Monday, November 17, 2008

Adventures in RV Living

Okay, here's a bunch of questions I would never in a trillion years have an answer for if I'd not ever lived in a 29-foot rolling home with another human being and 3 dogs. Sometimes I think RV living is good training if you ever decide to be an astronaut. Except for the weightlessness thing, hurling through space at 17,000 mph and not having unlimited access to oxygen, it's probably not that different.

Wow. It's 3 a.m, 30 degrees outside and that pesky breaker switch just tripped again for some unknown reason you can't discern until dawn, shutting down your precious bedside heater. What do you do?
Invite one or more dogs into bed with you. With a normal body temp of around 100 degrees, the average dog is a heater waiting to happen. You give your pets the best of everything. The least they can do is keep you from freezing so you can live to do their bidding another day.

A leak develops in your roof and everyone you call has different advice, always ending in "...and it's gonna be really expensive."
Stop calling people. Get a book or check the internet and find out what products are out there that you can use yourself , buy some and read the directions carefully. Panic. Call the customer service number on the side of the can and ask if they are serious. When they assure you they are, tell them you need them to walk you through it in a way even a child could understand. Then fix your own roof, saving yourself about $199,000 and the trouble of having to find a motel or friend that will take you and your 3 dogs for 5 days while someone else fixes your roof with the same products.Bold

Where do I put these extra groceries?
Try the shower. There's room for a storage box in there. Oh, right, the laundry hamper is in there. Put the groceries on top of the laundry hamper in the shower. Next problem?

Don't you get tired of not having much room?
Sometimes the smallest of houses can seem too big and the biggest of mansions can be too confining. Like everything else, it's how you look at it. When I needed an office John made me a sliding desk using the right side of the dashboard. I have a computer, printer, lamp and files, just like you probably do at home. We have a tiny kitchen where I have learned to cook with very little space to do so - a challenge, and for the dogs, a delight. I drop food all the time. We don't have a dining area due to the dogs taking over that space but we found a way to fit a temporary table over the bed. There's no way to explain this - you'd have to see it. The key is, we like being together, John and I. We really enjoy each other's company. That's an absolute must. If you can think of one person you can do this kind of life with, you're lucky. I can think of people I really adore with whom this life would be impossible. However, I would really like to try it with George Clooney, but John says no.

What's the best and worst parts of living in an RV?
It can get weird after a few years living in so many different places. Sometimes you will think, I'd really like to get some bread pudding at that Cajun place and then realize that was a year ago in Tampa and you are now in Texas. It can always get lonely being away from friends and family and it hurts my heart at times not to have a brick and mortar home to have people come visit and stay with us for a while. Especially as older relatives die off and when friends send news of from a place I used to live of events I'm not there to take part in, it can feel sad to be away. I miss not being able to buy certain things. There's no room for extra stuff. I'd like another dog. There's no room for another dog. Or a cat. Because I "lost" two homes to divorce and Hurricane Katrina in such fast succession, I still sometimes mourn the past, but I have found that living in a caravan can keep you very in the moment. You meet people you would never meet otherwise and they become fast friends and you know you would have missed that friendship if you'd not made the gypsy choice. You are much closer to nature and often in the middle of real estate you could never afford unless you were a Trump or a Ted Turner. There's a lot to be said for waking up and stumbling out the door in the morning right into a perfect beach paradise or overlooking wild horses in a colorful canyon or sitting at dusk on your porch swing (right, we have a portable porch swing) drinking wine and watching the sun set over the mountains. It's intensely romantic to live in a caravan. It's difficult at times. Life is often so simple and beautiful. It can be scary or expensive or irritating. It can be lonely,worrying or inconvenient. It can be very exciting. It's never, never, never dull.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Of Ancient Indians and Modern Day Chile ( the food not the country)

I don't know who took this delicious photo. If you do, let me know.

John returned from New Mexico this weekend and brought pots and pots of red and green chile back with him. Hot, mild, medium, roasted and regional, my dearest covered the chile gamut on this trip and I was delighted to see him come home toting this treasure trove. This is uniquely New Mexican cuisine (note it is "chile" not "chili") and I am totally hooked on it. Red chile stew with pork or lamb, green chile over huevos or on a burger, red chile name it, I'll eat it and when I'm in New Mexico I'll eat it every day. When John was performing at the Native American and Indigenous Studies Conference at UGA in Athens, Ga., this past spring, the keynote speaker was Simon Ortiz, the esteemed Native American poet and writer from Acoma Pueblo in New Mexico. On the second night of the conference he and I were talking about our respective homelands and I mentioned how much I loved the western U.S. and in particular, New Mexico. "You have great food there." I told him.
Sure," he answered with a soft smile, "If you like red and green chile."
"Which I do!" I exclaimed happily.
"Me too." he said.
There's a lot to like about red and green chile.

We got through one package of the green before taking off today for Moundville, Alabama and the Moundville Archaeological Park south of Tuscaloosa. It was a bright, clear fall day and the temps were perfect to explore around the site where 800 years ago a city of Mississipian Indians, ten thousand strong, thrived on the banks of the Black Warrior River. Called "The Big Apple of the 14th Century" by National Geographic magazine, this community was America's largest city north of Mexico. The park itself preserves 326 acres of where the busy ancient metropolis once stood. There are 28 large flat-topped mounds (much like earthen pyramids with the tops lopped off) arranged in sequence around a central plaza. The mounds were man-made and created for civic and ceremonial purposes and for the houses of the nobility of the tribe. The large population farmed, fished and foraged in the area and traded with communities from hundreds of miles away. Their pottery and artifacts are both beautiful and utilitarian and their history fascinating and mysterious.

After climbing the big mound (60 feet high) to take in the view, following the walking trail and checking out the small "Indian village" exhibit we had a picnic by the river and feasted on goat cheese, Greek olives, hummus and Dr. Pepper, while we watched a huge barge make its way around the bend and down the Black Warrior river ( "Tuscaloosa" is a Choctaw word meaning "Black Warrior").

Part of the University of Alabama, Moundville Archaeological Park is well worth a visit if you're traveling near west central Alabama. There's an RV park and campground on the site, with bathhouse. It's a very attractive area to bike, run, picnic or take your boat out on the river. Admission to the park is about $5 per person. Tent camping and RV parking is $8- $12 per day with a 14 day limit (that can be extended by permission) and pets are welcome.

Thursday, October 23, 2008


Last year, for the very first time in our relationship, we carved a pumpkin. It was our attempt to participate in the general frivolity of fall and Halloween since we don't dress up. Part of that, I'm sure, is that John is a professional dancer and performer and I worked in theatre for so many years. Dressing up or creating a character in our household means going to work. There's no trick or treating in the RV park (in some parks there is, but we've never been in one at the right time of year). We just had to do something to "mood up", John decided. Carving the pumpkin (oh - and dressing up the dogs, much to their collective canine dismay) seemed to do the trick. You can see the results of our carve above. It was fun and made us feel like kids again, something John and I do on a regular basis (feel like kids, not carve pumpkins).

This year I took to looking on the internet to find what was "in" in the world of pumpkin carving and I wasn't at all disappointed. It's an election year, you say? I hadn't noticed. Click over to for some Obama-mania in gourd form.

There's also an amiable artist out there by the name of Ray Villaphane, who carves pumpkins so well, you will likely exclaim out loud when you see the photos of his work, like this one:

Look for more of his incredible pumpkins at:


Have a happy and safe Halloween everyone!

Monday, October 13, 2008

OMG! Shark!

