Data Diet

I love my mobile lifestyle.  To be honest, the lifestyle can be quite addictive. What started off as we’ll do this for a year or two until we find that special place to settle down has turned into four years and soon approaching year five of full-time RV living.  Egads, where does the time go?Desert Wildflowers

My one big dislike, a bone of contention, to this RV lifestyle centers around the internet.  The internet?  However, did we manage to survive before this remarkable invention?  I still remember a time when the TV flipper was the youngest kid in the family.  The invention of a TV remote control was a life changer for my little sister.

butterflyBack to the internet … when we first hit the road in the RV full-time, we started off with a Verizon mobile WiFi hotspot / jetpack with 5 GB of data that worked fine for a few months.

However like any RV newbie, we were so busy running around exploring those first few months that we didn’t spend much time on the internet. But once reality set in, we needed to get back to business which meant back to needing steady and strong internet connection.

Thus, we signed up for 30 GB of data, first through a Verizon reseller, and then later directly with Verizon.  All was fine until about a year ago.  We never stream. We don’t watch videos.  I don’t use the GPS on my iPhone and yet we seem to gobble up data twice as fast as we did previously.

egret

Data usuage? Gag!

We’ve run in to other location independent folks who seem to be experiencing similar data problems.  Some have switched providers or changed their plans.  I still haven’t desert poppiesfigured out why the increase in usage since we haven’t changed our habits.  If anything, we spend less time on the internet.  It’s been extremely frustrating.  I’m not sure what the fix might be, but in the meantime, I’ll need to curtail my internet fun leaving the gigs for our internet biz.

So yes my dear friends, I’m on a data diet and it does not make me a happy camper 😭

Our two months in Texas really spoiled us.  The RV park offered strong free WiFi right at our campsite. And boy oh boy, did we take full advantage of endless internet.  The you tube videos were rolling regularly … the educational kind, not the funny cat trick kind ……. well ….. maybe the cute puppy dog kind, but mostly educational.

So much fun!  But now that I’m back to using our jetpack with limited data (sigh, sad face, tear), I’ll need to plan visits to the library or coffee shop more strategically, which is just not as enjoyable as sitting at home with feet propped in my jammies and socializing with all my blogging pals.wildflowers

Oh well.  Such is the life of a full-time RV’er.  Life could be a whole heck of a lot worse. Seriously! Check out these photos of the amazing desert wildflowers.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen the Phoenix valley covered in so many beautiful wildflowers.  It’s crazy pretty around here lately.butterfly

I’ve tried to get out with the camera to capture her beauty, but between RV repairs, health matters, visiting with our children and navigating data issues since our return to Phoenix, Arizona, it has been a bit of a challenge.

But where there’s a will, there’s a way, and with the valley heat soaring those flowers won’t be sticking around too much longer.  Thus, over the next couple of weeks this gal will be hitting the trails with the camera at every opportunity.  Stay tuned!wildflowers

Superstition Wilderness Trails West: Hikes, Horse Rides, and History
Hiking Arizona’s Superstition and Mazatzal Country: A Guide to the Areas’ Greatest Hikes (Regional Hiking Series)

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Embracing Photography Failure

When I started this blog five years ago, I was sharing photographs that were shot with a $79 Kodak digital point and shoot camera.  I didn’t know anything about photo editing or even that the photographs needed to be edited.  What came out of the camera got shared on the blog … as is.great blue heron

Like any newbie blogger, I was excited to get that first follow, that first like, and of course, that first comment.  As the months passed, I eagerly continued writing posts filled with photographs.  The comments and followers increased and I developed friendships, friendships that continue to this day.

sandOne day, I received a message.  An email message from a fellow blogger?  Oh, how exciting, I thought!

That excitement was short-lived as I read … “If you’re going to post pictures on your blog, the least you could do is a little photo editing.  There’s no excuse for sharing a photograph with a crooked horizon especially since there’s free editing software like Picasa that’ll fix it in a second. 

Oh and quit posting the photos so little.  If you’re going to share photos, then share photos so we can see them.  Don’t expect readers to click to enlarge because they won’t.  Nobody has time for that.  Aside from the poor pictures, nice blog“.

whooping cranesAll righty then …. I was heartbroken, mortified, and embarrassed.  How is it I was capable of building award-winning custom homes from conception to completion, and yet I knew nothing about photo editing?

Quite frankly, my computer/technology skills were basic at best, which drove my business accountant crazy 🤓

Old school film seemed simple;  snap a bunch of pictures until the roll of film was full then take it to the drugstore to get it developed. Botta bing, botta boom!

poor photograph

FAIL – nice color, relatively sharp, but I didn’t keep panning and thus cut off his head

That message gnawed at me.  Editing?  Hmm!  Google and I became well acquainted.  Picasa was downloaded.  I started following blogs that focused on photography, along with all the RVing blogs I already followed.  As our RV travels increased, so did the photo taking AND sharing.  A slow and steady photographic evolution morphed.

Great Blue Heron

Better – Great Blue Heron     ISO 100     F4     1/800       56.9mm  (35mm equivalent 312mm)

I’ve been humbled by many of your complimentary comments lately about my photography.  Through A LOT of trial and error, I do feel it has improved as have my editing skills, but the compliments and questions still surprise me.  I consider myself a novice, a beginner, a work in progress when it comes to photography.

With that said, I thought I’d share a little behind the scenes, or shall I say, behind the lens with you all, and show you a few of my photo fails and successes…. a post about what works for me, using simple and inexpensive camera gear.

ducks in-flight

Camera set on ‘shutter priority’.  ISO 200  F4.5   1/1600   54.5mm (35mm equivalent= 305mm)

I’m still a comedy of errors behind the lens, and fully embrace my tried and true method of ‘point and pray’ style of photography.  So this isn’t a detailed ‘how to’ post.  And if you consider yourself an accomplished photographer, I always welcome critique cormorantand recommendations.  I’m actually grateful for that critical email message …. well, maybe 😉

I’ve gone through the camera envy stage, and still do.  When I see amazing images on a blog post, I’ll ask the blogger about their camera gear thinking if I use what they’re using my photographs will improve.  Or maybe if I spend more money on camera gear, I’ll capture better images.   We all know this isn’t necessarily true!  We’ve all seen stunning photographs taken with an iPhone and some very poor photos taken with a DSLR.

