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Saturday, December 23, 2017

Saving Christmas (Again)

Last year I wrote a post about how I saved Christmas when Santa's sleigh harness broke and he crashed into the ocean.  History repeats itself, at least around me, as I got another chance to save Christmas.

I've been enjoying my volunteering at the USO at the Columbia, SC airport near where our home base is.  Always something to do to help out our transiting military folks as they pass through the airport to and from assignments.  It's been really nice to see many families reunited in time for the holidays.

This USO has three wonderful full time ladies that run the place (along with about 150 volunteers), they put their heart and soul into making sure everything possible can be done to support the troops.  During the course of the year they put on special events for the military members and their families and at Christmas time they do several amazing parties and concerts for those stationed at nearby Fort Jackson.

Last night I got a chance to volunteer at a family Christmas party at the Fort with an Army brigade that had had a tough year, tragically losing several members to a training accident.  The Christmas party was a way to have the families gather and have a special fun time to put the sadness behind them.

Santa Claus was enlisted to visit the children at the party.  He arrived on a fire truck.

The kids were delighted to see him and rushed out to greet him.

Inside the building Santa sat in a chair and handed out gifts to the kids as they sat with him.

A few kids weren't quite sure what to make of this jolly, old fellow in the red suit.

Other kids thought it was a blast to meet Santa and tell him their wish list.

Two of the USO ladies even had to get their picture taken with Santa, Katie on the left and Anne Elise on the right.

Once all the children had met Santa and received their gifts, I too wanted to get my picture with Santa as he sat by himself.

Here is my picture with Santa:

Yep, that's "Santa Paul".  I never played Santa before and it was a last minute call as the original volunteer who was going to play Santa got sick and couldn't come.  So I was able to step in and "save" Christmas.

The USO ladies, Katie and Anne Elise said I did such a great job that they have plans to use me again for another occasion.  Something about being shot out of a cannon wearing a ballerina costume...

Here's to wishing you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year wherever your travels have taken you!

Image result for picture of santa kneeling at the manger

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Still Alive, Nothing New

Sometimes life is just that: life.  We're living it here at our homebase in South Carolina.  I've taken the Journey out for a good spin up and down the highway to keep the batteries charged up and everything in good running order.  It was hard to put it away, it seemed to want to keep on going.

I now have to get ready to winterize it in the next few weeks, hate to do that, it makes it seem too permanent to not be using it.  Fortunately we have plans to hit the road quite a bit next year, February to Disney World,  April/May to California to visit the grandgirls, then later summer to New Jersey to hang with the Jersey grandgirls and their new little brother, due to arrive in early January.  Yep, grandkid number nine.  Need a spreadsheet on the computer to keep track of the birthdays.   I'm sure we'll squeeze in more trips as the year progresses. 

So I'm keeping busy with my volunteer days at the local USO, lots of fun with the workers and the troops coming through.  Making the best use of my free time now that we're retired.  Plus, it keeps me out of trouble...

The back is doing very well, just being careful not to overdo bending and especially lifting.  The spine doctor told me that the disc is in bad shape, he repaired the herniation part but it could happen again and then I'd be facing rods on my back.  Don't want that so I'm being very good at following his orders. 

The poor Journey still is dirty, I may just break down and take it to a Blue Beacon truck wash and let them clean it.  I've used them in the past and they do a pretty good job, but don't do roofs.  I like to wash the Journey's roof before I do the sides, otherwise the roof dirt drains down on the sides.  But until I'm back in full washing trim, the roof will have to wait.

So that's an update.  Looking forward to Christmas and all that shopping for the grandkids.  Thank goodness for Amazon!  😉

Thanks for visiting and feel free to leave a comment.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

End Of An Era

Folks that have served in the military know that they make friends with others that have bonds that are very deep.  I have met and become friends with men and women that are more like brothers and sisters than just friends.  This past weekend, Marti and I had the privilege of attending the retirement ceremony of one of my close friends, Scott, who was retiring after thirty years of service in the U.S. Coast Guard.

He is the last of my Coastie friends that I served with to retire from the service after an amazing career.  Not only is he an amazing guy, but his career took him to many places and trouble spots all around the world.  We should be very thankful there are many men and women serving today just like him to protect and keep us safe.

One of the best things about this ceremony was it brought together several other Coast Guard Special Agent friends of mine that joined the retired ranks some years ago,  I hadn't seen some of them in years and it was great to meet and catch up.  Of course a picture was required.

There were many touching parts in the ceremony, including passing the flag, an American flag that was flown over each of Scott's duty stations where he had severed during his career.  A solemn and moving sight.

The flag was passed through nine Coast Guardsmen until it was finally handed to Scott, a real way to honor both the flag and his service.

There were many moving moments, some hard to hold back the tears.  Scott's wife spoke about the times of worry and fear she experienced as well as the good times.  Tears and laughter.

When it came time for Scott to read his final orders sending him into retirement, we all lost it.  Tears flowed through the crowd, myself included.  A lifetime of service, a way of life, is hard to handle when it comes to an end.   Thankfully it opens new doors and opportunities.

