Monday, April 25, 2016

Getting to Know You: Our First Anni-RVersary

We celebrated our First Anni-RVersary in the spring sunshine of Lake of the Ozarks State Park in central Missouri. As we hiked around the park, we talked about the treasures and the challenges during this first year. It has been a year of "getting to know you".

One year ago this week, we sold our beloved home and moved into our new best friend, the Wildebeest. After 30 years of marriage, we thought that we knew each other well. But as we complete our first year living in our small "home on wheels", we realize that our new lifestyle has given us new understanding of each other. Yes, we have had our "moments", but we have gotten to know each other better as together we work through the challenges and celebrate the blessings.

Our HUGE back yard for the week

Getting to Know Our New Home 
Temperamental at times, every system of the Wildebeest needs to be working in order to both live and travel comfortably. Systems do break down, and usually need our (Doug's) immediate attention. I am grateful to realize how "handy" my handyman is! I do believe that Doug can fix just about anything from the leveling jacks to roof leaks to a broken door step. And the bonus is ... he really seems to enjoy being Mr Fix-it! Doug has tackled his fair share of problems ... and his problem-solving skills are legendary. Something not working??? He will research the problem, diagnose, get the new part and fix it. Everything from water heaters to generators to ant infestations ... he will try his darndest to fix it. All those wires just give me a headache!

Getting to Know Each Other
Living in close quarters can bring out the best and worst in each other. It took a bit to figure out how much "together" time and "alone" time we each need ... and that it is OK to take time for yourself. We have learned to enjoy our daily walks as times that we can talk ... or just enjoy the beautiful solitude if needed. 

Getting to Know Our New Normal
Being retired, it is easy to get into the mindset of always being able to relax. But, maintaining a RV is (almost) a full time job. Our "home on wheels" works better if regular maintenance is done ... regularly. Monitoring tire pressures, checking water levels in the batteries, and cleaning gray and black water tanks are just a few of the "keep on top of it before disaster strikes" type of activities that demand Doug's attention. Of course, taking the "Hamster" for her daily walks is also time consuming, so Doug has found that he is always on the go! We are learning to balance the "want to do" with the "have to do".

Getting to Know Our Ever-Changing Community
Even after a year, moving days can still be stressful. Unknowns like: road conditions, weather, fuel and bathroom stops, and finding the perfect campsite keep Doug on his toes. Then there are the co-pilot errors ... he usually needs a cold one (or two) when we reach our destination. In each new community, we still need to seek out grocery stores, laundromats, and churches. That is probably why we are both thrilled to be heading back to Minnesota for a couple months ... everyday errands will be just a little less complex.

Getting to Know Friends
We have met some wonderful fellow travelers along the way and enjoy all the campsite conversations ... and are always hopeful that our paths will cross again.

Staying in touch with "golden oldies but goodies" when it comes to family and friends is important to us, but communication can be challenging with the busy lives everyone lives. We appreciate all the phone calls, emails, Facebook correspondence, and blog comments.  I cherish the "girlfriend" conversations ... that is something that Doug is not very good at!

Looking forward to "Sista" time!

So the question that we are frequently asked ... How long do you think that you will continue to travel? As long as we continue to enjoy "getting to know" each other and this wonderful world that we live in! 

Getting to know you
Getting to know all about you
Getting to like you
Getting to hope you like me
Getting to know you
Putting it my way but nicely
You are precisely my cup of tea (or glass of beer?!)

Getting to know you
Getting to feel free and easy
When I am with you
Getting to know what to say
Haven't you noticed
Suddenly I'm bright and breezy
Because of all the beautiful and new
Things I'm learning about you
Day by Day

Until next time ... we would love to "get to know" what you have been up to ... as you continue to enjoy the adventures in your life!

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Branson, Missouri: Bargains and Special Gifts

As RVentures continues north, we encountered a hilly and slightly "white knuckle" ride in the Wildebeest as we climbed the Ozark Mountains. Doug doesn't recall the drive being quite as challenging on the way south, but a few months in "flat" Florida must have changed our opinions of hills. Glad we could stop for a few days to explore and enjoy the scenery that these hills produce. We are at Table Rock State Park near Branson, Missouri this week along the shores of Table Rock Lake. 

Now, if you follow the link that I provided for Branson, you will probably have the same first impression that I had ... that this destination could be a huge tourist-trap. It looks like there is lots to do provided you are willing to dish out a bit of money. 

I hoped that there would be other low cost ways to enjoy the beauty of this area. Using the suggestions of past visitors to the area and Tripadvisor reviews, I developed a strategy to enjoy the area without spending a fortune.

As we settled into our home for this week, we discovered a serene campsite on the shores of Table Rock Lake and nice walking paths along the lakeshore and through the adjacent woods. One walk took us to the Table Rock Dam that created this recreational area. It produces hydroelectric power as well as provides flood control for the area. The Dewey Short Visitor Center gave us a great view of the dam and lesson on the importance of the Army Corp of Engineer's dam system along the White River.