Therefore, camera choice is personal, and the best camera to have, is the camera that you carry?Pelican

So what camera(s) do I carry?  I predominantly use what’s referred to as a “Bridge” camera.  A bridge camera is more than a Point and Shoot, but not quite a DSLR.  Thus, a bridge between the two.   There’s no lens changing with a bridge camera but there are a lot of customizing options.  I have a whole page dedicated to cameras if you’d like more detailed information.  I realize, whatever camera I use, it’s important to learn how to operate the equipment and know its capabilities and limitations.

shore birds

FAIL – I set camera on ‘program’ mode. Totally wrong setting for moving subject.   ISO 400      F4.0
shutter  1/100   causing a blurry mess         55.7mm (35mm equivalent 310mm)     No cropping

shore birds

Moderate FAIL – ISO 400   F4.0    shutter 1/250    still too slow for moving subject    30.1mm (35mm = 167mm)shore birds different day   ISO 100   F4.5     shutter 1/1000      70.5mm (35mm equivalent 392mm)        No cropping

The built-in zoom on my Panasonic is marketed as a 25-600mm lens which allows me to shoot a wide-angle landscape image one minute and then zoom in on wildlife within roseateseconds.  I love this flexibility, but it does have its drawbacks.  The quality of the photograph will never be on par with a DSLR and the crop factor is limiting.  It’s all about resolution, pixels, and sensor size.

I’ve used this camera for three years and have learned its strengths AND its weaknesses and I know when I zoom in to that 600mm capability, I will lose image quality.  I also know its aperture sweet spot is F4.0 and it’s best not to take the ISO over 400.  There are also times it has trouble focusing,

heron

FAIL – even though the heron is in the center of the photo and  camera was set to a ‘center’ focal point,  camera had trouble focusing on the heron with all the vegetation  😒  It’s the camera, not me!  Panny and I have been at odds lately!    ISO 100    F2.8 (even at F4.0 camera had difficulty focusing)     1/800      107.8mm (592mm)

egret

ISO 100    F5.0    1/1600       108mm (600mm)    Fail on placement of Watermark. Not thrilled with composition!

How close am I to the birds and what lens am I using?  Hmm!  I have no clue on actual distance but I can share lens distance.   Since I’m using a bridge camera, there’s no specific lens to talk about, but I can share an equivalence to a DSLR.  If you note the info on each photo, I’ve shared the mm number.  Since I have a cropped sensor camera, the number in parentheses is the equivalent if using a full frame camera.  If you don’t understand sensor size or why my camera or an iPhone will never capture the image quality of a DSLR, here’s an enlightening article that might clarify.

bird photography

How do I capture birds in motion?  For a Point and Shoot, I set the camera to the “sports” setting.  My little Sony P&S doesn’t offer a sport setting but it does have a “pet” setting that does ok. Then set the camera on “burst” mode.  Multiple shots taken spoonbillat one time is key, but note, point and shoot cameras can be slow to process multiple shots and take a few seconds to recover and be ready to snap again.  I’ll admit, I rarely use the Sony P&S for birds. Too challenging.

For my bridge camera, I prefer to set the camera on “shutter priority”.  I’ve tried using the “sports” setting and “aperture priority”, but wasn’t pleased with the results.  Every camera and user is different.  Because I’ve photographed so many birds with my Panasonic, I have a pretty good handle on how fast my shutter needs to be for specific birds.   For example; cranes and herons in-flight, the shutter can be as low as 1/800 but for ducks, I need at least 1/1600.  And I always have the camera set on “burst” mode, taking at least three shots at a time.whooping crane

Yes, I do delete a lot of photographs, and I’m ok with that.  I also set the camera on continuous focus (AFC) and switch back and forth between a center focus point versus multiple focus points.

cormorant

Cormorant  –  ISO 200    F4     1/800     46.5mm  (35 equivalent 290mm)

If my subject is holding still or I’m shooting landscapes, I’ll alternate between the IA (intelligent auto) and P (program) settings.  I do acknowledge that the camera can often times be smarter than me.  Thus, I never feel badly using the camera in full auto mode.Killdeer

Whenever I’m photographing wildlife, I take a ton of photographs.  Remember, digital photography is free. So why not shoot away!  It’s not uncommon for me to shoot 300 plus photographs in a day, and if the birding is really good, I might shoot as many as 1,000.  Out of those images, I expect to like maybe 25.  By the way, I only shoot that volume of photographs when it comes to wildlife.

sunrise

Camera set on Auto – unprocessed, right out of the camera.  I still can’t hold my camera straight!

sunrise

exact same photo, but OVER processed for fun!

Photo processing – This past January, I finally graduated in the editing department.  I jumped from Picasa to Photoshop Lightroom.  I know some folks think processing/editing is somehow trickery, but processing is necessary for optimal imagery.

It’s no different from film.  The roll of film was processed and pictures were developed from the negatives.  You wouldn’t walk around sharing the negatives.  It’s the same with Lightroom or any other photo editing program.

Some folks like to over process a photograph for dramatic effect.  Most of the time, I try to keep the colors in my photos to as close to what I see, to reality.  However, even Ansel Adams played around with developing/processing.  It’s just another way to let the creative juices flow.

sunrise

image right out of camera – no processing.  I finally activated the “grid lines” on my camera to assist me in achieving a straight horizon.  You’d think by now, I could hold my camera level 😒

bird in-flight

Same image processed; a little cropping & color adjusting. Is the horizon now slanting the other way? Geez!

Lately, I’ve been shooting more purposely.  You know, thinking about composition, accessing settings, and striving for a compelling image.  All I can say to that is the delete black bellied whistling ducksbutton is working in overdrive and the fails far outweigh the wins more than ever before.  Ah, but isn’t that part of the fun and challenge of photography?  Hmm, maybe I’ll return to that ‘point and pray’ method  😄

But the big question is always, “Are we having fun yet?” You bet I am, and my recommendation is whatever camera you’re using, whether you process or not, keep posting.  Don’t let  anyone derail your creativity.

Cheers to sharing pictures – the good, the bad, and all the in-betweens!great blue herons

Tony Northrup’s DSLR Book: How to Create Stunning Digital Photography

Panasonic LUMIX DMC-FZ300K 12.1 Megapixel, 1/2.3-inch Sensor, 4K Video, Splash & Dustproof Body, Leica DC Lens 24X F2.8 Zoom (Black)

It was a good year!

It’s that time of year again. The old calendar is in the trash and the new one is hanging on the wall.  I’m not sure why putting up that new calendar made me smile.  2016 cardinalwas actually a pretty good year for me and I was in no hurry to bring on any change.

But as I gaze at the semi-glossy calendar sporting a beautiful landscape photo, I note the lack of scribble on any of the dated boxes …. a clean slate.  Oh, the possibilities!

You know that feeling you get after cleaning out a closet?  (Well at least the feeling I get) Not only do I feel a sense of accomplishment, there’s a feeling of being refreshed, out with the old, in with the new.  It’s a positive feeling that brings a smile to my face.  I kind of got that same feeling when I threw out the old calendar and replaced it with a new one.

The dawning of a new day, a new year

The dawning of a new day, a new year!

Al and I have just recently started talking about our travel plans for 2017.  I know, kind of late for us considering the new year is upon us already.  Quite frankly, I’m still relishing in the memories from some of last years excursions.