Note: I actually wrote this on Columbus Day 2006, soon after I started RV-ing/Adventuring, and thought I'd post it for Columbus Day 2008.


I'm a state park kind of gal. I frequent them like some people frequent yard sales or haunt the hippest night clubs. I love the relative solitude and natural beauty state parks offer, the hiking trails, the chance to listen to birds instead of traffic and chatter. I enjoy the chance to see wild animals in a natural setting. I’ve seen deer, raccoons, parrots, wild boar, otters, alligators, beavers, birds of prey and all manner of wild creatures just by visiting state parks. I really love to view the wild things, as long as the wild things can't kill me and spread my entrails around the picnic area. So let's talk about Florida, why don't we?

Florida simply has some of the most gorgeous state parks in the nation. By my count I've been to 12 of them, a mere sampling of the great variety the state offers. There are so many state parks in Florida that instead of calling it The Sunshine State, it really should be called The State Park State. There's such an abundance of natural beauty in Florida it seems that every few feet they've cordoned it off, let nature grow (mostly) unchecked, put up a sign and declared it protected public property. Some of the most spectacular beach scenery in the state is available to anyone and everyone for just a few bucks entrance fee. This very fact ticks off real-estate developers badly and causes them to develop stress rashes and require potent anti-anxiety medication. State parks are not relaxing for them. Too much unspoiled beauty nags at them and keeps them awake at night. They want to view it through the insulated bay window of a high-priced condo, not alongside your everyday tax payer who comes to enjoy the land. Developers don’t go to state parks. They go to meetings about how to build around state parks.

On Columbus Day I found myself joyfully jobless and relaxed on the Gulf Coast of Florida. I happily ventured into yet another of Florida's lovely parks, this time with John, who loves state parks as much as I do. John is full-blooded Native American and was raised on a reservation in the Southwest. I am a mish-mosh of native and white and European blood and was raised in England. We have a very different backgrounds and yet a strikingly similar worldview. As we drove into Grayton Beach, a wonderful park ten miles or so east of Destin, (for the bargain price of four bucks!) I wondered briefly if it bothered him on any level to have to pay, even that small sum, to gain entrance what was once was Indian land and was later taken over by the Europeans (aka early American developers). I decided against asking his feelings on this subject, most especially because, after all, it was Columbus Day and it seemed poor timing to be querying any American Indian about being required to pay up to access property on our national holiday celebrating the granddaddy of all land grabs. Looking over at him in his tropical t-shirt and Panama Jack hat, he seemed like he didn't have a care in the world. Florida is good for that kind of peace of mind, I've found, so I didn't bring up the heavy bits of America’s history.

Grayton Beach is on the Florida panhandle. It's a compact and peaceful park with wild dunes, scrub oaks, a very picturesque hiking trail and a beautiful white sand beach out of the view of cars and condominiums. There is a bounty of migrating butterflies in October and seeing them on the beach is sweet enjoyment. Walking through the sand towards the ocean, I was delighted to note how clear the water was. This part of the panhandle is known as The Emerald Coast and for good reason. Here the Gulf of Mexico literally glows green in the sun and is mixed with shades of deep blue and turquoise. It's a visual and visceral treat to walk through the sugar white sand into the green sea.

The water was very calm and the waves low. We could see fish darting around in the shallows. We wondered out loud what kind they were. John waded out and found a very large crab burrowing into the sand. We watched it through the waves. He found another crab, a small hermit crab and picked it up. We looked it over as it stared back at us from inside its shell. John placed it gently back in the water. This relaxing walk was a great way to Zen out on a warm afternoon, to play like children, being interested in everything around us. This is why I think so many people like being at the beach. Besides the agreeable weather and vistas, the beach brings us back to childhood, to the essential nature of ourselves. It invites us to play, to slow down and notice things. No one finds fault with you if you are lazy, silly or absorbed in play at the beach.

As I walked and splashed around in water just over my knees, I thought life just couldn't get any better than this. I was totally fixated on the underwater world I could view from my stand-up perspective. My complete focus was on some black and white fish zipping about near my toes. I was one with them and the world was perfect calm. Then…it happened. In my peripheral vision, I saw a fin break the water about 10 feet to my left. In life and Steven Spielberg movies this means only one thing. My complete attention shifted in a nanosecond and my head whipped around like a tether ball hit by a gorilla. Holy crap! A shark! There it was in the same world as me, in the same water as me: a five-foot long bull shark. Swimming in water about three feet deep. I backed up and out of the waves (I don't remember it, but before I knew it I was on the beach).

"John!!!!" I hissed – talking in a low voice as if the shark might hear me and pop out of the water and chew me like a piece of gum before I could reveal its location. His eyes followed my finger as I silently pointed at the large shadow cruising the shallows.
"Wow. What do you think it is?" he asked cautiously.
"It's a developer," I whispered. Then, sailing straight into denial, I added, "Or maybe a dolphin."
He gave me a flat look. "That's not a dolphin," he said, "I may be from the desert but I know that's not a dolphin."
“Okay!" I said, giving up on the denial because, after all, it was a shark and as I remember denial is what got the mayor into so much trouble in "Jaws".
"Let’s wait for its fin to come up above the water, it probably will in a minute," I said. We followed as it swam parallel to the shore for about 25 feet before starting to turn slowly toward deeper water. John studied the shark through his binoculars even though it was fairly close to the beach. I was completely riveted. So riveted I totally forgot that I had a camera hanging off my wrist, causing me later to think if it had been Bigfoot or a UFO or Tom Cruise having sex with an emu, I'd have been an utterly useless witness. I would have had to, with head hanging, explain to Geraldo Rivera and the world why I - the chosen witness - had not taken a picture of the phenomena and finally proved the fantastical real. No Kodak moment for your state park gal.

As we watched it move along the shoreline, I was struck by two things: First, I finally realized where film composer John Williams got the idea for that famous theme music now such a part of our pop-culture consciousness. Dun dun dun DUN. That's the exact sound your heart makes when you see an apex predator and you're on the wrong end of the food chain. The blood speeds through your veins causing a pulsing vibration in your head, two seconds before you scream SHAAAAAAAAAARK and fall over dead. One minute on this beautiful beach my pulse was at coma level. The next minute I saw the fin and - dun dun dun DUN- blood was stampeding through my veins.

The second thing I noted: this fish was swimming slow and easy. It was chillingly casual, not noticing or caring that it was it was causing a nervous thrill in its viewers. We were deeply impressed by its cool.

"He obviously doesn't scare himself " I said somewhat stupidly to John, as we watched the creature move casually on its way, reminiscent of Jack Nicholson at a movie premiere, gliding through the glassy water, slow and steady, sensing its place on the ocean's A-list. As the shark turned out towards deeper water, its fin broke the water again. There it was: the visual that spawned a million nightmares.

We noticed some families with children playing in the waves a little further down the beach so we went to warn them to keep a sharp eye out. They were very friendly and surprisingly calm about our news (the beach really IS relaxing, I'm thinking at that point). Everyone thanked us with big smiles and removed their relatives from the water. John and I returned to our beach walk. After a few minutes we turned around to see if any of them had disregarded the warnings and dared ventured back into the ocean. The beach was totally empty. Not only had they all gotten out of the water, they had left completely. Split. It was like they were never there at all.
"Holy moly!" exclaimed John. "They all left!"
I nodded. "Like it was land shark or something." I said, referencing the old SNL skits.
I didn't say anything else about their speed exit, but I didn't go in the water any further than ankle-deep for the rest of our jaunt.

