friends now, too.

It started the day before we left Florida, when Jeanie stopped by for a visit. As I mentioned in the last post, she lived around the corner from my home in Pompton Lakes. Jeanie, as I write this, I’m looking out at my car, where this little solar powered flower is flapping its leaves in the sunlight. I think of you every time I look at it.

But I had two stints in New Jersey … the first growing up and the second when I returned as an adult in late 2001. Our next visitor came from my latter time in the Garden State..

Gary and I met at my last workplace in New Jersey. He was loosely affiliated with the company I worked for and shared an office with us. We became friends over that time, sharing more than a few deep conversations in addition to the office space, along with an appreciation for bad puns.

Gary moved out of his office long before I left New Jersey and wound up moving to the Atlanta area a couple of years ago. So when he came out on Tuesday, the day after we arrived, at least five years had passed since we saw each other.

It was a great visit! He had retired from his everyday business and was focused more seriously on what others might look at as a hobby – philately! It’s a bit more than that with Gary, though. Before he left New Jersey, he had been involved with a couple of major philately groups. He’s now in the process of writing a book about the overlap between the study of a country’s (or an area’s) stamps and the study of its general history.

We talked about that, along with a hodgepodge of other things. What I liked about it was that for the most part, the conversation was forward-looking. Sure, we told a couple of stories, but it wasn’t really reminiscing as much as just sharing new stuff.  We spent the afternoon that way, along with having some burgers and beer before Gary had to make his way back to Atlanta.

Several days later, on Saturday, we had our second visitor in camp. Quite honestly, I don’t remember how Mark and I met online. We spent a little time talking about it shortly after he arrived from Atlanta. He thinks he  first became acquainted with us through the blog, after which we became Facebook friends. I thought there might have been some direct association through a Facebook group or something along those lines. Regardless, we’ve been enjoying each other’s posts for probably a year now.

Mark and I are sort of kindred spirits … I don’t know if it’s a generational thing, the fact that we are both originally from the NYC area, that we share a similar political viewpoint, or that we have a mutual love for baseball. Regardless, we had a great visit while sharing some burgers and beverages.

Other than our two visits, the time here had been relatively uneventful until a couple of days ago. Remember  the weather? Well, we had a hell of a storm come through on Wednesday. The worst of it came through late that night, and I’ve got the video to prove it. We were pretty lucky because there were severe thunderstorm and tornado watches popping up all around us. The only one that impacted us was the last one.

Once that passed, we were visited by pretty high winds over the next couple of days. Frank opted to continue spending most of the time inside the Nutshell. He didn’t sleep the entire time the storms were going through and I think the wind was the last straw for him. He sat in my lap for a little while on Thursday morning, but finally decided to head back into the cabin and catch some z’s.

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Frank looks like he didn’t sleep at all during the storms. And he didn’t!

So that pretty much catches you all up to date on our travels. We head out tomorrow morning to continue our reunion tour. We’ll be camping for a few days at Myrtle Beach State Park, next to another longtime friend from Pompton Lakes, Val and her husband Bill. This will be our first time camping with a friend and I’m really looking forward to it.

 

 

 


Here’s our report card on the Thousand Trails experience to date. The ratings are based on a pretty simple idea – how close did the campground come to offering the experience I was hoping to get.

Campgrounds visited – 8
“What I was looking for” experience – 4
“Crowded but natural” experience – 2
“Made the best of it” experience – 2

I just realized this is my first report card release. I also realized that my grading system might not necessarily reflect the things that are important to other people.

Thousand Trails prides itself on offering a lot of amenities. They have things like swimming pools, activity centers, wash houses and laundry facilities. Some of them offer mini golf; a variety of other games like shuffleboard, tennis, or horseshoes;  scheduled activities such as movies, arts and crafts, and social hours; some even have on-site stores where you can buy groceries or other supplies.

Those things are nice, but with the exception of wanting a clean wash house and a place to do the laundry, I don’t really care about all that other stuff! I’ve enjoyed a few of the other things, but I look at them as niceties. The place isn’t going to get a bunch of extra rating points because of those. But because they’re available, I’m not going to fail any of these campgrounds. At a minimum, I feel like I can make due in any of them until one comes along that proves otherwise.

So with that in mind, here are my three grade definitions:

The “What I was looking for” experience

We’re camping. We’re out in nature, and not feeling as if we’re in the middle of a mobile home community for RVs.  It doesn’t feel like we are right on top of our neighbor. Someone else might be close by, but I don’t feel like it. There’s a certain rustic feel … it may not be the same throughout the entire Campground, but we’re in a section where I’m able to feel like I’m getting away from everything. To me, this is the equivalent of an “A” letter grade.