Today I’m sitting in Rockport, Texas, back in the very same spot I was in a year ago. As I type, I’ll occasionally gaze out an RV window admiring the unique and resilient oak trees.  I contemplate the twists and turns of the tree trunks while listening to the pleasant chirping of cardinals.fog

Last years travel plans started out relatively organized and well laid out, but as the year unfolded,  we encountered unexpected twists and turns.  And just like I may not understand why those mighty oak trees grow in a hither and yon manor, I don’t fully comprehend how our well organized travel plans went astray in a similar hither and yon way.

"The Big Oak Tree" said to be over 1,000 years old.

“The Big Oak Tree” said to be over 1,000 years old.

In the end, it doesn’t really matter because the year turned out to be one heck of a fun ride.  Sure, there were a few negatives thrown in here and there, but that’s life, isn’t it!

A few memorable experiences of 2016 ….. After our regular January stint of birding along the Texas Gulf Coast, we returned to Phoenix, Arizona for a little desert dwelling and hanging with the kids. In April we moved on down to Yuma, Arizona for a short stay to tend to some business which included having the RV and truck washed and hand waxed all for $150.  In Phoenix, we paid $400 for the same type of work.  That was a memorable price difference, wouldn’t you agree?  I foresee regular visits to Yuma in our future 😉

Then it was time for a day trip across the border to Los Algodones, Mexico for dental work.  I was a little apprehensive about this at first, and reached out to a few of my full-time RVing friends for recommendations.  In the end, I had two crowns and a filling done for a total cost of $750 and thus far no complaints.  Normally, I wouldn’t include dental work as a highlight or memorable event, but eating without discomfort allowed me to enjoy our travels the rest of the year that much more.  Plus, it was a new and interesting experience that was all positive.Bryce Canyon

Also in April, I had my mind blown away by some of the most perplexing and boggling scenery in southern Utah.  I’ve always loved visiting Utah, but the fascinating hoodoos that make up Bryce Canyon National Park had eluded me until that day.  Trust me when I say, pictures do not do the park justice.  It’s one of those places you really do need to see in person. Bryce Canyon National Park was definitely a highlight of my year and goes toward the top of the list.

Then there was our two month work camping gig in Idaho.  I had a great time, Al not so much.  I found myself doing things I never thought I could.  I spent my time working in the RV Park restaurant and office.  I waitressed, I cooked, and I checked campers in and sometimes I was the only one available to do all three.  Oh yeah, I was hopping and as much as I impressed myself with my abilities, I was glad the job was temporary.  You know Lilacswhat, that was the best thing about it – the job was temporary and I wasn’t in charge.

After running my own business for years, it was wonderful for me to say, “Let me get the owner. I just work here”.

Overall, it was an enlightening experience on many levels.  Would I work camp again?  I’m not sure.  It boils down to risk/reward and every scenario is different.  If I had permanently injured myself on the commercial grill, which was hubby’s constant concern, it sure wouldn’t have been worth it.  While building picnic tables, Al ended up tweaking an old back injury, which took a while to realign and hampered his fun most of the summer.  Risk vs. reward, definitely something to consider when contemplating work camping.

After years of dreaming, I finally made it to the Grand Tetons … not once, but twice.  The first time was in early June and the second time was mid July.Grand Teton

I loved all the spring blooms in early June.  Grand Teton National Park did not disappoint and remains a place I hope to revisit time and again.

At the end of July, we returned to our former home town of Pueblo West, Colorado.  I like to return once a year to hug my stuff in storage.  I’m just not at a point where I’m ready to let go of everything and give up the storage units (yes, plural 🤔).  I retrieved some stuff and left other stuff behind.  As I looked into the storage units, my thoughts were mixed.  Some things I’m glad I’ve kept and others make me wonder whatever was I thinking.  We really do need to think about consolidating and purging.  But not today!  I know it’s only stuff, but I like my stuff and I like embracing it once a year.  Hug, hug, kiss, kiss moving on ….

We had the opportunity to see Al’s sister’s new condo in the Denver area.  In the spring of ’16 she moved from northern Illinois to Denver, Colorado and hasn’t looked back.  She’s loving every minute of her new home state.  It was also very convenient for us to spend the night with her so Al could drop me off at the airport for my early morning flight from Denver to Chicago.

While camped at Lake Pueblo State Park, the A/C needed some maintenance.

While camped at Lake Pueblo State Park, the A/C needed some maintenance. That’s why Al’s on the roof.   My photo is not crooked, the lay of the land was.  It was a sloping site but offered delightful views.

During our stay in Denver, the RV was comfortably parked at the Lake Pueblo State Park, a two hour drive south of Denver.

DadMy visit with my 89 year old dad was very special as I escorted him to his grandson’s  wedding (my nephew).  Dad beamed as he watched the first of five grandchildren get married.  The wedding was beautiful and the day was absolutely perfect.

Initially, I wasn’t exactly excited about returning to Illinois, but little did I realize, I was in for a special treat ……

I flew back to Chicago on a Wednesday.  The Monday before, I received an interesting email.  Turns out my bestfriend from junior high and high school was trying to track me down.  We’d lost touch twenty-eight years ago and after several failed attempts she finally succeeded in finding my correct address.  Talk about timing.  That Thursday we enjoyed a four hour lunch filled with non stop talking. After all, we had a lot of catching up to do.  How fun was that!  Now we stay in touch via Facebook.

The day dad and I did a little yard work together was laughable.  It was literally a frick and frack moment.  Words like hootchie and jigma jig were used in regards to starting the lawn mowers. At 89 Dad’s brain is as sharp as a tack but he occasionally has trouble finding the right words and as far as I’m concerned, you can call it a primer, a gas thingy, or a jigma jig … I didn’t care.  I just wanted to get the things started.Lawn mowind

And once we had both the rider and push mowers started, the necessary sign language used to communicate with one another over the loud engine noise was incomprehensible to each other.  I guess I don’t need to tell you which one of us used the pusher 😎  Yep, a lot of laughing took place that day and the yard work eventually got done.  Without a doubt, it was a wonderful and memorable trip.

Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National MonumentBut I encountered the highlight of my year in mid August near Santa Fe, New Mexico.  I’m convinced travel is all about timing.  Ever read someone’s blog post where they gush about a place and then when you visit you just don’t get it?  Sure, it might be a nice place, but not over the top ‘oh my gosh gotta visit’ worthy.  I firmly believe it’s all about what’s going on in one’s personal life that makes a place resonate with ones soul.

Another year, another time and Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument may not have touched me in the same way it did.  Guess it was just what I needed at the time.  As much as I was enjoying the summer, it was filled with many stressful moments.  Unexpected twists and turns can be a ton of fun, but they can also be a trigger for stress.

I really should have my arms out stretched as I sing "Let it Go". Yes, I was having an "Elsa" moment! (Disney animated movie, 'Frozen')

I really should have my arms out stretched as I sing “Let it Go”. Yes, I was having an “Elsa” moment! (reference=Disney animated movie, ‘Frozen’)

So you could say, by this point in our travels, I needed to recharge.  Santa Fe and Kasha-Katuwe were my salvation, just what the doctor ordered, and remains my all time favorite moment of the year.  I’m sure it was all about the timing for me.

