Wednesday, December 27, 2006
JB's Nativity, made by Tom's glassblowing brother Jim
JB, Pete, Collier, Margaret, and Lilly - Marge's Brother's family
Santa and God's most recent gift to the family (Bill Bowdoin "Papou" and Margaret Stevens)
We had a very Merry Christmas here in Athens with JB, Pete, the three girls, and a handful of Bowdoins (JB’s family). Santa was very nice to the girls, and we all enjoyed a relaxing day. We watched the movie Polar Express, and Tom wrote down a line from the movie that we think applies to our life right now: “One thing about trains is it doesn’t matter where they’re going. You just have to decide to get on.”
We’re now getting ready to get back on the road. We’re still waiting for Nock’s biopsy results, and for a few returned emails from officials in Belize about what we need to do on this end to get the dogs and our stuff into Belize with minimal fuss and expense. We’re repacking the truck and camper again, since from here on out we won’t need any of our really cold weather stuff, so we’ll be leaving a few boxes with Pete and JB that we can retrieve if we fly into Atlanta and head north in the winter months. We’re not sure where we’ll be on New Year’s Day – but we’ll be on the train!
Wednesday, December 20, 2006
Lilly was kind enough to let Tom borrow her Dora lunchbox to take to work
We’ve been on the road a month today, and it’s definitely had its ups and downs. We’re now at my brother Pete’s house in Athens, GA, where we’ll stay til sometime after Christmas.
We’ve been unsettled and haven’t felt much like Christmas, which we thought was a combination of being on the road, and the fact that the weather has been so beautiful since we’ve been in Florida and Georgia for the past couple of weeks now that it seems like endless summer. But, last night we went to a Christmas party at JB’s dad’s house, which was held mostly outside on the deck – the first time we’ve been to a Christmas party on a deck. What was funny was that as we talked to all the people who live in GA, they all said that this warm weather is unusual even for GA, and that none of them are feeling much like Christmas either. Lots of the GA natives said they wanted it to snow or at least get cold – not at all how we feel, since we’re pretty happy leaving the cold and snow behind, but it really doesn’t feel like Christmas.
Maybe that’s part of our unsettled feeling, but to go back to the astronaut analogy, it seems like we’re now sitting in the rocket waiting to launch, or just waiting to see what is going to go wrong next since that seems to be how the past few days have been going. We’ve been without internet access for a week or so now – since we started camping – and it seems like in the catching up, all I’m going to do is complain. It’s really hit home that we don’t have an income, a fact that Tom is trying to remedy a little by working with our friend Del and my brother Pete, but the outflow is definitely exceeding the inflow, and it’s making us nervous.
Remember that fridge we were so proud of? Well, it worked great until we got to Athens. We pulled in Sunday night, left it running on propane – it had worked great while we were camping in Florida and in Savannah – and when I tried to switch it to electric on Monday morning, I noticed it was warm and the freezer was dripping. I rationalized it by thinking that the camper wasn’t quite level, and it was in the sun and in the upper 70’s, so it was just not cooling well. But then it didn’t get cold when we switched to electric. So, we called around today and found out that the cooling unit is probably shot, and it would cost upwards of $800 to fix – for a fridge that we spent $300 on when we bought it on eBay in October. So, we’re sucking it up, and will probably just make a point of stopping for ice every day, and we’ll use it like a $300 cooler. We can’t even blame the guy who sold it to us – it worked when he sold it to us, and it worked for us for a couple of weeks, but it still hurts to know we basically flushed $300 down the toilet, which is about 1200 miles in our truck.
Our other unexpected expenditure was a vet bill for Nock. When we were de-ticking her in Florida, we found a small lump on her belly. It’s just a little lump, and it was just under the surface of her skin, but we were a little worried that we hadn’t ever noticed it before, especially since she’s always sitting up for belly rubs. However, it was small, and since we usually don’t look at her belly while we rub it, we really have no idea how long the lump has been there since even if we felt it we probably just thought it was a nipple. Pete and JB are friends with a couple of vets, and Melissa the vet stopped by Monday night to pick up her cell phone. We’d mentioned the lump to JB, so she told us to have Melissa take a look at it. Melissa recommended having it removed and biopsied, which we did Tuesday morning. We’re now waiting a week to 10 days, or possibly longer due to the holidays, to get the biopsy results. So, we know we’re here until we get the results because if the lump is cancerous, we trust Melissa to give us the best advice for a course of action and to take care of Nock if any further care is needed. And, we’re out another couple of hundred dollars, which is definitely well spent to take care of Nock, but still – it’s a couple of hundred dollars we didn’t plan to spend, and then if the lump is cancerous, we’re going to have some tough decisions to make, which we’d definitely make in the interests of the dog rather than the interests of our pocketbook.