After the ceremony, there was a great celebration party that lasted well into the evening.  It was a wonderful time and I'm so happy I was able to go, even though I had back surgery two weeks ago.  I'm glad that Scott and I live pretty close together so we'll be able to visit often. 

As to my back, all is going well.  I feel better every day and in another week I'll be able to return to a more normal schedule, volunteering at the USO and even being able to cut my own grass.  You can be sure I'll be very careful not to overdo it, I don't want to go through a painful experience like I've been through ever again!  :c)

Thanks for visiting and feel free to leave a comment.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Getting My Back Back

It has been a long and very painful road, but thankfully the end is in sight.  Monday I had a long awaited operation on my back to correct the condition that had kept me down and out.  I'm home now with a six week recovery ahead to get back to full strength.  I have some serious restrictions on what I can do (not very much) and what I can't do (lots!).  But it is worth it all to be rid of the unbelievable debilitating pain I experienced.  I'm very grateful for modern medicine and an outstanding neurosurgeon that fixed me up.

So the Journey will have to wait a little bit longer to get its long overdue wash job, but when I can get to it, it'll be the best one it ever got.

Thanks to all my friends and readers for the encouraging comments and emails.  It sure helped me in a very dark time to know you were out there and concerned for me.  :c)

Friday, August 4, 2017

Slow Going On The Back

Rome wasn't built in a day.   It seems my quest to get my back...back is going to take just as long as the Rome build.

After trying to get help through the VA Hospital and not getting any satisfaction on the glacial pace that they work, I went on the outside to our family doctor.  That, at least, sped things up a little bit.

I'm now waiting for my appointment with a neurosurgeon my doctor recommended, and the earliest I could get is for September 13th.  My doctor put me on this track right away recognizing that my back issue is quite serious.  As for the VA, they wanted me to go to a pain clinic and a physical therapy route, never mentioning a neurosurgeon's review of my MRI.

The funny thing (NOT!) with the VA is the earliest appointments I could get if I took that route was for the last week in October.  That's a long time to be hurting.

So I'm taking it easy, I have some meds to help me along.  I still get around okay and am able to drive short distances and even continue to volunteer at the nearby USO a couple of hours a week to have something to look forward to and get out of the house.

It's very rewarding to help some of these young kids who have stepped up to begin their military career at basic training at the local Army base as well as a chance to exchange "War Stories" with some of the more senior military folks that stop in for a rest, a snack or two and a hot cup of coffee.  My fellow volunteers are a great bunch to work with and the three full time ladies that run this USO are nothing short of amazing, they put their heart and souls into it.

Sadly, the Journey still resides in the storage lot with the bugs and road grime from our California trip.  I'm hoping that once the old back is straightened out I can show it some love, it surly needs it!

I'd be remiss if I didn't remember that today is the birthday of the U.S. Coast Guard.  It sure provided me with a wonderful career and a "boatload"  of memories.

                                        Semper Paratus!  

 Image result for Coast Guard shield

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

A New Wrinkle

Nope, not in the Journey, or our Element tow car.  It's me.  Again.

Many years ago during my Coast Guard days, I got injured in a rescue.  To make a long story short, I got smacked across my lower back by a pipe (actually a Jack Staff for you Navy/Coast Guard folks).  It's a campfire story.  (The rescue turned out okay).

I was a little sore for a few days and the bruising soon disappeared.  Didn't think much of it after that.

A few years later during an MRI on a fraud investigation (another campfire story) it was discovered that the pipe smack had damaged a disc in my back ( L-5).  It didn't bother me but I was told it could cause problems later on in life.

Occasionally over the following years, I'd get a minor backache and treat it with some Motrin.  It worked okay for me.

Fast forward to now, now that I'm of Old Fart status, the back started acting up about three months ago.  The Motrin was working but as the days passed, it worked less and less and I'd be taking more and more.

On our California trip, the back really started to talk to me.  I didn't let it slow me down (too much) but on the trip home my back started talking to me, yelling actually.  Now I was up to 800 mg Motrin 3-4 times a day and it wasn't working.

By the time we were visiting our friends at the NWR, my back was now screaming at me.  Time to get home and to the doctor.  The pain was getting to the excruciating level and my left leg at times tingled and went numb.

I got an appointment at the Columbia VA today and after an X-ray, there shows problems with that pesky disc that got smacked all those years ago.  Thankfully I got some more powerful meds that have helped turn down the pain.  I'm going to get an MRI in the next week or so as they have an opening.  The downside is there really isn't much that can be done to fix me short of surgery.

That new wrinkle is throwing a wrench in our remaining summer plans.  I'm not complaining, just facing up to the fact that reaching the age for a Golden Age pass can come with a few unwanted side effects.  ;c)

Anyway, we had a great trip to California, the granddaughters were so much fun to be with, the many sights we saw and things we were able to do on the way out and back were worth it all.  We did 5366 miles on the trip and the Journey did us proud, we sure are pleased with how well it ran and how comfortable it was.