Down the road in the shadow of the dam is the Shepherd of the Hills Fish Hatchery. Cost: free unless you want to feed some of the 500,000 trout. Cost a whole quarter to get a handful of food, but the young fish sure appreciated it! Because trout are not native to Missouri, they need to be spawned at the hatchery. When the trout reach a length of 11 inches, they are released into the nearby Lake Taneycomo where many eager fishermen try their luck at securing a trout dinner. It was a beautiful walk along the lake edge.

Another "bargain" activity was a visit to the beautiful College of the Ozarks campus just south of downtown Branson. 

When I read about this college, its uniqueness grabbed my attention. Nicknamed "Hard Work U", the college does not charge tuition. Rather, the students pay their way by working 15 hours a week at various places around campus. This appeared to be a win-win situation in that the college and students both benefit from the work experience. Students were seen maintaining the beautiful gardens, working in the museum, making the baked goods and jams sold in the restaurant, serving as cheerful waiters and receptionists, and doing many other jobs that financially help the college. The work experience combined with their studies teach students skills that will increase their marketability as they enter the workforce ... and they graduate virtually debt free.

I was in "fragrance heaven" as we walked up to the campus visitor center. The lilacs are in bloom ... Spring has arrived in southern Missouri! The Keeter Center is where the information desk, conference center, hotel, and restaurant are located. We learned about all the sites to see on our self-guided campus tour and promised to return as another heavenly fragrance, the smell of fresh baked goods, filled the hall.

In addition to academics and work ethics, the college teaches its students to value God and our country.  Streams of patriotism could be felt all around campus, and nowhere was that more evident than in the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Garden.

 Our walking tour took us to the Star Schoolhouse. Built in 1900, the school reflected the era of one-room schoolhouses complete with chalk boards, primer readers, and a coal burning stove in the center of the room.

One of the student workers was diligently studying in the teacher's desk as finals are less than two week away. We found that he was a music education major. We were able to enjoy his talents a little later when we walked into the Williams Memorial Chapel when he was practicing the organ. 

Enjoy 3 minutes of his lovely concert!

We heard good reviews of the Ralph Foster Museum located on the campus. For a $6 admission price, we were able to explore three floors of various collections.  The museum's most popular claim to fame is as the final parking spot for this famous jalopy from a famous 1960's sitcom, The Beverly Hillbillies!

We also saw lions, and tigers, and bears ...

And our friend, the Wildebeest!

Since going through my own personal downsizing, I am always amazed at all the "things" that people collect through the years and eventually donate to museums. This museum had large displays of just about everything from dolls to trains to Native American artifacts to birds to butterflies to seashells to ... well, you get the idea!

I had to point out to Doug that I wasn't quite as an extensive collector as some ... never felt the need to collect oyster plates!

Continuing our walk, we found the campus beautifully landscaped ... and a perfect place to get some of our "10,000 daily walking steps" in as we enjoyed a view of the Ozark Mountains at Point Lookout.

Having worked up an appetite, we returned to the Keeter Center for lunch at the four star Dobyns Dining Room.

Our student waiter, Christian, was attentive and efficient. Eventually wanting to go into teaching, he truly seemed to enjoy his interactions with his customers. After talking to him, we found out that it is as hard to gain admission into the College of the Ozarks as it is to get into many Ivy League schools. Only 15% of those applying advance to the interview stage, and only 8% overall are accepted. It was evident from the smiles and talents of the young people that we encountered, that they are choosing the "cream of the crop".

Oh, and did I mention that the food was ... Divine! From the fresh hot rolls to the homemade apple butter to the fresh-made pasta to the "too big for Doug's mouth" burger ... it was a "made from scratch" meal that left us delightfully satisfied ... all for around $30. The only downside is that we had no room for any of the homemade ice cream that was for sale as we left the dining area.

Shopping is big in Branson, as we found out when we went to the Branson Landing in the Historic Downtown. Along with many stores, there are also beautiful fountains and walkways. Although the musical water fountain was down for repairs, we enjoyed the 1.5 mile boardwalk stroll along the waterfront.

The main strip was filled with many businesses hoping to lure in the tourist dollar. Intrigued by the "50% off Branson Show Tickets" sign, I struck up a conversation with the salesperson inside. Yes, he would gladly get us tickets to two top notch shows ... all we had to do is attend a "free" breakfast to learn about their business. He assured me he is not trying to sell me any vacation timeshares, but when he found out that we are full-time RVers, the deal was suddenly off ...

Walking and window shopping can be fun, but I also dragged Doug into a few stores. The sheer quantity of "stuff" at Dick's 5 & 10 was enough to turn Doug into a crazy man! Or maybe this expression occurred when he found out that despite all of Branson's shows, shops and restaurants, there is not one brewery ... Shocking!

He found some reprieve in the outdoor furniture department of Pro Bass Shop. 

After our "50% off Show Tickets" fell through, we still wanted to splurge on one special gift. We decided to attend a Branson show to complete our Branson experience. "Moses", playing at the Sight and Sound Theater was our first choice. 

Often described as "Christian Broadway", the production company promised to surround us with an epic experience with a meaningful message ... and they really delivered! The spectacular music, special effects and live animals brought the story of Moses to life, and left us with a beautiful message ... Christ wants to give us a life of freedom regardless of the desperate situations we may find ourselves in. The show was an uplifting message of hope, and a fun reason to dress up and enjoy the gift of each other.