And all of this is after a weekend of living large in Savannah – again, definitely worth it, and it was in the budget, but we didn’t know we were going to be eating the fridge and a vet bill immediately after the weekend.
However, we’re having fun catching up with Pete and JB, spending time with Del and Vicky, and playing with our nieces Collier (6), Lilly (3), and Margaret (16 months). Tom has gone out to work for a couple of days with Del and Pete, and Vicky has been kind enough to let me ride her horse – which feels great. I have to confess that I am hopelessly addicted to horses. I knew I couldn’t wait to get on and ride, but even I didn’t realize how bad the addiction is until I rode, and I had to wonder how I made it through the past month without riding, and how I’ll make it through the month or so until we get to Belize and I can find something to ride there – hopefully pretty quickly.
We’re now in the final ramp up to Christmas, which is a pretty big deal in a house with three kids under six. And, as I said above, we’re not sure when we’ll be able to leave. Both Pete & JB and Del & Vicky say we’re welcome to stay as long as we’d like – and forever would probably be fine with all of them – but we wish we could make better plans, for all of us. I was talking about this unsettled feeling with Pete today, and his reaction was, “What? You didn’t think you’d just have clear sailing all the way to Belize, did you?” No, we didn’t. And to put it in perspective, nothing really terrible has happened that in any way changes our plans, and even the $500 or so that seems to have evaporated in the past couple of days isn’t going to make a huge impact on the big picture – but the bottom line is we’re just feeling a little less comfortable than we did at this time last week. A large part of that is probably worry about Nock, who we know is just a dog, but as most of you know, we’re pretty attached to our dogs – after all, we’re driving because we think that’s the best way to get Mel there – and we’d really like to get there with all three dogs in good health. It’s also hitting home that we’re homeless and unemployed – funny to say, but a little less funny when reality kicks in, and I think a little bit of homesickness is part of this picture. So, stay tuned for the next installment. I’m sure we’ll be feeling better, and hopefully we’ll have some idea about when we’ll be back on the road and heading south.
Margaret & Lilly letting Nock know she's loved, post-surgery
Saturday, December 16, 2006
Skidaway Island State Park nature walk
We left Tomoka State Park in FL Friday morning and drove up I-95 to Savannah, GA. Before we left Florida, we had looked in the AAA book and found that Skidaway Island State Park is on the Intracoastal just outside of the city of Savannah. We decided to stay there both Friday and Saturday nights, because it’s just a quick hop on the expressway to get downtown, and the park is beautiful. We took the dogs for a run on the park trails on Saturday morning while our friends Del and Vicky were driving from their home in Madison, GA, to Savannah. It was beautiful; the trail winds through the woods, along the salt marsh and the Intracoastal, with occasional relics of the Civil War such as earthworks and the remains of old stills. Tom twisted his ankle on one of the many roots on the trail and had to get an ankle brace for walking around Savannah, but no major harm was done.
Del and Vicky showed up in the late morning, and after finding a nearby hotel room for them, we headed downtown. Savannah is beautiful, and very interesting. We took one of the trolley tours and got off on the riverfront where we ate lunch and imbibed at Wet Willies. That turned out to be a little bit of a mistake, because Wet Willies has a whole wall full of frozen blender drinks, which we had to sample. Tom had the misfortune of trying a drink called “Call A Cab,” which is quite well-named. It’s a combination of cherry cough syrup and 190 proof grain alcohol, with a little bit of rum added for good measure – and I think it is as bad as it sounds, although Tom definitely enjoyed it.