How about politics?  Although I wasn’t exactly stressed by the political climate, the commercials and news stories became an irritating annoyance.  But it did make for one heck of an entertaining and memorable year in America!Route 66

Although the rest of 2016 brought about some fun adventures worth writing about, I’ll leave those tales for another post.

In the meantime, keep in mind, life may take a bunch of unexpected twists and turns and we may not always understand why, but remember, we are a resilient thriving bunch just like those mighty oak trees.

Light at the end of the tunnel

A light at the end of the tunnel 🙂

I send you warm wishes for a wonderful New Year.  Let’s start filling in our calendars with intriguing travel adventures … cheers!

1,000 Places to See Before You Die: Revised Second Edition

Computer Woes!

Change is an interesting subject.  Most times I embrace change whole heartedly.   That shouldn’t be a surprise considering a mobile lifestyle is all about change.  But then there are times or situations that I resist change as much as possible.

Sunset over Lake Pleasant

Sunset over Lake Pleasant

I was resisting the thought of getting a new computer and learning Windows 10.  Just thinking about it had me walking, rather running, in another direction.  The mere thought of dealing with technology change almost had me breaking out in hives.  If there was a word depicting the opposite of Geek, that would describe me to a tee.  I am definitely not a techie.  With that said, the past month I chose to play ostrich and avoid the subject by leaving the computer off.  I must admit, the break from the internet allowed me to complete a bunch of projects around the RV as well as get in a fair amount of hiking.

flowers and beeI knew months ago my laptop was slowly doing a death dance, but I loved the old gal.  She and I got along famously for years and I wasn’t interested in changing things up.  She loyally cared for my thousands of digital photos, put out hundreds of blog posts, and supported all my documents.

Her keys were worn to the point that half the letters were no longer legible making it impossible for Al to use my laptop (he’s never managed to memorize the keyboard and still pecks away at the keys 😆 ).  She sported a huge crack along one side that seemed to be growing and her screen was no longer firmly attached, but we were a comfortable fit.

Day in and day out, she’d sit on my lap providing endless hours of entertainment. Perhaps too many hours.ButterflyI had no intention of replacing her.  Quite frankly, I didn’t want a new computer, but after months of babying her and refreshing her to factory status, she just wasn’t up to the task at hand.  She was tired and wearing out, and when I could no longer upload my wildflowersphotos, I had to embrace the thought that change was necessary.  Plus, I was missing you guys!

I shopped, then shopped some more. I’m usually a very decisive shopper, but not this time.  Google became my best friend enlightening me on the differences between Intel’s i3, i5, and i7 processors.  A Mac was out of the question.  First, it wasn’t within my budget, and second I felt that would be too much of a change.  Although last year’s change from an Android to an iPhone was ezzie peezie and I love my iPhone 5, I just wasn’t going to go from a PC to a Mac at this point and time.

Cowboy mounted shooting

navigating obstacles can be fun!

It’s been a week and my new HP Pavilion laptop and I are getting along swell.  Windows 10 wasn’t the navigation nightmare I thought it might be.  Yes, it’s different, and yes, the first few days I was Googling “how to” a lot, but I haven’t broken out in sweats or hives due to the change.  I’ve even been having fun setting the new computer up.

We’re still closely monitoring our data usage considering we almost maxed out our 30 gigs last month and I was hardly on the internet.  Apparently, Al’s computer and my old computer had programs running in the background that were gobbling up data.  Thus, my internet presence was throttled severely.  I’m hoping to be back blogging soon and am starting to catch up on all your latest posts.  I’m still a little slow with the new gal, but the more time we spend together, the more familiar we’ll get and I’ll soon be sharing plenty of photos of the desert blooming.  You’ve been warned!

sunset over Lake Pleasant, Peoria AZ

sunset over Lake Pleasant, Peoria AZ

For those of you curious, this is the laptop I ended up getting….
HP Pavilion 15t 15.6-Inch Touchscreen Laptop (6th Gen Intel Core i5-6200u Processor, 8GB DDR3L RAM, 1TB HDD, Windows 10), Natural Silver

Plan A, B, or C?

Moving!  Does anyone look forward to this arduous task?  Some people seem to move often while others have only moved once or twice in their entire life.  My dad has lived in the same house over fifty years while hubby and I, however, have moved  a  dozen times.  I’m not talking about moving around in our RV.  I’m talking move about moving from house to house with a boat load of stuff.   Some of our moves were within the same community while others were cross-country.  Some moves presented challenges while others went smoothly, but all were exhausting.

Our daughter, Ashton, was three-years old when we moved from Chicago, Illinois to Las Vegas, Nevada.  She may not remember that move, but I remember it as though it were yesterday.  Al and I loaded up our rear wheel drive, full-size van, pulling a small U-Haul trailer and with two little kids and a dog, we crossed the Colorado Rockies in January.  A moving company transported the majority of our household belongings while we transported personal items.

Traveling Interstate 70, 2 hours west of Denver, Colorado, in July

Traveling Interstate 70, two hours west of Denver, Colorado, in July

The 1,800 mile move took us three days and did not pass without incident…. ah, but that’s another tale for another time.  For today, I wish to focus on Ashton’s journey.  It was during this drive west that Colorado made an indelible impression upon this three-year old little girl, as it did on the rest of us as well.  After exiting the famous Eisenhower Tunnel located about an hours drive west of Denver along Interstate 70, we were all greeted with the most breathtaking sight.  Laid before us were rugged mountain peaks in all directions, blanketed in a thick layer of the brightest and whitest snow we had ever seen.

ColoradoI remember pulling over at the Dillon Lake scenic overlook.  While I walked the dog, Al watched our 3 year old daughter and 5 year old son run around throwing the white fluffy snow.  The lack of moisture in the snow made it impossible to compact into a snowball.  The children giggled in delight with their failed attempt at throwing snowballs at one another.

It was weeks later, long after we had settled into our new world in Las Vegas, that my little curly-headed blonde announced, “When I big girl, I move to mountains.  I like mountains”.  Well this adorable three-year old only had to wait a mere four years.  At the ripe old age of  seven, we moved from Las Vegas, Nevada, to Colorado Springs, Colorado, making her dream come true.

Denver 002There would be two more local moves in her future before it was time to head off to college.  Then those college years brought about several more moves for Ashton, but most of her belongings at that time would fit stuffed into a vehicle or two.

Last summer was one of her most enlightening moves.  For over two years, Ashton had endured a horrible work commute.  She was living in Westminster (north of Denver) with a girlfriend from college while working in the Denver Tech Center (south of Denver).  Her commute to work one way was anywhere from 35 minutes to 2 hours based on traffic and weather, but the apartment and roommate scenario were perfect thus making the commute tolerable, at least for the time being.