Until next time ... appreciate the gifts around you ... and enjoy the adventures in your life!

 PS ... Stone Hill Winery (transitioning to Curling Vine Winery) offered a "free" tour and wine tasting, but who are we kidding??? Who would ever taste an incredibly smooth cream sherry and not walk out with a bottle or two?? 

                   Not Me!  

Looking forward to sharing the "gift" of a glass of wine with my Minnesota pals in a week or two!

PSS ... Doug just processed some pictures he took of the sunset and a full moon rising over Table Rock Lake tonight. Enjoy this "gift" of God's natural glory!

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Down the Hatch of the USS Razorback

Stories abound of the submarine's role during war time, and mystery surrounds its use in Cold War surveillance. As a kid, Doug had a certain fascination and "awe" of them. In fact, he had even considered pursuing a career in a nuclear submarine training program after college graduation. So what better to celebrate my "nerdy" husband's birthday than to tour a submarine! 

Now, just where do we find a submarine when we are currently quite a distance from an ocean? The problem was solved as we noticed the USS Razorback when we walked across Little Rock's Junction Bridge. What was a submarine doing hundreds of miles from an ocean?  We decided to find out as we toured the Arkansas Inland Maritime Museum in North Little Rock.

We met our guide, Bob, when we were checking into the Riverside RV Park. He promised Doug a fantastic birthday tour, and boy, did he deliver! Bob, about 75 years young, served on the USS Razorback from 1959-63. During our personal two hour tour, Bob revealed first-hand technical and personal stories about life on the Naval submarine during the Cold War years. The USS Razorback is named for the whale not the Arkansas' sports team. It's biggest claim to fame was being in Tokyo Bay when Japan surrendered ending WWII.

With our first steps into the submarine's stern, we were amazed that some people were able to live in space even smaller than the Wildebeest! The back torpedo room housed 12 of the 24 torpedoes
on board as well as provided sleeping quarters for some of the 66+ crewmen.

Not sure I could sleep comfortably lying next to, or in some cases, under a fully loaded torpedo!

As Doug entered Bob's former "office", the D/C Electrical Room, I knew he was in "nerd heaven"! He and Bob got into an intense conversation about generators, bus bars, and amp meters. Bob and his comrades would work 4 hour shifts in this small space where temps could reach 130 degrees and noise levels could be deafening. They had to know the purpose and positions of all the instruments so well that they could operate them even if blindfolded. In the case of power failure or worse, it could become necessary to have to work in complete darkness.  Doug listened intently. I just smiled and posed for pictures.

Further down the narrow walkway, we came to my area of expertise ... the galley kitchen. There we met Mike, the main cook, who is standing next to his picture at age 19 when he was responsible for cooking four meals a day for the 66+ crew members. While steak, bacon, chicken, and more steak was the normal meal plan, thousand of cans of SPAM were on hand just in case!

While touring the sub, Bob's stories reflected the passion he has for his beloved Razorback and fellow crew members. Some interesting stories shared:

  • The water purifier produced 1000 gallons of fresh water per day ... not enough for luxuries such as daily, weekly or even monthly showers. Thus, Bob recalls that the close quarters became quite "aromatic" after a three to six month tour at sea.
  • There was no doctor on board, but they did have a couple nurses/medics to handle health issues that could arise. They normally handled minor cuts and illnesses, but had to perform emergency appendectomies on occasion. In those instances, the galley's tables were transformed into an operating room.
  • In 1961, while patrolling the seas near Russia, they were "discovered" by the enemy and trapped for over three days. As their oxygen supply was running low, they decided to shoot off heat and noise making torpedos to throw the enemy off their track. They were then able to make their escape. Years later, they found out that it was actually President Kennedy's threat of retaliation that actually made Russia back off.
  • Although he never had to make an emergency deep water escape from the sub, they regularly prepared for the event in special simulation stations on the east and west coasts. I am positive that I could not stay calm while being shot out of the escape hatch and using special underwater breathing techniques to prevent the deadly "bends" while rising up 300 feet or more to the surface.
  • Because of the classified nature of their work, they were unable to send and receive information from home during their long tours of duty. They also got used to having secretive guests called "spooks" (CIA agents, etc) join them on some of their missions. During one such tour, a crew member's wife was due to have a baby. Thanks to one of the "spook's" information-gathering skills, he was able to get word that a healthy baby girl arrived!

As a crew working close together for months on end, they formed lifelong friendships. Their dedication to each other and their beloved submarine is evident by their returning yearly to give personal tours and to strengthen the local submarine community. When they successfully brought the Razorback to Little Rock, Bob and his buddies purchased a $350 bottle of Crown Royale whiskey that is currently stored in the galley kitchen. They have an understanding that when the last Razorback crew member passes on, the local submarine community will raise a toast in their memory. 

We are grateful for Bob escorting us on our personal tour through history. While we may not be able to toast him and his comrades in the future, it was our pleasure to share stories, smiles and hugs with a true American hero!

Until next time ... hug a hero ... and enjoy the adventures in your life!