The four campgrounds I would put in this category are Circle M (Lancaster, PA); Lake Whitney (Whitney, TX); Peace River (Wauchula, FL); and this one, Carolina Landing (Fair Play, SC)

The “Crowded but natural” experience

In this case, it feels like we’re out in nature, but it’s compromised a little bit because someone is right on top of us. Or the park is just so damn big that you just can’t feel like you’re totally away from it all.  This is equivalent to a “B”

The two campgrounds in this category are Sea Pines (Swainton, NJ); and Orlando, FL.

The “Made the best of it” experience

Either you’re out in nature … crowded or otherwise … or not. In this category, you’re not! Either the place is equivalent to a mobile home park or you’re camping on concrete while staring at a bunch of RV’s instead of trees. This is a “C” in my book. (I’m not going to fail any of these places because even where we’ve had to make the best of it, the people have been incredible and the experience enriching. The other reason is because of money – unless I’m having to grin and bear it with the majority of locations, I’m going to be a happy camper simply because of the cost benefits of the membership.)

The two places I would put in this category are Lake Conroe (Willis, TX) and Three Flags (Wildwood, FL)

So as far the basic feel of the eight campgrounds we’ve visited so far, they’re averaging better than a “B”. That’s pretty damn good in my book.

What’s funny is that while Lake Conroe didn’t provide the environment I was looking for, it was probably one of the more enriching experiences we’ve had because of the people we encountered. In most every case, the experiences we’ve had with the surrounding campers has been an A+! So that’s even more of a reason to be happy with these places.

One last thing, and I think this is important if you’re thinking of using my ratings to decide if Thousand Trails is for you. You need to keep in mind that I’m living in a teardrop trailer. There’ve been sites we’ve used that a much larger RV wouldn’t have been able to access. In other cases, part of the rustic feel was because the roads were narrow and unpaved, or there might have been hills.

If you are traveling around in a teardrop, those things don’t mean as much. But if you’re in a big RV, you’re not going to be too happy dealing with hills, or narrow roads. Just keep that in mind. Oh yeah,  and if you are camping with kids, then you’re going to love all the amenities and activities! 

We’ll continue to add to the ratings as we go forward. We’re coming up on a stretch beginning in May where we’ll be visiting eight or nine Thousand Trails campgrounds in a row.  I’ll probably put out another report card around the 4th of July. And if you have any questions about any of these parks in the meantime, please feel totally free to send me a private message and I’ll be more than happy to give you whatever information I can.

One last thing – I’m not being paid or getting any special benefits for endorsing Thousand Trails. I just felt that needed to be said.

 
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Posted by on April 8, 2017 in Travels

 

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Life’s a Beach … Then You Leave

Today is moving day. As far as I’m concerned, this is the symbolic beginning of the New Year. By leaving Florida, we’re marking an official end to Winter. Later on this morning, we begin the slow trek northward. 

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Downtown Flagler Beach, plus a little road maintenance

Earlier this week, though, Frank and I visited the ocean. As far as I’m concerned, too long a time had passed since we last saw the Atlantic. That would have been last June, when we were staying near Cape May, New Jersey. And even then, we only saw it from a distance – we weren’t able to go down and feel the sand or touch the water.

So on Wednesday afternoon, we took the short drive over to Flagler Beach. It’s a pretty cool little town. Unlike its more popular neighbor to the south, Daytona Beach, this place is not highly developed at all. There are a couple of small condos, a few bars and restaurants that are more geared towards the biker crowd than college kids coming down on spring break, and really not much else. A couple of cheesy tourist stops. A winery outlet. We passed a 7-Eleven and an ice cream stand that looked like it had been there forever … or at least long enough to have been washed over by a few hurricane surges. Not much else except residences. Nothing all that fancy on that front, either.

Relatively speaking, this part of Florida doesn’t get many hurricanes, by the way. It’s located about where the coastline starts to turn westward, creating a big convex lens of ocean that reaches its furthest point west just north of Jacksonville before it begins to turn back out East around Savannah, GA. There’s something about that geography that protects northeast Florida to some degree. Flagler Beach is brushed by a hurricane about once every 2.5 years and goes a little over 11 years on average between direct hits. Compare that to Miami, which gets brushed buy a hurricane more than once every two years and suffers direct hits almost three times as often has Flagler Beach. Or Wilmington, NC, which suffers on average about twice as many direct hits. (There’s a pretty cool website that has all sorts of hurricane information, if you’re interested – hurricanecity.com. for good, detailed research on coastal towns from Texas on up to Massachusetts, this is the site to use.)

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Very little wave action

Anyhow … the beach itself is not like a lot of the other Florida beaches you may have seen. No vast expanse of sand, which is probably why it’s not that popular with the spring break crowd. The tide was coming in when Frank and I were there, but even at low tide, I can’t imagine this beach to have grown to the point of what you see down at Daytona. But the coolest thing about it is that Flagler Beach has opened up almost all of its beachfront area to dogs!  With the exception of about a 15 block area at the heart of town, everything North and South has gone to the dogs! It’s just a shame that Frank didn’t have any four legged buddies to run with while we were there.