However, with another impending winter approaching along with those dreadful snow storm commutes, she finally decided to move closer to work last September (2014).  The majority of the furnishings in the 2 bedroom apartment belonged to Ashton and she was relying on Al and me to help her move.  This is when I stepped in and showed daughter how a young, single gal can move easily without the help of family or friends.  With her checkbook handy and pointing finger ready, she directed Two Men & a Truck to move her from point A to point B.  Within hours she was easily moved and comfortably situated in her new home in Centennial, Colorado.  Her self-reliant confidence grew by leaps and bounds that day.

Interstate 40 heading west toward Flagstaff, Arizona

So here we were a year later.   Ashton found herself moving a thousand miles away; a move that’s a little more challenging to navigate than a local move.  Al and I were in town to provide moral support and advice.  This time I didn’t even help her box things up.  She had a handle on the whole process.  And as much as she knew this move was good for her, it was emotional.  She was leaving her beloved Colorado behind and moving to a city she’s never been particularly fond of.

Moving day was on a Monday.  Al and I picked up Ashton at her place and drove her to the U-Haul facility where she picked up a 17 foot truck.  The U-Haul was no sooner backed into her driveway (with a little help from dad), when the two guys she hired to load the truck called wondering if they could swing by sooner.  YES!  A little over an hour later with the loaded U-Haul truck, Ashton headed back over to the U-Haul store.  I followed driving her car while Al followed in our F-250.

At the U-Haul store, they hooked up the flatbed trailer.  Ashton nervously drove her car onto the trailer and the guys secured the vehicle.  With that task complete and with Al’s assistance, she clenched the steering wheel of the truck tightly and navigated out of the tight parking lot.  This was her first time pulling a trailer.  We rendezvoused at the Cabela’s on Denver’s south side in preparation for the long drive to Phoenix.

Getting ready to caravan from Denver to Phoenix

Getting ready to caravan from Denver to Phoenix

It was 2:00 in the afternoon and we were way ahead of schedule.  It was time for me to implement Plan B.  You see, I took it upon myself to be in charge of the navigations and picking out our gas stops and overnight stops along the journey.  I had a slew of notes written with lots of built-in flexibility…. I had backups to the backups, not knowing how the trip would go.

move We lucked out with mild traffic on Interstate 25 from Denver through Colorado Springs.  By 6:00 p.m. we were parked in the Wal-Mart parking lot in the town of Trinidad, located just 12 miles north of the New Mexico/Colorado border.  Whew!  It had been a long day, but a productive one.

I kept all of us well fed and hydrated throughout the journey

I kept all of us well fed and hydrated throughout the journey

Day 2 had us skirting through Albuquerque.  Since I was really concerned we might run into a lot of traffic through Albuquerque, considering it was the Tuesday before the big balloon fiesta weekend, I drove the U-Haul through this stretch with Al and the 5th wheel following close behind.  Fortunately again, we lucked out with light traffic and once we were west of Albuquerque on Interstate 40, Ashton and I switched drivers.  It was at this point and time, I briefed Al and Ashton on our intended overnight stop that involved a little scenic drive in the process.

driving through New Mexico

driving through New Mexico

Ashton and I are in the U-Haul truck while Al follows in the F-250 and 5th wheel

Ashton and I are in the U-Haul truck while Al follows in the F-250 and 5th wheel

Painted Desert

Painted Desert

I was happy my little plan was not met with resistance.  We were traveling via my Plan A all along, but shhhh don’t tell them that 😉  Not long after crossing the New Mexico/Arizona border, we took the exit for the Petrified Forest National Park.  As many times as Al and I have traveled this stretch of Interstate 40 in northeast Arizona, we had never stopped at this National Park.  Hmm, I’m not sure why!

Painted Desert

Painted Desert

First we took in the unique sight of the Painted Desert.  From there we continued south traveling the 28 mile scenic drive with the occasional stop at an overlook here and there.  Remember, we started our day early in Colorado and it was now late afternoon.  We had already spent all day driving and were all getting rather tired.  Thus, Ashton and Al were putting the kibosh on my photo-op stops 😦

driving through the Petrified Forest

driving through the Petrified Forest

Petrified wood - This National Park is known for its fossils. 225 million years ago, this area was a forest. The downed trees have since turned to stone.

Petrified wood – This National Park is known for its fossils. Once upon a time, 225 million years ago, this area was a forest. The downed trees have since turned to stone.

After a fair amount of oohing and ahhing, we kept our wheels rolling (come on guys, just one more stop – NO) until we arrived at the Crystal Forest Gift Shop Campground.  Thank you to fellow blogger, LuAnn, for the heads up on this free campground.

Crystal Forest Gift Shop Campground just outside the south entrance to the Petrified Forest NP

Crystal Forest Gift Shop Campground just outside the south entrance to the Petrified Forest NP

We settled into two sites next to each other and opened a bottle of bubbly while I made dinner.  We had made it to Arizona!  While we enjoyed dinner, we watched a beautiful sunset. This turned out to be the perfect stop for the night.  It was quiet, dark, and we all slept soundly.

We made it to Arizona!

We made it to Arizona!

Ashton decides to enjoy her bubbly by sitting in comfort.

Ashton decides to enjoy her bubbly by sitting in comfort.

Perfect place to spend the night.

Perfect place to spend the night.

By noon the following day, the RV was all set up at the RV Park in Phoenix.  After enjoying another homemade meal, we were on our way to our son’s home with the U-Haul.  Our son and a friend unloaded the U-Haul and that evening, Ashton slept in her own bed in her new home.

As far as moves go, this one could NOT have gone any better.  Moving karma was with us the entire journey.  We ate well (thanks to my planning and preparation), we slept great, traffic was light, the weather was perfect, and we even managed to enjoy a few laughs along the way.  Ashton did an amazing job driving the truck and trailer and by the time she was met with Phoenix traffic, she was navigating like a pro and already talking about a future cross-country move.  Slow it down honey, slow it down LOL.

Petrified wood up close.

Petrified wood up close.

In the end, it was wise to have a plan A, B, and C, but I was thrilled to be able to carry out my Plan A all along.  The move was tiring but fun!  And by the way, I look forward to returning to the Petrified Forest National Park, but after Al and I enjoy some much needed down time.

 

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Mommy does a happy dance!

It was the middle of September when we arrived back at the Cherry Creek State Park located near Denver, Colorado. We had an enjoyable and enlightening seven week sojourn that took us to the Midwest and back (I put a map of the trip at the end of this post). Family visits and exploring new territory made for a memorable trip.

Cherry Creek State Park

“Is that you, Ms. Ingrid”, the deer asked quizzically?

As pleasurable as the trip was, it was nice to be back in familiar territory and enjoying regular visits with our daughter again.  I was also relishing the full hook-ups.  After seven weeks of partial to no hook-ups, it was nice to be back in luxury.  Let the cleaning commence!