"Well," I teased John later, knowing he is always a bit nervous when we go swimming in the ocean, like everyone else who has been to the movies since 1974, "You took that shark sighting very well indeed."
"It was exciting because were on land" he said simply, "If we'd been in the water, I would have been worried."

I enjoy John’s tendency for understatement, especially knowing if I had actually been swimming when the fin showed up he would have had a 100-mile drive to retrieve my body as I hurled myself like an atomic gymnast straight from the water into a small town somewhere in Alabama.

So in conclusion I offer to you that Florida, with its many state parks, is a nature lovers paradise. Go. Support them and enjoy them. I really do like to view the wild things, as long as I see them before they see me.

Friday, October 3, 2008

A Southern Version of Heaven (or a Vegetarian's Nightmare)

The whole RV park has a haze hanging over it this weekend. But it's not fog and it's not smog. It's the multitude of meat smokers all fired up for the 12th Annual Pig Iron BBQ Challenge, held this year in Hoover, Alabama. To set it up and host thousands of attendees, they cordoned off 3/4 of the park, made us all move (I was sure it would be worth it) to one small section of the park, filling up all the rows at the entrance. By the time the Challenge opened at 5 pm on Friday evening, people were pulling into the Regions stadium parking lot and heading towards the smell of 'Que, as we like to call it around here.

Bar-B-Que, for those of you who don't know this, is a noun in the South (smoked meat, with a flavored sauce of your choice... a messy delicious treat) and a verb out West ("to cook out"). BBQ is a very serious thing in the South and as long as I've lived here I've never eaten as much that tasted as good as the restaurants make in Alabama. I will say this: Alabama can make some dang good BBQ. Holy cow. Or holy pig.

Our RV friends Peggy (a fellow writer) and Howell, who were volunteers, were kind enough to invite us to the event and we loved every minute of it. With themed booths, some decorated quite cleverly and named just as cleverly ("Butt Masters" was my personal fave, John enjoyed the Batman-themed "Got Ham City") the businesses that participated were cooking for a good cause. The Pig Iron BBQ Challenge is a contest to "find the best backyard BBQ in the state". It's held every year to raise funds for Children's Harbor, a charity that helps seriously ill children and their families through their children's camps and hospital-based family center and services. Looking at the attendance this time, it looks like they did well. Forty businesses participated. Thousands of people showed up. And why not? You pay $10 at the door and get to wander down rows of tents and booths and taste what they have served up for the judges and you, the salivating public. Some of the food was good, some was great and the general competition for the trophies was fierce.

I won't attempt to tell you how succulant some of the offerings were, I can only do an interpretive dance in honor of that but I will list for you right here what we consumed in a hour:



Pulled pork

Grilled sausage

Corn on the cob


Potato chips

BBQ sandwich ( John)

Root beer float (John)

Fried catfish (Therra)

It was all free with admission. You could purchase beverages from the organizers, although I noticed some of the booths were giving away bottled water and one stylishly decorated 50's style "diner" was making the free floats. I know, I know... a dream come true! There was a blues band later in the evening and a fire truck for the kids to climb on, along with a Nascar racing car on display, face painting and clowns. After a while we sadly realized we had to stop eating for fear of developing a permanent waddle. At one tent, for a last hurrah, I got some ribs but John demurred. The man serving us stopped dead and looked at him, "You turning down my ribs?" he asked John with arched brows, forcing a slightly menacing manner. John said, "Oh, I am so full!" and patted his stomach. "You turning down my ribs?" the man repeated and I laughed out loud at John getting bullied into eating more food. John took a rib. The man looked happy. I was happy. The ribs were fantastic. Wow.

Oh, I forgot. You want to know who won? Sick children and their families. That's who wins with an event like this.
Good things happen when people care:

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Running On Empty

Photo from Wayne State Univ. 2004

For the first and hopefully only time in my life I am walking up to numerous strangers asking the indelicately phrased question, "Do you have gas?"

It's a valid question. I got to Atlanta on Thursday night in time for my friend Pat to inform me that Atlanta was in the middle of a gas panic, with severe shortages and outages everywhere. This is a city of 6 million people and if you are ever in traffic here, you will swear the whole population is on the road at the same time, all in separate cars, some folks still snoring while going 75 mph during the 7 a.m. rush hour. They usually wake up when I pull in front of them and slam on my brakes.

On this trip we are in our Jeep, and didn't bring the RV (thank goodness!). It was surprising to come from the relative plenty of other states to this mess. We hadn't heard about it before we got here or we might not have come, giving our little piece of the petrol pie to someone trying to get to the office this week. Driving past empty gap pumps on one street and cars in lines snaking around block after block elsewhere reminded me of the broken situation after Hurricane Katrina, where we joined in the hunt for gas like everyone else on the Gulf Coast. Like then, we decided to keep a sense of humor and practice patience and conservation...and yet, you have to use gas to find gas. The irony of hunting for gasoline after yet another hurricane, even this far inland, did not escape us.

The usual madness has ensued now that gas is scarce. People are lining up for miles at the stations that have gas. That segued into people leaving their cars overnight in line at empty stations and walking home or taking the bus or subway and coming back the next day hoping for gasoline to appear. If you don't think that a line of unmanned cars at a gas station isn't a somewhat eerie sight, you're wrong.
"It's like the Rapture," I whispered to John as we were out using what little fuel we had in our tank to search for more. "Or a Stephen King novel."
Later I complained, "We're cruising around like drug addicts in search of a fix!" as we drove through yet another barren neighborhood.
"This is crazy, " John agreed.

Ah, but given a few days the craziness has now upped a level. Now intrepid Georgia motorists who want to use the gas in their tank in a wise manner are stalking fuel tankers, giving them the attention once reserved for visiting heads of state or the latest boy band. Like teenyboppers on the trail of the Beatles, once spotted, the tanker driver/object of every one's affection's every single move is followed by enraptured fans of fuel until they end up at a gas station where they can, presumably, get a fill up once the man or woman tanker driver does their gassy duty.

Why the shortage? Something about Hurricane Ike, low sulfur gas, refineries offline, smurfs affected by solar flares, Danny Bonaduce, mentos, Diet Coke, and allergies to pine nuts. I don't
know why the shortage and like most people in Georgia, Tennessee and North Carolina, I don't care. I just want my fix.


Atlanta Residents May Not Have Gas To Get To Work This Week

What Do The Experts Say?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

For The Love Of Spam

It's ubiquitous, it's unsolicited, it's sometimes unintelligible...and it's probably in your in-box right this minute. Yup, it's spam. Everyone, but everyone, hates spam, right? Well, not your humble RVing correspondent. I don't hate spam. Granted, no one wants to wake up in the morning and sit down at the computer with a yummy beverage and see 47 unread messages, 200 of which are spam. No one enjoys that. Not even me. And of course I appreciate that my server seems to have some uber-sixth-sense about all the mortgage companies, online dating services and Uzbekistan pharmacies that are trying to get my attention and hides their correspondence from my view in a folder I never open, appropriately titled "Spam". But some solicitations get through, and I don't mind. The reason I don't mind is that the ones that make it past whatever barriers my server has set up (I like to picture a line of vigilant virtual George-Clooneys-as-James-Bond types that wrestle the offending missive to the ground, shoot it with one hand while mixing me a a cocktail with the other all the while telling me how much sexier I am since I got fat, but I digress...)...Wow...where was I? Oh yes...the spam that gets through (thanks don't mind if I call you Georgie do you?) often defies all human explanation and amuse me greatly and allow me to waste even more time on the internet each day.