After finishing at Wet Willies we continued the trolley tour, then jumped back in the car to go back to the campsite to feed and walk the dogs. On the way to the campground, Tom returned a call to my brother Matt, who had left us a message that he thought he had the radiant heat in his kitchen working. When Matt answered the phone, Tom said, “So, your whore’s flooked up?” (translation – your floor’s hooked up) which of course sent the rest of us into hysterics.
After feeding the dogs, we went back into Savannah and did one of the walking ghost tours. It was historically interesting, but not very scary, although it’s definitely fun to walk around the city at night and look at all the old buildings. Sunday morning we grabbed breakfast at an omelet restaurant (Tom felt fine by the way) apparently run by people who have a Chinese restaurant next door – good food, but the service was a little funky since they didn’t speak much English. We went back into Savannah and walked around a little more, then jumped in the truck and headed for Athens.
The beautiful streets of Savannah
Thursday, December 14, 2006
Camping in Tomoka State Park, Ormond Beach, FL
After leaving the Astronaut Hall of Fame around 6:30 Wednesday night, we decided to head a few hours north on I-95. We tried a Walmart near Daytona around 7:30, but were told that the entire county has an overnight parking ban, and that the police would show up and kick us out sometime in the wee hours. So, we whipped out the handy AAA camping guide, and found Tomoka State Park in Ormond Beach. We considered calling Diane’s (our former next door neighbor) mother and asking to stay in her driveway, but decided that after traumatizing Tom’s parents and their neighborhood with our disreputable rig, we wouldn’t inflict ourselves on a friend’s parents.
The Ranger, Diane, at Tomoka talked us in, and we arrived around 8:30. The campground is so nice and peaceful that we decided to stay another night and just take it easy by ourselves for a day. The park is beautiful, mostly wooded and nestled on a peninsula between a river and the Intracoastal waterway. We were told not to leave the dogs tied outside or to let them swim because of alligators, but overall the park is a quiet and safe place, although we apparently walked the dogs through a nest of ticks, which we’ve been picking off ever since – shades of growing up in NJ.
Tom working in the camper
Wednesday, December 13, 2006
Apollo/ Saturn V rocket
We spent all day Wednesday at the Kennedy Space Center, after a fairly crappy night of sleeping. Next time through, we’ll pass on the Titusville Walmart parking lot as a boondocking site. Despite being parked way in the back, cars were in and out all night, the automated cart collectors were running all night, a street sweeper parking lot cleaner came through at some point in the middle of the night, and it was definitely not the best night’s sleep we’ve had since we’ve been on the road. Even without a good night’s sleep, we were our way to the Space Center and pulled into the parking lot at 8:30 am, a half hour before it even opened. We got the first RV parking spot in the huge lot – the first and probably the only time that will ever happen, although it turned out to be really convenient since we could come out for lunch to eat and take the dogs for a quick walk around the lot.
We spent the entire day at the Space Center, with some mixed impressions. Our first impression wasn’t good; the only thing open at 9:00 am was the Robot Scouts exhibit, which was hokey, to say the least. Maybe if we were three, or had a three-year-old with us, it would have been okay, but we walked out of that exhibit about 9:30 wondering if we’d just blown our combined $70 admission fee on a day of kiddie theme park crap. Fortunately, that wasn’t the case, and we boarded a bus for what turned out to be the real tour. Tourists aren’t allowed to drive or walk to the actual Space Center, where the real work is done, but busses leave every 15 minutes to drop visitors in controlled areas where they can really see what happens and appreciate the scale of the space program, both in scope of ambition and in the size of what we’re shooting into space. After paralleling the Crawler track – the two-lane gravel road (with a 7 foot base) over which the Crawler carries the assembled Space Shuttle to the launch site – the first stop is an observation platform in the middle of the complex, which covers a lot of square miles. The platform is 5 stories high, and each of the 4 sides have keys so you can see how much area the Space Center covers, and see all of the buildings that are part of the program. From there you’re bussed to the Apollo/Saturn V center, where a few movies about the program are shown, and you can wander around in the hanger that houses an entire Saturn V rocket, laid on its side but suspended above the floor. It’s amazing how huge the rocket that takes off from the launch pad is, and how tiny the actual space vehicles are – probably not even as big as our truck, and the LMs that actually put down on the moon look like toys. The next stop is the International Space Station Center, where you see a few more movies, then get to walk through where they’re assembling the payloads which the next few shuttles will carry up to the International Space Station. After catching a bus back to the Visitors’ Center, we saw a couple of really good IMAX movies, one about the Apollo program, and one about the International Space Station, which are interesting because they tie directly in to the bus stops. On the way out, we went to the Astronaut Hall of Fame, which is part of the complex, and learned more about the human side of the space program. They also have some “rides,” which are simulations of how it feels to be in space and on the space ships; Tom chose to see how it felt, but I passed because I didn’t want to end a good day by vomiting. We left the Hall of Fame at 6:30 pm, which was when it closed, after what seemed like a very quick day.