Colorado State Parks

We enjoyed a wonderful campsite at Cherry Creek SP and loved the neighbors

After getting caught up with chores, we found time to visit with old friends and connect with new.  Fellow blogger Larry, his wife, and sister-in-law were passing through the Denver area on their way back home in Tennessee. Larry and I have followed each other’s blogs for a while now. Thus, when the opportunity to meet up presented itself, we jumped at it.

Bloggers

Blogger luncheon – from left to right; Al, me, Pat, Bev, and Larry

Since we were camped at opposite ends of the Denver Metro area (well over an hour apart), we rendezvoused at the C.B. Potts Brewery in Highlands Ranch where the conversation AND laughs (and maybe even some Beer) flowed freely for nearly four hours.  Obviously, we all had a great time and now with both of us bloggers slowing down the travels, it’s time to get back in the kitchen.  Larry is always cooking up something yummy over at Big Dude’s Eclectic Ramblings and I can always use a little inspiration.

Daughter and I go for a hike in the Colorado Rockies

Daughter and I go for a hike in the Colorado Rockies

Ok, now for the BIG news…..  Before we left Denver around the end of July, our daughter, Ashton, had been talking about needing a change.  When she visited a close college girlfriend last spring in Texas, she started thinking about moving to San Antonio or Austin, Texas.  The thought came somewhat of a surprise to hubby and me considering she’s our little mountain goat who has always sworn she would never leave Colorado, but seems she may have inherited that gypsy gene after all.

Could this gal ever leave Colorado?

Could this gal ever leave Colorado?

So, there I was in northern Illinois visiting with my dad when the phone call from Ashton came in.  Hmm, it was an actual phone call versus a text message, which of course sent me into mommy worry mode immediately.  I hurriedly answered the phone, “Is everything okay?”  Ashton responded in an upbeat tone, “Yep, sure is.  I’ve decided to move to Phoenix, Arizona”.  SAY WHAT!

Ashton having a reflective moment at St. Mary's Glacier, Idaho Springs, Colorado

Ashton having a reflective moment at St. Mary’s Glacier, Idaho Springs, Colorado

In order to understand my utter shock you have to understand, during every visit to Phoenix that daughter made, she repeatedly announced, “I could never live here”.  To some St. Mary's Glacierdegree, she didn’t even like visiting, but considering her brother lived in Phoenix and we (her parents) spend a great deal of our winter in the area, she would visit to be with family, but always reluctantly.

I won’t bore you with all the ensuing calls, text messages, and emails that followed after her initial heart stopping announcement, but I would like to preface, not once did our daughter EVER ask us for our help or assistance regarding the move.  However, that didn’t stop hubby and I from going into parent mode and canceling our Upper Michigan Peninsula leg of our trip and returning to Denver a few weeks earlier than originally planned.

One of just many advantages to RV travel is the ease of changing plans.  A few clicks of the mouse here and a little research there and ta-dah ….. we’re onto Plan B which in this case included exploring South Dakota and eastern Nebraska on our return to Denver.  And if you all remember, Plan B turned out great!

Mommy does a happy dance!

Mommy does a happy dance!

Quite frankly, I was so excited for Ashton to embark on this new journey that I couldn’t wait to be a part of it.  I had recommended this move to her for the past couple of years and each time I even mumbled the thought, I was met with a rude dismissal.

Perhaps, she just needed a little time to mull the idea over.  Regardless, I’m one happy mom having both my children in the same city.  This year will have our family of four spending Thanksgiving and Christmas together for the first time in five years.

I’m still dancing, can you tell?  …..  Next up, the big move.

On our last day in Denver, we witness the eclipse

On our last night in Denver, we witnessed the eclipse

Eclipse

St. Mary's Glacier

Ashton and me – St. Mary’s Glacier, Idaho Springs, Colorado

Viair 00088 88P Portable Air Compressor
The Berenstain Bears’ Moving Day

Our Boomerang Trip – Badlands

South Dakota, BadlandsFrom Mitchell, South Dakota, we continued our westerly trek.  I couldn’t wait to get to Badlands National Park.

South Dakota’s Badlands holds a special place in my heart.  I was a mere 14 years old the first time this gal from Illinois laid eyes on this incredible land.

It was the first family excursion in my dad’s new pride and joy; a brand new motorhome.

South Dakota Badlands

Badlands, South Dakota

That was an exciting adventure for our family of five, because this was a trip that didn’t entail fishing in Wisconsin, my dad’s favorite pastime.  Family vacations ALWAYS centered around camping near fishing action.  No fishing involved during this trip!South Dakota, Badlands

My brother was eighteen at the time and getting ready to head off to college.  Dad put him in charge of navigating, which was a much better choice than my mother, who could get turned around in the blink of an eye; directionally challenged one might say.  While the guys were up front driving and navigating my little sister, mom, and myself sat at the dinette table taking in the sights out of the motorhome’s big windows.Badlands, South Dakota

The barren, rugged land made mom quite uncomfortable. While the rest of us were oohing and aahing, she sat in silence.  You see, mom and dad grew up in Germany, even my brother was born in Germany and this kind of vast desolation doesn’t exist in her homeland.  This was like nothing she’d ever seen before and it made her feel uneasy.

South Dakota, BadlandsWe stopped at various pull-outs and scenic overlooks before it was time to decide where to camp for the night.  Dad was definitely feeling adventurous during this trip and decided to take the twelve mile rutted and rough gravel-dirt road to the primitive campground.  It wasn’t a campground, but merely a designated parcel of land allowing overnight camping.   I don’t even remember there being a pit toilet, just raw open land.  Ah yes, this is what us RVer’s now refer to as boondocking.South Dakota, Badlandsprairie dogsThis was definitely not mom’s idea of a relaxing vacation and I remember her freaking out as my brother and I took off exploring.

I wanted to see buffalo and maybe even a rattlesnake.  I saw neither during that trip but wasn’t disappointed because the adorable Prairie Dogs captivated my attention.South Dakota

So here I am, umpteen years later and oohing and aahing every bit as much, if not more, as I did years ago.  I really wanted to camp at that same primitive campground from the family trip, but with temperatures in the 90 degree plus range, we opted to stay at the Cedar Pass Campground with electric hook-up so we could run our air-conditioning during the heat of the day. camping in Badlands

Cedar Pass

Loved my view! Cedar Pass Campground – Badlands National Park

However, a trip to the primitive Sage Creek Campground was in order.  I had to refresh my memory.  Unlike my last visit, this time I saw plenty of buffalo aka bison.

camping in the Badlands

We pass herds of bison on the way to the Sage Creek Campground

We turned off the main paved road onto a well maintained gravel road.  The road was in much better condition than all those years ago.  We continued the twelve miles down the road passing herds of buffalo in the distance.  The sky was hazy with smoke drifting down from the Pacific Northwest wildfires.South Dakota Badlands

Not only was the road very well maintained, the campground turned out to be a little more developed than all those years ago.  There were picnic tables and pit toilets…. no water.  The campground is used predominantly by tents, but is also accessible to RV’s.

camping in the Badlands

Sage Creek Campground, Badlands National Park

Bison routinely meander through this campground causing a need to watch where you step…. fresh Bison droppings wouldn’t be fun to step in.