Let's see. One day I got one for "Hurry! Cheap Carl Insurance!". This gave me pause. Really? Carl insurance? I racked my brain to think if I even knew anyone named Carl and realized I didn't and therefore had no need for this service. Just before I hit "delete" I thought, uh oh, what if I'm friends with someone on myspace or facebook named Carl? Because, like the word "spam", the word "friends" in the virtual world has a different meaning than it does in the real world. I have 210 friends on myspace. In real life I have 7. Nevertheless, I gambled against getting Carl insurance and moved on the next message, which told me, in no uncertain terms that I could "Train To Be A Nurse Online!" Well, I reasoned, I have been thinking about changing careers. Nursing is a stable and honorable profession, albeit not one I had ever considered myself well suited for. This is mainly because every time I wear white I get food all over it and I end up looking like a used dinner napkin. But... to think I could become an RN (real nurse!) without ever getting dressed or leaving the RV park! Willikers! I love 2008! However, eventually I deleted this one too, because my friend Donna is a nurse and she says it's murder on the feet. Donna is dedicated. She spent years studying around the clock and sacrificed all her time and social activities so she could go through nurse and specialist training. She's a really intelligent girl so I don't know why she didn't just peruse her spam folder before she went through all that time and trouble. I'm sure she would have gotten the same results from "Nursing School", the kind institution who sent me this sterling offer. I won't tell her if you won't.

Later, I can't tell you exactly when, the spam started to go from ridiculous to sublime when, one bright morning, I got an e-mail from "Nanette" and it was entitled "Butterfat". I've worked in marketing. I know the first rule is to get people's attention but who on earth is going to open an e-mail with a title like that? No one, not even me, is curious about such a thing. I studied the closed e-mail for a long moment. Delete. Do you really want to delete Butterfat? Yeah, I really do.

My like affair with spam took an ugly turn this year. One lovely fall day I opened my "extra" e-mail account (the yahoo account we all use when we don't want to give out our "real" e-mail address) and I had 79 messages advertising various pornographies. I didn't even know there were 79 pornographies. I have always been under the impression there were 14. Thirty-seven if you lived in Los Angeles. Then I saw where the extra ones came from: celebrity porn. "Want to see Britney with a donkey?" one asked. "No," I said out loud. "Petting zoos would never be the same for me." Delete. Delete. Do you really want to delete "Pam Anderson's late night with Stephen Hawking"? Oh, I really, really do and he should too. Even quantum physics are not going to hold those breasts up forever. Delete. "See Paris in the Nude". I remember when that would have meant taking your clothes off and running down the Champs Elysees. Why, I thought, did George let this vapid vulgarity get through? Is he trying to tell me something? Has our relationship gone stale? Is he seeing someone else's spam and neglecting mine? Now I'm mad. How could he. Well, I'll show him. I'll close this account. Right now. Do you really want to close Yes...I really do.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Other People's Dogs

Here's a dog with a job! He's part of the show at Gulf World in Panama City Beach, Florida, and gets pulled around the performance pool by a dolphin. If you look at this photo long enough you'll start hearing the Beach Boys.

Meet Buddy. We ran across him when John and I went into a convenience store on our way to the beach in 2004. Buddy was pretty old even then and required assistance to get up but once on his feet he was very confident in his ability to stay up. We were informed that Buddy liked to dress up as the sheriff at Halloween and that's all I'm going to say about that.

This is Augie in a charming photo I pinched from her mom's myspace page. Augie is the fur child of Southern singer/siren Kelly Hogan and they both have enormous eyes and are awfully photogenic. I can remember Augie as a puppy, sleeping in Kelly's guitar case when she would gig. I love Kelly and I love Augie.

Florida again. The panhandle on a cold February day in 2007.

Look at Emma and Ike! They call me "Auntie Momma". They are as cute from the front as they are from this angle. These are sibling dogs. They were once puppies in need and my friend Sherri adopted them. Ike, the yellow one, is a thinker. Emma is a doer. Usually, she does things she ought not. Just ask Sherri.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Up With People

One of my favorite things to do when John and I take to the road: watch my fellow humans. The photo above was taken in Asheville, N.C. The one below at Miramar Beach, near Destin, Florida.

This guy (below) played the accordian and his dog, Annie, sang along - in a very beguiling manner, I might add. You might see them at a street fair in St. Augustine, Florida, like we did.

New York City in the fall. Everyone was starting to bundle up for another winter in one of the greatest cities in the world.

This is the guy who sweeps through the water that is part of the Oklahoma City Memorial on the site where the Murrah building once stood. If you've never been there, go - it's probably one of the loveliest park-memorials you'll ever go to.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Moonlight Mile

I found that there are some things I got to do while RVing that I wasn't able to do when I lived in a regular neighborhood in a regular house living a regularly scheduled life. After my mother died I found it most soothing to ride my bike late at night (midnight even) around the perimeter of the RV park in Hoover, Alabama. It was a smooth ride, paved and mostly well lighted. It was peaceful, with zero traffic. In the summer the heat usually broke after dark so a cool breeze would envelope me as I made my laps on a purple mountain bike that used to belong to my niece Emily. There's not a regular street too close by so there was no other traffic to even think about. Even the other residents weren't stirring that late. The RVs scattered throughout the 2.5 acre park were quiet, with no lights on. Sometimes the dogs would come with me, leashes left behind. Who was to mind? You can do a lot of musing on a bike when you don't have to be conscious of traffic or other people. I would look at the stars, the night clouds and the occasional bat that would be attracted to the insects around a parking lot light. Often John would join me in my cyclic wandering. Sometimes we would hear deer moving through the woods on the edge of the park. The dogs would be intrigued and stare into the darkness, ears on high alert. The few times we did see deer my dog Tumbleweed thought it a good idea to chase them up to the tree line, which overjoyed him but exasperated me. He's 14 years old and in great shape, save the fact that he's missing most of his teeth.
"With what exactly were you going to take those deer down?" I asked him one evening, "You have 8 teeth." He wagged his tail happily.

Grendel, our food-obsessed spaniel hound mix, loved these late outings for the simple reason that it gave her the opportunity to see if anyone had left a crumb of food around the park after a cookout, picnic or pet feeding. Her nose drove her to and fro as we would make our way around the perimeter or up and down the mostly empty parking aisles. The night she found a leftover chicken wing was both the happiest and saddest night of her life. She found it, she was in love with it, she wasn't allowed to keep it.

Boomerang, the stray dog we found and adopted while hiking in Rising Fawn, Georgia, would keep to the edges of the park and her steady pace only changed if she saw what she surely considered her main nemesis in life : rabbit. Boomerang loves to chase rabbits. She turns into a blur when the rabbit chase is on. She's very fast, but even so, doesn't seem to want to catch them and eat them, just chase them. And they gave her ample opportunity for that.

So, as it turned out, everyone in our little RV family got something from our midnight rides: John and I could muse on life or smaller questions, Tumbleweed might get a chance to feel like a wolf with a mouth full of teeth , Boomerang could possibly find a rabbit she hadn't raced yet and Grendel could dream of finding treasure in the form of yesterdays fritos.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Everyone Knows It's Windy

In some ways my life is now 3 years old - my new life that is, for it's been 3 years today since Katrina turned my world completely upside down. I saw so much destruction, so much quiet suffering, so much disappointment, heartache, fear and frustration following that storm that it changed me and my world view forever. There's little more disconcerting than having your entire emotional and physical landscape re-arranged in a matter of hours. To have your world collapse in on itself. To have the systems you counted on break down completely right in front of you. It's confusing to know you survived and others didn't and later that the joy of surviving would often give way to the pain of loss and irrevocable, catastrophic change.