And run he did! I was really happy to see him have a good time. I used to bring Frank down to the beach when we lived in Charleston, SC, but he wanted nothing to do with it! The waves were just too much for him. By comparison, these waves were next to nothing, as you can tell by following the links to the videos I posted on YouTube.

I don’t need to say much about what we did – I’ll let the videos do the talking. We were there for over an hour and Frank was pretty much running the whole time.

20170322_175451.jpgDid he have fun? I think the look on his face pretty much tells it all!

Yesterday, we spent a real enjoyable afternoon visiting with a longtime friend from the old neighborhood in Pompton Lakes – Jeanie. Jeanie pops out of the block every now and then to say and routinely comments on Facebook. She and her family lived around the corner from my house. I used to deliver newspapers to her folks, and played football with her older brother, Mike. I’m glad she finally had a chance to meet Frank, and that we had such a good time visiting with each other.

That’s it for now … it’s time to start loading everything up. We spend tonight camped out in a Walmart parking lot in Swainsboro, GA. It’s a little bit more than halfway towards our next campground on Lake Hartwell, which makes up part of the border between South Carolina and Georgia. We’ll arrive there sometime in the late morning on Monday. We could have made it today, but like I’ve written before, I’m trying to take our time. I’d rather get out and stretch our legs more and travel the back roads than to haul ass down the interstate.

We’ll post again in a couple of days, after we’ve set up camp. Next stop – the Carolina Landing RV Campground in Fair Play, SC.

Oh yeah, one more thing. Frank and I are now in the same spot relative to our NCAA tourney picks. All but one of our Final Four picks have been eliminated, but the one remaining team for each of us happens to be the team that we picked to win it all – the Gonzaga Bulldogs for Frank and the North Carolina Tar Heels for me. His Bulldogs have already advanced to the Final Four, their first in school history. North Carolina has to beat Kentucky this afternoon to join them. I pray that happens. I’ll let you in on a little secret: Frank isn’t a very good loser. But he’s an even worse winner! If North Carolina loses today, that little beagle isn’t going to let me forget that his picks went further than mine this year. I’ll have to double his daily treat allowance to get him to shut up!

 
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Posted by on March 26, 2017 in Travels

 

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Warm At last!

Almost a week’s gone by since our last post and we’ve since moved to a new park. On Sunday we arrived at the Bulow RV Campground in Flagler Beach, FL. It wasn’t too bad to drive …  we were in the car for about 3-1/2 hours.  We’re actually only a couple of miles away from Tomoka State Park,where we attended the Tearjerkers gathering over Groundhog’s Day weekend.

Frank and I are both enjoying being close to the beach. We’re going over tonight after the temps cool down just a bit. That’s right, you heard me right! The first morning we were here, we had to deal with it being cold outside. But for the most part, the daytime weather has been glorious. I don’t mind having to put a fleece throw over my legs in the early morning or evening when it cools down if the daytime temps are warm enough where we have to run our little electric fan. And that’s been the case the last couple of days.

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Guess who’s been tracking dirt into the Nutshell again …

Frank’s resorted to his tried-and-true approach to dealing with warmer weather – he’s been digging a few inches of topsoil away from under the Nutshell so he can feel cool dirt on his belly when he lies down.

The park itself is nice. It’s big, but nowhere near the size of the Orlando Campground we were at a couple of months ago. A couple of months ago! I can’t believe how fast the time has been going. While it seems like it was just yesterday that we first crossed the border into Florida, it was actually almost three months ago! For all the bitching I’m done about being cold, at least it didn’t seemed to drag on forever. But I digress…

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I love the Spanish moss!

Like a few of the other parks, we’re in an individual campsite that gives us a bit of a rustic feel. Sure there are other RVs around us. Lots of RVs. But when nestled in under a few old growth trees that are covered in Spanish moss, it creates a bit of a different feel. Besides, I recognized the compromise we were making when we bought the Thousand Trails membership to save money. I’ve added a few photos of our setup at the bottom of the post. Yes, it looks pretty much the same. But what’s coolol is that it seems setup and teardown are getting easier with repetition.

It ain’t camping in the forest. But for the most part, it’s not been living in RV City, either, where your neighbor is only 10 feet away and nothing grows taller than a utility pole! Speaking of utility poles, we’ve also lucked out a little bit – the one in the campsite right next to us is broken, so it will remain vacant during our stay and we’ve got a little bit more separation between us and our nearest neighbor on the canopy side. I don’t mind if someone is right next door when we have the Nutshell acting as a buffer, but it’s extra nice to not have someone right on top of where we sit under the canopy.