The "old" rockets - amazing they ever got anyone into space
Two other themes jumped out at both of us after the tour. The first is that the visitor program is basically a big marketing/promotional scheme which people pay to see. The movies and exhibits all stress the importance of space exploration to the future well-being of humanity, a sort of “We know this is costing you trillions of dollars, but you’ll be glad when you’re the one who gets cancer and we know how to cure it from things we studied in space” message. The other message, which I definitely think is a good message although I think they overdo it, is that all of the jobs and skills involved in the space program are things that women and minorities can do, and that young people should get their educations so they too can be astronauts or scientists when they grow up. It’s a good point, but if you evaluated the program from the movies and exhibits, you’d probably start to doubt that white men ever had anything to do with it.
The other thing the tour did was make Tom and me look at what we’ve done in selling everything and heading off to Belize in a truck and camper, and put it in perspective when it’s juxtaposed with the US space program. It first struck us when we were watching a movie about the shuttle program, and the narrator said that beginning of the shuttle mission is not when it takes off from the launch pad, but when it lands at Cape Canaveral or Fort Edwards AFB after returning from space. The process starts when it’s picked up and returned to the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB), where a team goes over it to determine what needs to be fixed or replaced for its next mission. I whispered to Tom, “We need to get that team to take a look at our truck,” mostly as a joke, but it struck us that Aaron was our VAB team, and we already recognized that our moving process started way before our launch on November 20 with our house closing. We were then a little more interested as we listened to and saw how the Apollo missions had been prepared, and how NASA is currently preparing each shuttle mission, and it made us realize that preparing our truck and camper for what we needed to take to Belize is bush league – at least we’re not out in a completely inhospitable environment where we’ll die if we find out we forgot to pack something! On the other hand, we’re following a very similar process – we needed to take as little as possible, but everything we need both to get there and when we’re there has to be included. The other little fact that made us laugh was a blip in one of the movies that said that all of the astronauts have to be amateur plumbers and electricians. After our previous post about getting the camper fridge operational, you’re probably not surprised that Tom and I now both consider ourselves good candidates for the astronaut program since we can fix anything in our camper. How much more complicated could the International Space Station be?
Sunday, December 10, 2006
As you may have heard, the shuttle did take off last night. We didn’t go out to Cape Canaveral because launch probability was still at 30% late in the afternoon, and it wasn’t worth disrupting dinner plans to drive to the coast. However, as we were sitting with Tom’s parents having a post-dinner discussion of our Belize plans, complete with maps, Mel decided that he desperately needed to go for a walk. So, we leashed the dogs and headed out, just in time to see the entire sky light up at the end of the street. Neighbors who had been watching the launch preparations on TV came pouring out of their houses into the street. It wasn’t difficult to see what was happening – the sky lit up, and then a huge fireball went soaring into the sky, bright enough to throw light on the ground even where we were standing, probably 45 miles away. The fireball stretched out and dimmed a bit, and then we could see the separation of the rocket boosters and the two flaming objects drew further and further apart. The shuttle gradually grew smaller as it headed up, and the rocket boosters that had separated dimmed and disappeared. It was an amazing sight, and it’s mind boggling that people were inside the fire ball shooting into the sky. Godspeed, Discovery.
Here’s the link for the launch blog, which has video of the launch. It’s amazing to me that they lifted off at 8:47, and by 9:00 were in orbit. We hadn’t even reached the end of the block with the dogs!
Here’s the link for the launch blog, which has video of the launch. It’s amazing to me that they lifted off at 8:47, and by 9:00 were in orbit. We hadn’t even reached the end of the block with the dogs!