It's easy to get lost in the leftover effects and damage caused by Katrina but as I sat today and reflected on what it meant for us to have experienced it I realize that I lost a lot, including, eventually, my mother (she was injured during the storm and never walked again, subsequently dying of pneumonia and a host of causes primarily related to her being bedridden...and I suspect a contributing cause might have been a broken heart, for Katrina and its aftermath completely broke her heart) but even so, I didn't lose as much or suffer as long as some folks did. Finally, when we were able to leave, we left. I've only been back to Biloxi a few times since Sept. 2005. Over the years I would often sorely miss my South Mississippi beach haven. Then I would go visit, and watch the community struggle to rebuild....brave and determined, that's no lie...and I would walk around streets that no longer looked familiar and have to track down businesses that I'd patronized for years, because they moved. Last time I was there, in July, I looked around at the beginning-not-to-look-so-battered landscape of my sweet Mississippi home and thought again, "I miss Biloxi."

At that moment I realized what I was yearning for was forever gone with the wind and the water. I would miss Biloxi whether I was in Biloxi or not. It's a yearning for a missing friend. It's the mourning for a dead relative. The sadness over an intregal part of the heartbeat of your life that has changed forms and left you to figure out the rest. And we will. The Gulf Coast will recover. And yet the Gulf Coast, and we Katrina survivors, are forever changed.

Now Gustav threatens. Katrina's bad boy brother is, at present, taking aim at an area not yet recovered from the last disaster. I can promise you that while the rest of the country finally went on with their lives after Katrina no one who experienced it has gone a day since without thinking about some aspect of what happened. Today, for the first time in 30 years I have neither a home nor a parent nor a sibling down on the coast and nothing of immediate worry except friends and humanity and all the animals down there, a generalized brooding over a dangerous situation. To watch the dire predictions on the Weather Channel and the cable news coverage without it connecting directly to me and mine is an odd sensation after experiencing the best and the worst of hurricane seasons from the 70s until 2005. This must be, I mused, like a veteran of one war watching another one on TV from his living room instead of from the inside of a tank. It's a totally different perspective of an upheaval that you know only too well.
I know what the people who are hunkering down and staying in the path of this storm are thinking and feeling. I know what they are steeling their nerves for. I know what the evacuees in the heavy highway evacuation traffic are thinking, how they are determined to do what needs to be done and hope to save their energy for the days ahead. I know the worries over water and gasoline and pets and houses and friends and neighbors. I know all of this and I will pray hard for the Gulf Coast states. I hope you will too.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Scamper From The Camper

What's next? Locusts?

Today Tropical Storm (or remnants of) Fay -- she of the recent Florida flooding and 3 landfalls -- made her way to Alabama just in time to knock us around a bit. We had just come in from Atlanta on Sunday and had not even set our bags down when the tornado siren went off. John and I looked at each other and he turned on the Weather Channel. Bad weather to the north of us was drenching towns 35 miles away. We went ahead and set our bags down.

This morning at 9-something the sirens went off again and the alerts informed us that a funnel cloud (I almost wrote "funnel cake" - wishful thinking. Oh, to have one of those flung at me on a summer day) was spotted to the south of us and heading our way, to arrive, the alert said " at 9:55 a.m." This gave us 18 minutes to get ourselves and the dogs to safety. John threw the dogs and the leashes in the back of the Jeep, I grabbed my engagement rings, my make-up bag, my computer, my contact lenses and John's favourite pair of shorts and ran for the car. We'll talk about my priorities later. Just suffice it to say when you are trying to get out of the way of a tornado you really distill your needs and wants pretty quickly and apparently I wanted to look halfway decent when I was on the local news talking about the drama of running from a funnel, cloud. Apparently I also felt that John could stand next to me on TV and tell the heartwarming tale of how I saved his shorts.

We drove 3 miles down the road to Petsmart, reasoning of course that Petsmart is made of brick and mortar, unlike our RV, and allows pets inside, unlike, say, McDonalds, which is where we felt like going because we were hungry. We arrived at Petsmart a few minutes before the Weather Channel told us the tornado would. There was little wind and just a light rain. I fired up the computer in the car and checked, which told us that the tornado had dissipated before reaching our area and in 5 minutes the alert would expire. We sighed with relief, went grocery shopping, bought some take-out sushi and went home. Ah,the comforts of home. But don't sit down boys and girls. We're here just in time for another alert! This one was for "severe thunderstorms that are capable of producing tornadoes". We sat and munched our sushi, staring at the TV and wondering if we were going to have to make a run for the safety of Petsmart again. I didn't unpack my priorities, just in case. Eventually in the next half hour the weather went from worse to bad and we settled in for a nice rainy day indoors. The dogs snoozed and John and I made plans for Labor Day at the beach. He watched "The X Files" while I chatted with friends online.

Later I hear John's voice from the back of the RV : "There's another alert. This one is for flash flooding in our area."

"Great." I said, "This is getting biblical."

We decided to have a sandwich.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Leave Bigfoot Alone!!!

Photo: CCBitshaker

Where will it end.

Well, let me tell you where it started: a state in the Deep South with one really big city and numerous rural areas - peaceful places where people and critters of all kinds managed to live quietly with relative ease. A place where you'd hardly expect one of the most famous creatures known to man to come from. A place where you don't expect legends to be revealed in a press conference mega-miles away in California with the handing out of photos and video and never enough (never never enough!) details to hungry press and public who practically threw everything aside and demanded to see the creature in person. "I want to touch it!" a journalist would yell. "Why don't you give it to a doctor?" someone else might demand. "Has its body been altered in any way?" an inquisitive blogger might ask. The creature, we are informed, is an undisclosed location and not available for public viewing.

Anyone seeing the resemblance between the Britney Spears meltdown and the Bigfoot "discovery"?

This is purely why, through the hoopla that is the newest wave of Maybe-Bigfoot-Maybe-Not mania, I am here to defend the rights of the big hairy beast (and I don't mean the media).

This creature apparently lived in peace with its happy hairy stinky family in the mountains of North Georgia, doing its Bigfoot thang in relative obscurity, not leaving much of a carbon footprint, for years, decades... millenia probably. All it took was some enterprising PT Barnums in hiking boots to eventually track down what really needed and surely wanted to be left alone. Then they drag out photographs for the public to view of the big brown thing, whatever it is, in a freezer no less (you couldn't find a decent box left over from one of Criss Angel's shows?) doing everything but charging $5 a pop to see The Proof. Oh wait, I think they did do that...after they said they wouldn't. But there's more, they say, tantalizing us with the promise of trying to catch one of the hairy beasties "alive" for us to gawk over. Stop it!!! Enough! I say - that's ENOUGH!
Leave Bigfoot alone!

Bigfoot doesn't need publicity, paparazzi or a press agent. Bigfoot doesn't want to push consumer products (oh I can see the tire commercials and McBigfoot Meals now). Bigfoot doesn't want an endorsement deal with Avon for a fragrance "that will make anyone run out of the woods screaming for you!" Bigfoot doesn't have a bank account. But the Bigfoot hunters do, and a hunger to fill it even if they have to exploit that which really shouldn't be exploited. Pretty soon Bigfoot will be required to get electrolysis and laser hair removal...lose a few lbs to look good on a surfboard...have to banter with David Hasselhoff (who Bigfoot really loves, but really doesn't want to talk to). Bigfoot, unequivocally does not want to hang out with Paris Hilton. He thinks she smells funny. Bigfoot has no opinion on the upcoming election except to oppose drilling in ANWR. But with fame and fortune and fast new friends what will happen next? Bigfoot will buy an Elvis jumpsuit and work Vegas on New Years. Bigfoot will get anorexia, recover and go on "Oprah". Bigfoot will write an autobiography, "It's Bigfoot, Bitch" and run over at least one paparazzo with, well, his big feet. Bigfoot will get a mansion and never figure out how to turn on the running water. Bigfoot will have 7 bad marriages, at least one to Pamela Anderson, and Bigfoot will eventually get hooked on the latest designer drug and die in a hotel room in Miami and everyone will say "Poor Bigfoot. What happened?"