Buffalo in the Badlands

The cars give perspective showing how large Bison are.

I assure you, on our next visit to the Badlands National Park we WILL definitely be Badlands National Park, South Dakotastaying at this campground.  I’ll admit though, I did have an uneasy moment with one Buffalo.

I was sitting in the truck taking his photograph when he started to approach me; heading straight toward me and the driver’s side door.   As his pace quickened in my direction, I dropped my camera and put the truck in drive, not waiting around to see what his intentions, if any, were.  Perhaps we made eye contact a little longer than he liked or perhaps he just wanted me to scratch behind his ears horns.  Didn’t matter, I was outta there!

Bison have been known to attack, so ample distance, a wide berth, and good judgment should always be heeded.

Badlands National Park

Check out the wounds on this guy!

After my fun moment of reminiscing and communing with buffalo, we continued on the scenic drive to the town of Wall, located near the Badlands National Park western entrance.  This is definitely a tourist attraction complete with plenty of souvenir and T-shirt shops.

Wall Drug, South Dakota

Wall Drug, South Dakota

Wall Drug is the focus of this tourist draw and although Al and I usually shy away from such venues, we found ourselves entertained.  The story of the Hustead family is one of tenacity and the pioneer spirit.  You can read their fascinating story here.  We were also surprised to find a place where you can still get a cup of coffee for 5¢.  Granted, we’re not talking designer coffee (aka Starbucks), but for a nickel it was a tasty cup of Joe.

Wall Drug

The corridors at Wall Drug were filled with old photos and newspaper clippings. History buff hubby loved it and even non history buff me, found it enlightening and interesting.

Three T-shirts later (yeah, I have a thing for T-shirts), we headed back to camp.  I spent the next couple of days close to camp observing natures beauty.

Badlands South Dakota

Beauty near and far!

Upon first glance, the buttes, spires, and pinnacles of this steeply eroded land may look desolate.  But if one looks closely, diverse and beautiful signs of life can be discovered.Badlands

There’s an abundance of rich and varied vegetation, including one of the largest mixed-grass prairies in the country.

Badlands National Park

 

 

And then there’s the bountiful wildlife.  A watchful eye and a silent slow pace will reward onlookers.

This land of extremes, evokes a sense of mystery.  While living in my RV surrounded by the Badlands, I immersed myself in this surreal landscape.

South Dakota, Badlands

I share the amazing scenery with my friend perched on the picnic table.

Badlands National Park

these little blue birds offered a sharp contrast to all the unique colors seen in the Badlands

South Dakota, Badlands

Mountain Sheep abound in this harsh environment

Badlands National ParkThe weather can be extreme but when approached with a preparedness, the Badlands can offer an endless supply of pleasure and fascination.Badlands National Park

Due to the smoke-filled, hazy skies and extreme heat during our visit, our explorations at Badlands National Park may have been minimal, but the visit was equally as memorable and special as my childhood experience.Badlands National Park

I’m so glad we changed up the trip and added this stop to the itinerary.  I know….. I’ll be back! (she said in a heavy Austrian accent)Badlands National Park

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Our Boomerang Trip – Part I

I can’t believe it’s September already.  It seems like just yesterday when I was in the planning stages for our Midwestern excursion.  And here we are, it’s the middle of September and I’m back in Colorado where we started six weeks ago.  It was pretty much an out and back trip….  Kind of like mimicking a boomerang one might say.

Let’s do a quick recap of the first part of our trip…..  We pulled out of Cherry Creek State Park (Denver) at the end of July and after a quick overnight in a Cabela’s parking lot in Omaha, Nebraska, (forgot to add this stop on the above map – oops) we arrived at Starved Rock State Park.  We took in a couple of days exploring this interesting Illinois State Park before driving up to the Paul Wolff Endangered CranesCampground.  I loved the location of this county park.  It was an easy 20 minute drive to my dad’s place which allowed us to visit with him often, and if we had wanted to take the train into Chicago, the train station was only 5 minutes away.

From our Elgin location, we moved over to Rockton, Illinois, where we stayed at Al’s sister’s place for a wonderful ten-day visit.  After Rockton, our next destination was Baraboo, Wisconsin.  I was thrilled with the hiking at Devil’s Lake State Park, but the highlight of this stop was my visit to the International Crane Foundation.

Green Bay PackersAfter communing with cranes it was time to commune with friends in Marshfield, Wisconsin, where I was challenged to wear a Packers Jersey.

After my momentary lapse, we moved over to Algoma, Wisconsin, along the shores of Lake Michigan.  This is where I discovered Door County and its magnetic personality.  Quite frankly, I fell in love with the area and could’ve stayed a month.  I can imagine the fall colors around here to be stunning and worth sticking around for.

Algoma, WI

Camped in Algoma, WI. The marina on one side and Lake Michigan on the other. Loved camping on this peninsula with water on 3 sides. Sunrise Cove Marina and Campground was basically a gravel lot with electric hook-up and thus merely ok, but the location was great; waterfront & walking distance to town.

As much as we considered hanging around Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula for a little leaf peeping, we decided to turn the RV around and head back west to assist our daughter with a project.

Foggy morning

Early morning fog as we drive through Wisconsin

So with Plan B in mind…. It was time to say good-bye to the Midwest and mosey in a westerly direction.  The morning of August 27th started off foggy as we began our journey west.  We put in an eight-hour travel day (360 miles – 574 km) that first day, crossing the entire state of Wisconsin and part of Minnesota.

Wisconsin

We enjoyed driving some back country roads but sure hoped this bridge was high enough. No height was specified and an RV crew cut was NOT part of our plans. Fortunately, we did see a tall truck pass under first.

We stopped frequently and even enjoyed a road side picnic near Necedah, Wisconsin.Ship Rock Wisconsin

By dinner time that first day, we checked into a campsite at Myre-Big Island State Park, near Albert Lea, Minnesota.  This is a heavily wooded state park and even though they market the White Fox Campground loop as the prairie loop, it is in no way situated in a prairie.

Albert Lea Minnesota

Myre-Big Island State Park. We’re camped in site 55 White Fox CG loop.

Albert Lea Lake

After an eight-hour day in the truck, it felt good to stretch the legs and check out the trails

Albert Lea Lake

Albert Lea Lake – it was disappointing that there were no trails with access to the water’s edge.

We originally intended to relax and spend two nights at this state park, but it was raining when we set up.  It continued to rain all night and was expected to not let up for another day.  So we hit the road early the next morning, wearing rain gear as we broke camp, and drove through the rest of Minnesota in a consistent and steady stream of rain.Minnesota

A few miles into South Dakota, the rain stopped.  We encountered sunny skies with a hint of haze caused by the wildfires in the Pacific Northwest.  Just in time for a late lunch, we set up camp in the Cabela’s parking lot in Mitchell, South Dakota.

