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Monday, September 28, 2015

National Public Lands Day

Every year, all around the country, parks see hundreds of volunteers turn out to do all kinds of projects to help maintain these beautiful parts of the nation for everyone to enjoy.  Here at the J. Strom Thurmond Corps Of Engineers Project, we had a great turnout of local volunteers to tackle various jobs that require lots of man (and women, boys and girls) power to complete.

Planning for this one day and getting all the necessary supplies together was a task that the COE rangers and fulltime volunteers worked on for several months.  Local businesses kicked in donations, from food items to coupons and items to be given out or raffled off.  Cabela's was especially generous, pitching in over a thousand dollars of merchandise and stacks of coupons to be distributed.

Marti and I originally were going to take a bunch of kids to stain picnic tables.  There are hundreds of them around the parks and time and weather takes a toll on them.  Staining them with a preservative stain prolongs their useful life.

Unfortunately for us, there were several days of heavy rain preceding the event, so the tables couldn't be stained.  Guess what Marti and I will be doing a lot of this winter (hopefully with the help of some other fulltime volunteers)?

That didn't keep us from being busy.  We became "Gofers" and took care of all kinds of little tasks to keep things moving along.

One major project was the assembling of bluebird and duck houses.

Guided by a few fulltime volunteers, adults and kids pitched in to screw the houses together.

Of course, right in the middle of the birdhouse project, the screws ran out!  Mighty Gofers to the rescue, we drove to a hardware store, purchased a hundred more screws and got the project moving on.  The results were fantastic, the birdhouses will be hung up over the winter awaiting their new tenants in the spring.

During the day, trails were cleaned up and marked, beaches had trash removed, new life jacket loaner stations were constructed.  Trees and brush were pruned and cut back as well as barbeque grills sanded and repainted.  The amount of work put in by the local volunteers was amazing!

Of course, what would all the work be without a good lunch?   Marti and I did our Gofer job and cooked up several pans of baked beans and chili.

While we were cooking the beans, other fulltime volunteers were cooking up bunches of hotdogs for the hungry workers.

After lunch and before all the local volunteers departed, a raffle was held.  There were all kinds of prizes awarded, from small Tervis drinking cups, to camp chairs to even a camping tent donated by Cabela's. 

Everyone went away a winner.  They were given a T-shirt, a coupon for a free day at any federal park, a bag of water safety goodies and the knowledge that they helped make the parks a little bit better for every one to enjoy.  The rangers and the fulltime volunteers guided the day to a successful conclusion and we're already talking about what we can do next year to make National Public Lands Day even better.   :c)

Thanks for visiting and feel free to leave a comment.

Monday, September 21, 2015

"Home" Again

We left New Jersey and granddaughters Anabelle and Lizzie behind as we hit the road for our 785 mile trip to our winter "home":  J Strom Thurmond Corps of Engineers Project in Clarks Hill, South Carolina.

I didn't leave behind our motorcycle, though.  Many wonderful country roads exist all around Thurmond Lake, and I often thought what a great place it would be to ride a motorcycle.  Now that thought will become reality.  Don't worry, I'll be very careful, with all the bright yellow safety gear I ride in, I look like a giant Minion.

I rented a U-Haul trailer to carry the motorcycle and pulled it behind the Journey.  Marti followed, driving our car.

I missed having her by my side in the Journey, but at least she didn't have to hear that annoying alarm whistle caused by the defective wiring harness in the dashboard.  I found that if I kept listening to some Carpenter's CDs loud enough, Karen's voice pretty much drowned the noise out.  Now if I can just get her songs out of my head when I try to sleep at night...   ;c)

We did the drive in an unusually leisurely pace for us, taking all of three days.  We overnighted in two Flying Js, one in PA and one in NC.  Good thing we stopped early in PA the first day, all the RV slots had been taken up by bobtail trucks (tractor trailers without their trailer attached).

Fortunately, we found a spot along the edge of the parking lot.
On the third day, we arrived and settled in to our spot at the COE's Volunteer Village.  We'll be here for an open ended time over the winter months doing all kinds of volunteer work, which we enjoy.
As an added bonus, we're just a little over an hour away from our two grandsons, Andrew and Owen.  We're looking forward to seeing them, it's been a while.  Fulltime RV life is good.   :c)
Thanks for visiting and feel free to leave a comment.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Making Good Use Of Unexpected Downtime

We allowed ourselves one day to pack everything up to get ready to hit the road and a couple of hours to replace the defective wiring harness in the Journey's dashboard.  We loaded the motorcycle in a U-Haul trailer last night, and plan on Marti following me in the Element for this one trip down to South Carolina from NJ.

I opened the parts package and found instead of a one piece harness the same as the original (like a string of Christmas lights), there were 8 jumper wires, with three of them having a diode on them.  Uh oh, which goes where?   I called the Freightliner support line and talked with a tech rep.  Bottom line, I was sent the wrong wires.  At this point, I'm going to wait until my November service appointment at Freightliner of Gaffney, SC and have them do it.  So much for a DIY fix.  Another trip with the radio turned up loud to drown out the alarm.   :c(

So as not to waste the new found time, I'm putting up some pictures of our Norwegian Cruise.  We made three stops after leaving New York City, Port Canaveral, FL, Stirrup Cay (their private island) and Nassau, Bahamas.