Society happened.

Leave Bigfoot alone.

Photo from:

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Duck Duck Goose

As we roll somewhat lazily toward the end of a very pleasant summer, I am remembering where we were as the season started. We were in an RV park in Shelby County, Alabama, called Cherokee , located by a lovely private lake. You can't swim or boat in the lake, which keeps things pretty peaceful but you can fish and it almost seemed like people did that around the clock. A path around the lake makes for a great walk at sunrise and sunset. This RV park was inexpensive, rambling, older, quiet (except for the geese and I'll get to that in a moment) with no frills. The owners were very nice folks and the bathhouses were kept clean and in order. It was altogether a great RVing experience among the shade trees and we had a nice view of the lake. We would have stayed longer if they'd had cable TV hook-ups. In fact, we probably would have stayed all summer!

Did I mention the lake is home to a gaggle of geese? If you don't see them right away you will hear them before long. They honk at each other. They honk at you. They honk at cars instead of the other way around. They honk at daybreak and they honk at sunset. They seemed to have names because I noticed a number of times cars would come around one of the corners and one of the about 12 or 14 geese that lived on the lake would stand firm in the middle of the road and state its case: HONK. The car would stop. This usually wasn't enough for the goose/traffic cop. HONK? the goose would offer and waddle up to the drivers window, asking for a toll of some kind, probably food. Usually a head would pop out of the drivers side window and address the goose by name and shoo it on. Car would pass. Goose would honk at departing car, threatening to take down the license plate number if they didn't give a treat the next time.

Our first visitors were a young goose and old duck (the duck being of some exotic variety) and they were quite a striking twosome. They came right up to the door of the RV. The goose honked and the duck quacked. John looked outside. "It's for you." he said.

The duck had a distinct limp from what looked like an old injury but had no problem with the bread I offered and immediately plopped down and ate to its hearts content. The goose did seem to have some difficulty with the pieces so I put down a bowl of water and she would dunk the bread in the water and then eat it. On occasion the old duck would waddle up behind the goose and attack her while she ate. Duck would bite her on the bum and then spit out a huge mouthful of feathers. I took it to be some kind of reminder of who the boss bird was.

These two appeared to have an interesting relationship and were almost always together. There were wild geese around the lake that did not hang with either the old duck or the young goose. Some of the wild geese had goslings and at some point during a day you'd get the treat of a goose family outing -- Mom in front, three babies lined up in the middle and the Dad bringing up the rear, hissing at anyone who got too close.

We nicknamed our visiting Goose and Duck "the gruesome twosome", meant in a fond way, because they had strong-armed (er, winged) us into giving them food like a well orchestrated two-bird mafia. They didn't appear to visit anyone else that we could tell. Why would they? We were their slaves. They would come by at dawn and sit silently on the patio by the door until John or I opened the door. Then: HONK. And: Quack! "Give me a minute" I'd usually say, sleepily. But no. HONK! Then more insistent: HONK! Quack! HONK! Quack! HONK HONK HONK! "For God's sake shut up you feathered freaks!" I'd say and throw rolls on the ground that they would happily attack and eat. I'd give them some breakfast and a bowl of water and then the odd couple would wander off to do whatever it was they did all day before they would come back in the afternoon to eat dinner with our dogs. Our three dogs would hang out and eat on the patio and Goose and Duck didn't even bat an eye after they realized our canines were used to other animals and were no threat. Our dogs quickly accepted them as another weird looking set of dogs with wings, beady eyes and no teeth. This noisy, yet peaceable kingdom scenario lasted the whole of our visit at Cherokee.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Funny Signs I Have Seen Whilst Traveling

I always encourage RVers or any fellow travelers to take a camera with them everywhere they go. You never know when you will come across something you must preserve and show the folks back home. These days, of course, you can always use your phone to take pictures of any unusual sights but I'm kinda old school. It's unnatural for anyone born before 1990 to go around pointing cell phones at people and farm animals.

I saw this sign in rural Tennessee in the summer of 2007. At the time I really wondered what the heck "chocolate gravy" was. Now I just look at the cost of gasoline and weep silently.

Niki's West in B'ham. Those of you who are Martin Sexton fans like us should know that he loves southern cuisine and eats there when ever he's in town.

Almost anyone can afford a plague these day. They are not just for Europeans anymore!

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Dog Days

The RV Dogs, Halloween 2007

Our dogs have adjusted completely to living in our movable space. The couch has been covered in decorative plastic, been taken over by Grendel and Boomerang and as such, re-named "The Girl's Dorm". They sleep there during the long, lazy summer days and sit there in the evening and watch me cook, gazing intently, in case some crumb slips from my grasp and falls to the floor. On those occasions Grendel leaps into action and sucks it up almost before it settles. I haven't had to clean up a spill in a long, long time. She's a sleek and round piglet masquerading as a Beagle/Chihuahua/Cocker Spaniel mix, always hungry and always searching for the next morsel.

Since we have no slides in our rig and our space is basically like a rolling hotel room, it's good to have two of three dogs out of the way and we've happily given them the couch. Tumbleweed,our hearty and dignified 15 year old, plops down mainly on the floor, wherever he wishes, and we step around him. On occasion he deigns to step around us. When we aren't looking he goes back to the bedroom and gets on the bed. This wholly perplexes John. "Some things are just for humans!" he explains to Tumbleweed who looks up at him and yawns, showing the oh-so-fine 9 teeth he has left.

The dogs are all well-trained. I'm a stickler for that, and it keeps order for John and I to be the pack leaders and they, the furry followers, but that doesn't mean it's always a peaceable kingdom. One time while playing with Grendel, John was throwing her fave toy (nicknamed Fat Phoenix, because, while I'm not sure exactly what the toy is, that's certainly what it looks like) up and down the "hallway" - basically the length of the RV - and she got over-excited and slammed into her brother's head. Tumbleweed was having none of it and bit her on the eye with one of his remaining teeth. This took a few days of my long ago vet-tech training to make right and in the meantime, Grendel was scouting for morsels with her good eye.

John washes them often to keep our space smelling sweet and he wrestles the dog hair down to an acceptable level with the high tech, space-age looking Dyson hand vac we gave him for Father's Day this year.

In case I haven't mentioned - or even if I have - Tumbleweed, Grendel and Boomerang are all rescued dogs, saved from one dire situation or another. At present there aren't enough good homes for all the domestic animals out there that need one, so be aware that if you can safely and happily share your home with an animal, your life will improve in ways you never thought possible. If you can't or won't have a pet, you can still help make the world a better place by helping animals. Know that one of the most important ways you can use your voice is to speak for those who have none. What greater power is there than the power of kindness?

"The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated." -- Ghandi


Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Current Gas Prices Are No Joke

Warner Bros "The Dark Knight" 2008

In a vivid scene in the recent mega-hit "The Dark Knight", Heath Ledger as The Joker sets a well-ordered pile of millions of stolen dollars on fire. "I'm a man of simple tastes," he snarls at one of his co-criminals, who, not astonishingly, wanted to keep the money intact, "I like dynamite and gunpowder and gasoline, and they are cheap."