Saturday, December 9, 2006
Tom's mom, Priscilla, ready for our bike ride with the ladies
We spent another night with Walmart’s hospitality, this time in Savannah, GA. The Savannah Walmart is a little more upscale than Auburn, NY, but it was, if anything, colder when we woke up in Savannah than it was when we woke up in Auburn almost two weeks earlier. The day warmed up nicely, however, and by the time we arrived at Tom’s parents in Heathrow, FL, on Tuesday, it was a sunny Florida day in the high 60’s.
Since then we’ve been chillin’ with Tom’s parents. The trip down the coast gave us some ideas on how to repack, so we’ve been moving stuff around in the truck and camper, although anyone watching us would think what we were doing was completely pointless. We’ve also had to shuffle clothes, since we packed with the idea that it would get warmer as we went down the coast, and it’s cooler here than it was in Delaware last week. We drove down I-4 through Orlando to Lakeland on Wednesday to pick up the propane fridge we purchased on eBay, and Tom is in the process of installing it in the camper. I borrowed Tom’s dad’s bike and took a great bike ride along the bike trail towards Orlando with Tom’s mom and her biker chick buddies, followed by coffee and bagels at Panera – a lesson in how one lives when not trying to squeeze exercise in between work and everything that has to get done day to day.
We had planned to go watch the space shuttle take off Thursday night since Cape Canaveral is only a little over an hour from here, but since it was scrubbed we may head out there tonight, if it looks like it’s going, although the launch probability is currently only 30% because of the cold front hanging over us – although we’re not going to complain about this “cold front,” since cold here is in the 50’s rather than the 20’s as we’ve heard it is in NY.
A quick glimpse inside my head – I just had to self edit because where I wrote “in NY” in the last sentence, I initially wrote “at home,” and our journey so far just seems like a vacation. We think what we’re doing probably won’t sink in until we leave my brother’s house in GA and head for Mexico, where we won’t have any more friends or family to visit – we’ll really be on our own!
We’re planning to leave here on Tuesday to give Tom’s parents some time to pack before they leave for a month in India on Friday, December 15. We don’t think they and their neighbors will be too upset to see the truck and camper out of their driveway, although one of the neighbors told us that she loved looking out her window and seeing the rig because it made the neighborhood less stuffy! The tentative plan is to head over to Cape Canaveral and tour the space center, then head up the FL and GA coast exploring those beaches and islands before we start heading west towards Athens, GA on Sunday or Monday.
Up to the minute news - Tom just returned from an excursion with his dad, because a man left a suicide note, stole a garbage truck, crashed the gate of their gated community, and ran the garbage truck off a dock and into a lake. Crazy people everywhere!
Following is the information which was on the Sheriff's website. If you want
to view the video click on the url at the end of this message.
On December 9, 2006, at approximately 0840 hours, the Seminole County
Sheriff's Office was contacted by the Orlando Police Department to assist
with a fleeing stolen garbage truck that was heading into the Maitland area
of Seminole County.
The incident began when the driver of the stolen garbage truck notified OPD
that he was suicidal. OPD followed the truck north on U.S. Hwy 17/92 to the
Maitland over-pass, where Seminole County Sheriffs Deputies caught sight of
him. The truck then turned west onto S.R. 436 into Altamonte Springs.
Deputies deployed stop sticks at S.R. 436 and Palm Springs Drive, deflating
the front two tires of the truck. The driver proceeded to get on Interstate
4 in Altamonte Springs. He traveled through Longwood and got off at the exit
ramp at Lake Mary Blvd. At that time, the truck had completely lost the
front two tires. Traveling on the front rims, he turned east onto Lake Mary
Blvd. He continued to travel through Lake Mary. At one point he yelled out
the window you will have to kill me.
The incident came to an end at approximately 0917 hours when the driver
drove through the Heathrow area, veered off the road and headed towards a
lake. The truck came to a stop just at the waters edge. The driver
surrendered to authorities without further incident. He was taken into
protective custody and will face criminal charges upon his release.