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The Vagabonds

We had one really nice experience the afternoon we arrived here. I was taking a break from doing the setup and sat at our picnic table to rest a bit. Frank joined me. If you have been following the blog for a while now, you’ll remember that Frank loves to sit on top of picnic tables. It’s the easiest way for him the survey his domain. Anyhow, he and I were sitting there for a little while when one of our neighbors came over from an RV across the street and holding a camera. She introduced herself as Lynda from Quebec. She said she had been in the park for a few months doing the snow bird thing and that she had been taking photographs of people with their four-legged friends. She asked if I wound mind her taking  our photo. I told her that would be fine … I also managed to convince Frank that posting a photo of the two of us wasn’t necessarily going to make his specific whereabouts known to the authorities in Hilton heas, SC. I don’t know the details. Frank only refers to it as the “cat incident”. Even with me!

Anyhow, the shot  in shown  above and I have to say it’s the best one yet of the two of us together. My buddy Michael in Dallas has taken some great shots of Frank while posing solo. But this is the best posed shot that anyone has taken of the two of us together.  I love it! Lynda also gave me a hard copy of the photo on some heavy stock paper. I’ll pick up a frame before we leave the area. Thanks again, Lynda!

We’re only here for a week before heading north. Frank and I made a special point of stopping in this area so we could see a longtime friend from Pompton Lakes. Jeanie’s family lived right around the corner from our first home there. I used to deliver the local paper to their house; played football with one of her older brothers, Mike; and used to play stickball, kickball, and all sorts of other games with another brother, Ray.  it’s funny that Jeanie and I would become good friends online. She was the proverbial little sister … accordingly, none of us would have really paid much attention to her except to say hello. But we’ve maintained an ongoing friendship that started back with the old Classmates site and has now extended to Facebook. So it will be nice to see her.

Other than that, we don’t have much planned for the rest of the week. Frank has a teeth cleaning appointment at the local Banfield. It’s been awhile since I’ve mentioned them, but that’s turned out to be a pretty good deal. They are located all across the country in different PetSmart stores. Frank’s probably been to a dozen of them – everywhere from Charleston to Mission, TX to Colorado Springs to Lancaster, PA.  No matter where we are, they all have access to his records. And they offer some great discounts when you buy one of their and your plans, TOO.

KHANNNN

No, it has an “H” at the end, and it’s  a possessive noun! Yelling isn’t going to make you right!

While he’s going through that on Thursday, it’ll give me a chance to get some grocery shopping done. I’m also going to fulfil a sort of “mini-quest” I’ve been on for over 15 years now. I have been dying for good Vietnamese food. Something beyond pho and banh mi. There was a dish I particularly liked at Khanh’s, a Vietnamese restaurant I used to frequent in California. It’s a ginger infused rice, mixed with cilantro, mushrooms, spicy pork sausage, and onions … all baked in a clay pot and topped with a piece of barbecued boneless chicken breast.

I swear to God, I probably ordered that dish at least once a week for 10 years. And aside from a short visit I made to San Jose about 10 years ago, I haven’t found it since. It certainly isn’t for wont of looking. I have been to Vietnamese restaurants in New York City, Boston, Dallas, and pretty much everywhere else you can imagine. The closest I found to that dish was in Amarillo, believe it or not! It was all of the ingredients, but not cooked in a clay pot. So it’s still left me with a craving

About two months ago, when I was looking for the dish in Orlando, it dawned on me to go back find the name of the dish in Vietnamese. Sure enough, it was listed on Khanh’s website – com tay cam. And when I did an internet search, I found a restaurant in Ormond Beach with that dish listed on its menu. Judging from the description, it’s not quite the same as what I am used to. But I’m going to give it a shot. And the best time to do that is when Frank’s not with me, making me feel guilty for not sharing. Sorry, buddy. I share a lot with you, but not this time.  : o)

Speaking of Frank, he is gleefully lording it over me that three of his final four picks in the NCAA tournament are still alive. He successfully picked Wisconsin’s upset of Villanova; joining the Badgers in the Sweet 16 are two Bulldogs, Gonzaga and Butler. I have to be satisfied that I still have both my picks for the championship game still alive – Arizona and North Carolina. But my other two teams, Villanova and Iowa State, were out before you could say, “Dogs (and other creatures that are ‘close enough’ in Frank’s eyes) Rule!”

All I know is that one (or both) of us is going to be minus another one or two picks before Saturday morning. Butler plays North Carolina, and Gonzaga plays Arizona. Fortunately, no money is exchanging hands in these wagers. : o)

That’s it for now. We’ll check in again before we leave town. Unless you’re associated with the Hilton Head authorities. If that’s the case, Frank says he might be leaving town tonight, to whereabouts unknown. He just felt that needed to be said. And I don’t know “no cats”!

 
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Posted by on March 22, 2017 in Travels

 

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