I wanted to stand up and say "Uh, excuse me...Mister Joker? Sir... sorry to interrupt your reign of terror but...gasoline is NOT cheap!" but I didn't dare, because 1.) I'd be talking to a movie screen and 2.) both The Joker and current fuel prices are equally frightening. The truth is that yes, gas is high enough at current prices (mostly $4 per gallon and over, although I noticed some in lower Alabama on the way to Florida --Andalusia, to be exact -- last week at $3.79 per gallon. Who ever thought we'd be grateful to pay that?

Gasoline is one of the big costs of RVing and that's a simple fact. Most RVs do not get great gas mileage and the cost of gas to power your moving adventure was often more than offset by the relatively cheap cost of living or vacationing in an RV, the "all amenities included" costs of many RV resorts, the fact that you can buy your own groceries and eat in, you can take the pets with you (no boarding or kennel fees), heat your RV if needed with propane, which is relatively cheap ( it cost us $65 for an entire winter's worth of central heat in 2007) and tow your car behind your rig if you are in a Class A or C motorhome ( thus saving on regular car mileage/gas costs) until you get to your destination. But even so, current gas prices have slowed John's and my traveling down to a crawl this summer and we have opted to stay in each place longer and get to know that place better. I don't think we are alone in this.

I read today about RV makers going lighter and more gas efficient because of high fuel prices:

And here's some other links to fuel and travel that might make your vacationing easier and less hard on the wallet. After all, you get away to ease your mind and enjoy your time on earth, not to make your life more tense!

Get More MPG From Your RV

RV Life Provides Link With Nature

Jimmy Buffett Fans Swarm Toyota Park

Friday, July 25, 2008

Meet The Manatees

If fat and cute is your thing, you can't get find anything fatter and cuter than these creatures. Even if fat and cute isn't your thing you will be enchanted the first time you meet the rotund and graceful West Indian Manatee. Want to see them in person? You can find them in many areas of the Southern U.S. during the warm months and it's fun to swim, snorkel and kayak around them (in a respectful manner - remember, this is their home) in Crystal River and other areas on the Nature Coast of Florida. If you are a pleasure boater and your boat has a motor, you know to be careful when making your way through manatee country. These gentle, slow moving giants have no way to protect themselves from your boat propeller and every year manatees sustain horrible injuries and die from encounters with boat motors.

When John and I started our gypsy adventure-ing in our caravan I took it upon myself to introduce him to all the joys and oddities of the Southern United States, of which the manatee is definitely one. He's full blooded Native American from the high desert of New Mexico so he'd never seen a manatee. I knew just where to go to make the introduction. One of the very best places to view and learn about the manatee is at Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park in Homossassa, Florida. Another great place is Mote Marine Lab in Sarasota. Outside the USA, West Indian manatees can also be found in the coastal and inland waterways of Central America and along the northern coast of South America.

They are big - very big (you will be surprised how big) - friendly, curious, slow, quite adorable and one of Florida's (and the world's) most unusual wild animal treasures. The manatee's closest land relatives are the elephant and the hyrax, a small, gopher-sized mammal. Don't ask me how that happened. They breathe air, and must come to the surface to do so, making them visible to onlookers, which is the fun part, but which also puts them in the path of several serious dangers such as the aforementioned boat propellers and entanglement in fishing lines or hooks (also a huge problem for dolphins and sea turtles.)

While John and I were at the Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park we ran across a happy park volunteer and zealous manatee advocate named Joyce, who at the end of the day was helping the rangers give the resident manatees a "spa treatment" - a rub down with sea salt to keep their skin in shape and, I suspect, also because the animals seemed to really groove on it. Joyce loves manatees. I love that Joyce loves manatees. She is committed to them, their care and their survival in a very real way and her total commitment is love in action. I love knowing there are people who care deeply and will devote so much to these funny-looking, totally engaging creatures and will help them in the ways they need to be helped if they are to survive in this modern world we have created. Because it’s not a world that is set up to be kind to them. So let’s applaud Joyce and all those out there like her. They are doing the work that a lot of us should be doing.

Manatees are an endangered species, protected under the federal Endangered Species and Marine Mammal Protection Acts and the Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act. It is up to us humans to show a little hu-manatee, if you will, and make the effort to protect these gentle giants.

Joyce giving "the girls" their spa-treatment/skin rub. They love it.



Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park

Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo :


Join the Club!

Jimmy Buffett says :

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

It Was A Dark and Stormy Night...

Last night we had one of those fierce thunderstorms that seem to come out of nowhere. It was violent and sudden and the wind that came up was considerable. I can’t stress enough that you really have to watch the weather when you are RVing. In that way, it’s much like boating – ignore the weather at your peril. The sweet sunny day you enjoyed when you left your RV to go visit friends or a local sight might not be the same weather you return home to. A bit of precaution can save a lot of cussing, I’ve found. And can save your wallet as well.

One of the best and most utilitarian things about your RV or camper – which can be very costly to replace – is your awning/s. Especially if you are at the beach where winds whip up as a matter of course, do not ever go off for a few hours and leave your awning down. We secure ours with tie-downs and we still had to sit inside during a gusty thunderstorm (one that formed over our area so we didn’t see it coming on the weather radar) and watch it rip on one side as very suddenly the winds brushed up to 40 mph. We don’t have replace it, thank goodness, we just need to mend it but I’ve seen too many awnings just tear up like they were a paper bag and turn inside out like an umbrella. Our neighbors in this park just sold their house to go RVing for a few fun years. They were visiting their daughter when the storm blew up. The awning on their new deluxe pop-up camper now needs to be replaced. It's a common mistake that people make when they start RVing and we were lucky enough to have someone tell on our first day out: take down your awning when you leave.

We still made the funny but not fatal mistake of leaving our porch swing out on a nice weekend once when we were staying in northern Alabama and left to visit Atlanta. We came home in the dark to find it across the street, courtesy of a spring rainstorm that was packing some winds. This was not a small piece of lawn furniture, either. We also found our flagpole and New Mexico flag halfway down the road. The park we were in at the time was sparsely populated and we were glad none of our flying debris had damaged any other RVs, cars or people. We noticed the RVers down a few rows must have been out of town too. Their entire outdoor set up was down at the bottom of the hill.

So keep in mind, intrepid fellow travelers, that grills, furniture, windchimes, toys, bikes,trashcans and satellite dishes can go from being a part of your peaceful personal camping environment to gone with the wind in a matter of no time flat. Get out the kites when the wind comes and put your awning safely away.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

When is a lost key a good thing? When it's in Florida

It's hot outside today, almost 100 degrees, and that has me thinking of cooler times to come.
Let me tell you about autumn on the Gulf Coast, a glorious time to be in a glorious place. Let me tell you specifically about Perdido Key ("The Lost Key") in Florida. This gem of a beach town is directly over the state line from another great beach area, Orange Beach, Alabama. It offers gorgeous sand and water, nice hotels, good food, some state parks directly on the water and all manner of beach sports and fishing along with some unlikely nightlife. We could only find one RV park in Perdido Key proper, Playa del Rio RV Resort, and we moved in for a week last October. It was a very small and tightly packed RV park with only a single road in or out and is located fetchingly close to the beach (right across the street) while the rear of the tiny park is directly on an inland bay with a beautiful view of the water. The friendly folks here allow pets in the park. We left the Jeep behind and took only our bikes with us as transport. We planned to relax in a large way and this was just the place for it.