Our ship, the Norwegian Gem.

Leaving New York Harbor, a nice view of a favorite lady.
My dad found the food much to his liking, especially the ice cream.  It brought the kid out in him.
 At our stop in Port Canaveral, FL, we took an airboat ride excursion on the St. Johns River.  It was very interesting.

There is a lot of controversy about the noise of airboats, but we got to go places that were absolutely unreachable by any other means.  One place was a Cypress forest.  The boat operator shut down the engine and spent quite a few minutes talking about how the trees live.

Unfortunately, a heavy rain and lightning storm cut our ride short.  I was glad we returned to the dock, safe from lightning strikes, but pretty wet.   It didn't stop the fun, though because a lady from an animal rescue facility brought some animals that were rescued from careless owners and gave an interesting talk about them.

My dad even made friends with one of them.  Thankfully, he decided not to bring it home...

Back at sea, we next landed at Stirrup Cay, where NCL has a private island.  Because of the shallow water, we had to tender to shore from the anchored Gem.

After several hours of soaking in the wonderfully warm water, sunning and of course eating, we returned to the ship early.  Then we were in for a surprise, where we had a front row seat.

A passenger on the ship fell critically ill and had to airlifted to a hospital.  A Coast Guard Jay Hawk (sister craft to the Army's Black Hawk) flew out the one hundred miles from CG Air Station Miami to pick up the passenger and take them to a hospital.  It brought back a lot of memories for me having done quite a few of these rescues during my career.  My dad, Marti and her sister Gail were thrilled to see the action.  I was happy to see the Coast Guard is still in good hands without me.  :c)
Next stop was Nassau, Bahamas.  We pulled in to a pier right across from Mick Jagger's house.  Seems lots of stars own homes there, Michael Jordan, Oprah, Nickolas Cage, Chuck Norris, just to name a few.
We watched a variety of ships and boats sail past us into the harbor.
We took a glass bottomed tour boat out to one of the protected reefs to view the underwater sights.

There were six cruise ships in port that day.  I guess there were a few bucks thrown into the Bahamian economy.
That evening, we pulled out of the harbor to head home, passing a picturesque light house at the harbor entrance.
Two days sailing and we arrived back in New York, coming in just at sunrise.  The sun's rays reflected off the skyscraper's windows making the city look magical.  A moment we'll not soon forget.

We had a great time together, my dad said he enjoyed this cruise much better than his last one in 1944 across the Pacific on a transport full of soldiers.  Go figure.   ;c)
This is the third cruise Marti and I have taken this year, the first on Disney, the second on Royal Caribbean and now Norwegian (NCL).  NCL was good, but they were lacking in good food and good service in the dining rooms.  NCL touts "Free Style" cruising where you can eat at any restaurant at any time.  Since all the servers and stateroom attendants are paid by a $13.50 per passenger per day charge, they have no motivation to provide good service.  The other cruise lines have structured meals and you get the same servers at each meal.  Even thought those servers also are paid by a daily charge, they are motivated to get to know you and go out of their way to please you.  At the end of the cruise, you can give them a cash tip if you so desire and we did, they really earned it.
We were disappointed in the quality of the evening entertainment.  It was a bit on the cheesy side and one comedy show, called "family friendly", we walked out on, it was way too course for our tastes.
Would we do another cruise on NCL?  Probably not.  We are going on another cruise the end of January 2016 (just Marti and I) with Disney.  A bit more expensive, but you get top shelf of everything with them.  We're looking forward to it.  Seems to be a pattern here...   ;c)
Thanks for visiting and feel free to leave a comment.

Monday, September 14, 2015

We Survived Our Cruise

After seven wonderful days at sea on our cruise, we returned to our starting point in New York City, sailing up the harbor just as the sun was coming up over Manhattan.  The city looked positively magical as the rays lit up the glass panes in the skyscrapers, a sight we'll not soon forget, sort of a fitting end to our travels.

Now I have to wade through several hundred pictures to find the best ones to put in the blog.  With the departure for our workamping tour with the Army COE in South Carolina looming on Wednesday, I'll be a bit tied up with last minute details before we roll out, so I'll try to squeeze in a few minutes to get them in the blog pipeline. 

We have some observations on what we liked and didn't like about Norwegian Cruise Line to share, too.  After three cruises this year (!), first on Disney, then Royal Caribbean, and now Norwegian, we have some experience to draw conclusions on. 

So stay tuned!


Friday, September 4, 2015

Underway Again

On a cruise ship, not the Journey.   We head out Sat, 5 Sept for another cruise, this time with cruise newbies SIL Gail and my Dad.

Providing we survive and don't find ourselves stranded on a desert island, we'll return to NYC Sat, 12 Sept. 

Our first cruise was on Disney Cruise Lines, our second, Royal Caribbean, this trip is on Norwegian Cruise Lines.  We'll have a pretty good idea how the cruise lines compare after this.

Sails away!   :c)