Sunday, December 3, 2006
Margaret & Billy outside Greyhaven Winery
We spent Saturday touring the Virginia Heartland wineries with Margaret and Billy. Different (and probably better) wines than we have in the Finger Lakes, especially the reds which on the whole are rather good. One winery, Cooper Vineyards, not only remembered us from a stop there last year, but also impressed us because they have just started to make a chocolate wine which was good enough that I had to drink it despite the threat of a migraine. I had a little bit of a headache the next day, but whether that was from chocolate wine, too much wine (you may find it hard to believe, but I’m not used to drinking wine from 11 am to 11 pm, which was what happened that day), too little sleep, or the accumulated stress of almost two weeks on the road is anybody’s guess. In any case, it didn’t prevent us from going out for a great southern breakfast with Chuck and Nancy, before we headed into Richmond for a last visit to Margaret’s, where we took about a six mile run through the downtown Richmond historic district. Richmond decorates the entire downtown with what must be hundreds of lighted deer, and the game of the season is to find Rudolph. We never did find Rudolph, but we had a great run before heading out of town.
Margaret, Tom, and Jack
Intercity camping - can't you tell I love it?
Tom and me at some winery - definitely not the first
Alex & Jack, Margaret's sons
Friday, December 1, 2006
On Friday we pulled into a campground a little north of Richmond and got a campsite right next to old friends Chuck and Nancy Bryant, who were our neighbors in both Honeoye and Canadice, but who gave up on the cold and moved south a few years ago. Chuck works at the campground, so he had us follow him to our campsite, and helped us get set up for our first real stay in our travel trailer. Despite the fact that we’re fully equipped and everything seems to work fine, we drove into Richmond for dinner at The Corner with friends Margaret Rush and Billy Heron, both also Rochester transplants.
Chuck and Nancy Bryant in front of their Ashland, VA, home away from home
Chuck and Nancy Bryant in front of their Ashland, VA, home away from home
The dogs had a rough life, visiting Uncle Don
We had a great visit with Uncle Don at his home in Middletown, DE. We hadn’t been there since shortly after he moved in almost 3 years ago, so this time we got to enjoy the completely decorated house and Uncle Don’s knowledge of the best places to eat in the area. We stayed 2 nights with Uncle Don, which gave us one whole day to stay off the road – a very good thing, as it turned out, since we got a phone call shortly after we got up Thursday morning from one of Uncle Don’s neighbors, telling us that we had a very flat tire on the trailer.
The neighbor travels all over in the country in his RV, so not only was he on the lookout for problems with our trailer, he had all the equipment needed to get the tire off and down to the local garage to have the flat repaired. We don’t think either Uncle Don or his neighbor understood why we were so gleeful about the flat – but when we considered that we could have had the flat on I-95 on the way to Uncle Don’s, a flat in the driveway on a day when we weren’t planning to go anywhere was definitely something to be celebrated.
We were also pretty happy to be sitting in DE in 70+ degree weather. We’d been a little worried about getting out of the Northeast with our 2WD truck without hitting slippery roads, but at this point we figured we’d made it.
Saying goodbye in front of Uncle Don's house
What we hadn’t counted on was the wind as a front blew in from the west. It cooled the eastern seaboard down some, not enough for ice and snow, but driving the rig in the wind over the Chesapeake and the Potomac on our way down 301 from DE to Richmond, VA, on Friday was a little nerve wracking. Tom really didn’t appreciate it when I pointed out that the railing on the Chesapeake Bay bridge didn’t look much more substantial than a 3-board fence, and while the guardrail on the Potomac bridge is a little more substantial, the bridge itself is just one lane in each direction, and every time a semi passed us going the opposite way, our truck and trailer took a pretty good hit. When we made it over, Tom thanked me for holding the Jack Russells on my lap, and I felt obligated to tell him that I did it more out of need for a security blanket than to be helpful with his driving, which was fine in any case.
We also learned on this leg of the trip that Aaron (our Honeoye mechanic) was, as always, right when he warned us that having the cargo weight in the back of the truck combined with the weight of the trailer would make our brakes lock up on wet roads. We had a bit of rain, and Tom put the brakes on before a red light with what should have been more than adequate room to stop, and, just as Aaron had warned, the brakes completely locked up and had us heading towards the back of the car in front of us. Tom again did an admirable job of steering the skidding truck onto the shoulder, and we avoided even bumping the car we were following.