Now, let me tell you about a VERY popular hang out, bar, eatery, music venue, package store, lounge and architectural freakshow called the Flora-Bama. Any attire is appropriate here and the ambiance just screams "Come one! Come all! Wash your hands if you touch anything!" The Legendary Flora-Bama is on the Florida-Alabama state line and is supposedly one bar in both states. In reality it’s a series of rooms, indoor and out, upstairs and down, and looks like it was designed by a blind monkey and put together by a group of angry clowns. It’s little more than a series of lean-tos and areas made of various building or building-like materials. The room I came to call “the big warm room” is actually a circus tent. Graffiti covers every available area of the bar/s ( in both states) and some places it shouldn’t. I puzzled over the graffiti a good 25 feet off the floor in the circus room. How did it get up there? ( Then I remembered the incredible powers of drunk college students. Ah, yes. Where there's a will and enough beer...) There were bras hanging on ropes ( think clotheslines) across the room. The ladies room was patched together out of cement block and wood, held together by more graffiti. The outdoor bars offer a grand view of the ocean. There's several stages for musical events and a boardwalk that leads onto the beach. Some young thing, male or female, wrote “ Taylor Hicks is f****** hot, but I’m a Clay fan!” on one bar. I had to wonder how much alcohol fueled that particular declaration of love. Now, before you inform me you would never set foot in such a place - not even to attend their annual world famous Interstate Mullet Toss held every April - let me tell you this: Oh sure you will. Everyone from lawyers to laborers goes to the famous Flora-Bama. This place attracts all ages, professions and incomes from miles around. It opens for lunch and the food is really good. John had a shrimp po-boy with waffle fries and I had the spicy, very tasty gumbo, with plenty of crab claws in it.

“Suck a crab claw?” I offered John. He looked at me for a moment. He's from the New Mexico desert where people don't usually say such things and if they do, it's probably an insult, but he catches on fast. He took it.

Further down the beach on the main road (Perdido Key Drive ) is The Crab Trap restaurant. Wonderful food – overpriced for sure, but a good restaurant with a super-beachy feel. I once had some gumbo here that wasn't very good, but I've been several times since and always been happy and full when I left. This time I had a crabmeat and shrimp salad which was well put together and full of flavor, John had a fried oyster plate with cole slaw and fries and some nifty tasty hush puppies. Hush puppies are something most restaurants do badly. Many otherwise good eateries make hush puppies that taste like dense camel spit and I avoid them but the Crab Trap makes them so right: round, tasty morsels of fried cornbread and spices. We walked on the beach to get to the restaurant and then back on the beach highway, where as night fell we were greeted by a moon so bright it cast our shadow as we walked. We started to sing the Cat Stevens song "Moonshadow".

This is a great area to ride bikes and we did. It's mostly flat and there's much to enjoy as you pedal along the sparkling coast. After a long sunny bike ride one afternoon we went to the homey Simply Southern to eat, also very close to the RV park. There was a tiny iridescent beatle on my knife (bugs are everywhere in Florida and especially at the beach) and a hair – not my own – on the side of my plate, but these were minor annoyances to be brushed away. To be honest I was so hungry they could have served my food on the floor. The smoked pulled pork was absolutely perfect, some of the best I’ve ever had and the potato salad was served still warm and it melted in my mouth. The cole slaw was just okay but we were very happy.

Having the bikes as our only mode of transport forced us to slow down, think about things and pay attention to our environment. It was a very interesting experiment for a couple who like to go, go, go and try new things. This might be Florida but the nights were cool in October and we slept under the blanket my Aunt Dee made for us for Christmas last year. The first day we were there it was cloudy and rainy, but I loved it. Every other day included bright sun and temps in the 70s. It felt like a real vacation.


The Flora-Bama

Lose Yourself In Perdido Key

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Sweet Temporary Home Alabama

Oak Mountain State Park, Alabama

“Do you realize”, John asked me one day, “That we have our Jeep registered and insured in Georgia, we have an Georgia address, we have our RV registered and insured in Florida and we have a Florida address, we have an address in Alabama, you see a chiropractor in Biloxi, Mississippi, I go to my doctor’s appts in New Mexico and we have a storage unit full of furniture in Atlanta?” He spoke the truth. Our lives were, technically, all over the place. But I’ve never felt so together, so free and so comfortable as I do with this apparent dichotomy At least for now. Most of the spread-outed-ness is a result of finances or convenience or both. It is also the willingness of my ex-husband Timothy to let us use his (and my old) address as a home base and because of the fact that my mother and brother, once freed from Katrina-dom, had settled in Birmingham, Ala. Then my mother died when finally the ravages of that hurricane proved too much for her. I miss you, Momma.

Despite having more addresses than a Hollywood mogul, and decidedly less money, I am happy. I like the simple pleasure of getting up to meditate at 5 am and going outside to a wide-open sky. In Alabama there are several really nice RV parks we've stayed at. At the park in Hoover I liked the nearby nature trails that led to the Cahaba river and beyond, to a beaver pond you could walk across, making your path right over the mammal-made dam. Located next to a minor league ballpark where the Birmingham Barons play in the spring and summer and local football teams play in the fall and winter, it's very lively when it's lively and extremely peaceful when it's not. Fireworks nights at the stadium are great fun. You can sit outside your RV and watch the show and listen to the crowds cheer.

I enjoy the mountains of North Alabama and the friendly people. People in Birmingham hands down were the friendliest folks I’d ever met in my life. Kind and attentive and decent people live there. Stellar personalities that concentrate on the individual, and look at quality of life as a prime reason not to get away from oneself when it comes to bigger and better. The city of Birmingham, I noticed, did not want to be Atlanta. They like being Birmingham. Truly, they are some of the nicest and most genuinely good-hearted people I’ve ever met in my life. That is.... until they get into their cars. Then they, as a population, rise up as one and try to kill you with their driving habits. No wonder Nascar, in it’s fetus days, started as Southern moonshine runners out-driving the local cops. These people have to be their modern cousins. I’ve never seen people drive like this in my life (and I used to live in New Orleans!) If you stop too soon, too short or even if you obey the law and stop at a stop sign, you are going too slow for them and they perform the maneuver I have named “The Birmingham Go Around”. This means, no matter the weather, terrain, the written road laws or even the laws of physics, they will go around you with nary a touch of a brake pedal. Sometimes they don’t even slow below 60 mph. And that’s in their driveways. They don’t--usually--yell or beep at you, curse or make faces. They just go around like you are standing still, even if you are doing a respectable 55-65 mph. They drive like the hounds of hell are chasing them down neighborhood streets with looks on their faces as if they are simply strolling in the park enjoying a spring afternoon. When my friend Sherri, a long-time Birminghammer, took a new job and moved to North Carolina she called me on the phone to tell me about her new life in NC. "They obey traffic laws here" she said with wonder - and some confusion - in her voice, " All of them."

I highly recommend Birmingham, Alabama, for beautiful vistas, nice libraries, friendly folks, great food (do not leave the city without eating at Jim n' Nicks) and wonderful music venues and festivals. I highly recommend the state of Alabama's gorgeous beaches, lovely mountains and unique museums. But just remember, those people who almost ran you over on interstate 65 are probably some of the nicest people you will ever meet.

The Anniston Museum of Natural History

The Shrine of The Blessed Sacrament (truly you have to see this place to believe it)

Orange Beach, Alabama

Ave Maria Grotto

Jim n Nicks

Oak Mountain State Park