Cabela's

We’re parked in the distance at the Cabela’s in Mitchell, South Dakota

Cabela’s had a HUGE area for RV’s.  The semi-trucks seemed to be parked off in another lot and there was even a separate area for equestrians complete with horse corrals.  This turned out to be a great place to overnight, complete with pond.

Cabela's

The smoke from the wildfires gave the sky an interesting hue at sunrise.

Cabela's

Although overnighting at a Cabela’s is free – we always manage to find something to buy.

Next stop; South Dakota’s Badlands and Black HillsBadlands
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Let’s get social

After enjoying regular luncheons with my dad, it was time to give him a break and find someone else to chat with over lunch.  It didn’t take long before fellow blogger, Ilex of Midwestern Plants, and I were setting up a time and place to meet.  Ilex is anything but shy, but does shy away from posting her photo on the blog.

friends

Ilex and me

So once a time and place were arranged, she graciously sent me a photo of herself letting me know I wasn’t meeting some crazed old guy.  Let’s face it, one crazed old guy in my life is plenty …. hehe!

After a mere three-hours (trust me, we could have talked longer), Ilex and I  parted ways determining it would be a blast to camp together some day.

The next day, I met an old friend for lunch.   St. Charles, Illinois, seemed to be a nice half point for us to meet.  Brenda and I originally met at a postnatal exercise class 28 years ago.

friends

Brenda and me

Shortly after Brenda’s son and my son started kindergarten, Al and I (and our kids) left Illinois and moved west. Somehow Brenda managed to kept track of all my changing addresses.  Over the years, I always looked forward to receiving her Christmas cards with the latest family photo.

We hadn’t seen each other in over twenty-some years and it was wonderful reconnecting and filling each other in on our lives and that of our children.

St. Charles, Illinois, is a quaint little town that sits along the Fox River.  It’s located about 40 miles (64km) west of Chicago.  I noticed the town is cutely decorated with foxes throughout.

Fox River

St. Charles, Illinois, sits along the Fox River

Brenda was running late for our luncheon, which didn’t present a problem for me or my camera.  I wandered around the town a little and slipped into the Hotel Baker, a historic landmark.  After all, I’m always on a quest for blog material.  And with my dear readers in mind, I proceeded to roam around the hotel snapping photos ….. that is until the manager interrupted me.Jenny McCarthy wedding venue

I had just completed taking some photos of this stunning event room when the manager approached me with a quizzical eye and stern comment, “Can I help you?”  Being quick on my feet I responded with, “Why yes.  I’m looking for a wedding venue for my son”.  He didn’t seem to buy it and informed me that I’d need to set up an appointment with the gal at the front desk.  His body language indicated where the exit was.  Now I know how Julia Roberts felt in Pretty Woman.

historic landmark

me in the lobby of the Hotel Baker – just trying to blend in!

A little factoid I did not know until I started putting this post together:  Turns out Jenny McCarthy and Donnie Wahlberg chose this historic hotel to celebrate their wedding weekend with family and friends.  I’m sure we all care and wish them the best 😉 but that might explain the managers concern; perhaps I looked more paparazzi than Julia Roberts hooker.  Reality; more like an RV traveler in a non-RV world.

St. Charles, Illinois

elevator doors at the Hotel Baker

Although the hotel is rather small, some of the historic details were quite interesting and beautiful.  I can see that the Hotel Baker makes for a lovely wedding venue.wedding venues in Illinois

Thanks Ilex and Brenda for your company and taking the time to share lunch with me.  Next up, we move to Al’s sister’s place and ever closer to the Illinois – Wisconsin border.St. Charles, Illinois
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Losses are never easy

cactus flowerWell folks, I had a post all written and ready to go out today sharing the continuation of our travels through Colorado, but I’ve decided to hold that one off for a few days. Today I want to share the joy of forging friendships through the blogosphere.

Over the past three years, I’ve had the honor of developing some wonderful friends through the blogging world.  Some of these friendships have developed into more than internet based relationships, which has been an unexpected pleasure beyond my wildest dreams.  Coffee dates, hiking meet ups, and brew pub get togethers with fellow bloggers have turned into true and hopefully long-lasting relationships.  Due to geography, most blog followers will remain as internet friends, or ‘cyber friends’, and that’s ok too as I treasure those friendships as well.

One blogger I was looking forward to running into one day was Wayne from the Blog Turn when the road does.

DragonflyHe and his wife, Rhonda, went full-time in the RV shortly before Al and I did, and we’ve been following each others blogs ever since.

Our comments flowed freely back and forth along with emails.  Sometimes our emails were lengthy, especially when it came to subjects like best route to take or truck engine issues.  Other times, the emails were short and humorous. Our last communications centered around food and the healing effects of proper nutrition.

Wayne was struggling with a terminal illness and was willing to think outside the box.  Wayne was the impetus for me starting a second blog, a blog centered around healthy eating. He wanted me to share some recipes and ideas with his wife, and thus Dally in the Galley was launched.

The way in which our conversations flowed, one would think we had actually met face to face.  Unfortunately, I won’t have that privilege as Wayne recently lost his battle with Pulmonary Fibrosis.  I still can’t believe how quickly the illness progressed.  Even after a dear friend shared the tale of the loss of her brother due to the same illness, somehow I hoped Wayne’s story would end differently.

squirrelAnd although we never actually met, I still viewed Wayne as a friend…. albeit a cyber friend and the loss saddens me greatly.

The day before his passing, Al and I were hiking near the town of Frisco, Colorado.  The elevation was well over 9,000 feet.  As we climbed in altitude taking in deep breaths, my thoughts wandered and I said to Al, “I hope Wayne is ok”.  While I filled my lungs with air my eyes welled with tears.  I was overcome with a flood of emotions.  I felt a sense of unease, great sadness, and concern for Wayne.

On the other hand, I was thankful the thin air had little impact on Al and me and our ability to hike and breath.  Any huffing and puffing Al and I did was no different from what we experienced in Arizona at a much lower elevation.  I counted my blessings and was grateful for each contraction and expansion of my lungs.  Breathing was something I didn’t take for granted that day.  Thoughts of Wayne were ever-present.

loss of a friendI watched my mother struggle to breathe while loosing her battle to COPD and I knew Wayne too was struggling for each breath.

I was saddened beyond words when a fellow blogger, another cyber friend, sent me a message letting me know Wayne had passed.

I extend my thoughts and prayers to Rhonda and the rest of the family for their loss.  May they find comfort and peace knowing Wayne was well liked by many; those he met in person and those he met online.  We all viewed him as a friend ….. a great loss to the blogging community.

Rest in peace my friend…. my cyber friend….. you will be missed !!!loss of a friend