The downside is I couldn't wash the Journey, I had to put it in the storage lot with all those bug casualties all over the nose.  I may have to take it to a nearby truck wash when I get a chance, I like to keep it clean and shiny.  It's the least I can do in return for all the Journey's great service it's given us.

So I'll be chilling here at our SC home base for the time being.  A good place to be.  :c)

Thanks for visiting and feel free to leave a comment.  

Friday, July 7, 2017

Rolling Out In The Home Stretch

We had a good visit with our friends at Crab Orchard NWR.  Because we're on a roll towards home, we didn't tour any of the refuge.  So some of the wildlife came to our site.  In the tradition of my great wildlife photographer friends, Sherry and Nancy, I gave it my best try.

Unfortunately, my best try was somewhat lacking.  All my subjects either fled from me or gave me their best "end" view.

Finally I got close enough to one guy and he "dissed" my pathetic attempt to snap his picture.

I did get one good picture of another sight.  Thankfully this subject stayed still long enough to get a good picture.

A tribute to the many young men of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) who built many wonderful things for us to enjoy.  This is the Lodge and Restaurant where we went to have a fantastic family style dinner of fried chicken.  No pictures, unlike some people who post amazing pictures of lobster rolls, I chose to eat rather than snap a camera shutter.   :cD

This is located at the Grant City State Park.

We're overnighting at a Flying J just 280 miles from our SC home base.  As usual, with my luck, we hit a big backup several miles from our exit.

 It was really slow going, thank goodness we carry a bathroom with us in the Journey.  I swear many of the other drivers were looking longingly at us, probably regretting that last cup of coffee.  ;c)

Thanks for visiting and feel free to leave a comment.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Taking A Day Off

After a day of rain filled driving,

we made it to Crab Orchard NWR in Illinois to stay for two nights.  We have some very dear friends, Denny and Mary, that volunteer here.  We worked with them the last several winters at Strom Thurmond COE so it's nice to take time off from the road and catch up.

Yes, that is actually trees behind the Journey instead of a Walmart or Flying J store.  :c)

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Not All Who Wander Are Lost

For us it was just the opposite.  We got lost.  Really lost.  In Kansas.  Lost so bad that we were even looking for a handy tornado, just to get us out of the state. Hey, it worked for Dorothy and Toto...

It all started as a nice day of driving.  The interstate was not busy at all, probably everybody was off celebrating Independence Day.  Oh yeah, hope you had a happy Fourth.

We laughed as we passed some bikers riding down the interstate...on the shoulder.  Maybe they lost their lane?  We laughed too soon.

When we left California, we had to go over a bridge.  The bridge has a $5 per car toll.  When we drove over it, towing the Element, we got hit  a $20 toll.  Not $10, they charged us like a truck by axles.  If we had known that in advance, we'd have disconnected the car before the bridge and saved ten bucks.

With the stinging $20 toll in our minds we saw ahead that the interstate by a major city turned into a toll road.  Not gonna happen to us, we're going to take the beltway around the city and avoid paying.

Now sooner had we turned off onto the beltway we saw another sign:  Toll Ahead.  Un-uh.  Not going to happen.  We're going to turn off at the next exit and find a different way to go.

Of course, the GPS told us the next exit was 25 miles away, so we were stuck on this toll road.  After driving the whole distance to the exit, with my teeth being ground down to nubs after I realized I only had $35 cash in my wallet (debit cards are so handy) we pulled up to the toll both.

$4.75.  Wow!  We got off cheap.  Now to find our way back to the interstate.  Except the only road we were now on was going through the countryside and was going Southwest.  We needed to go East!

The road was narrow, but pretty as we drove.  And drove.  And drove.

Thankfully, there was water available so we wouldn't die of thirst if we never found our way back to the Eastbound interstate.

All the little towns we ended up transiting were empty, folks were enjoying their day.

Finally we found the interstate.  In the right direction, too.

It only took us 100 miles out of our way.  Now lets see, 100 miles, 7.5 miles to the gallon, a gallon of diesel fuel runs an average of $2.75, um I should have sucked it up and just paid the toll.

Sometimes, no matter how much I look up, I still find myself in another self induced adventure!  ;c)

Thanks for visiting and feel free to leave a comment.

Monday, July 3, 2017

No Drama Day

That's just the way we like it.  A simple (and safe) fill up at the RV pump at the Flying J we stayed at.  This Flying J had an IHOP restaurant, so we filled our personal "tanks" with a great breakfast before hitting the road.

Driving through eastern Colorado and western Kansas we didn't see those amazing views we saw the last couple of days.  Instead, we saw lots of flat land, some fallow, some with crops.

Not too exciting.  But one view got me very excited, something I don't see too often.

8.8 mpg!  That's something very rarely seen in our Journey.  Usually we see fuel figures averaging 7.2 to 7.5.  With the flat highway and no winds, we got the much higher figure.  Almost like free fuel.  No complaints, we'll take figures like that.  Sometimes you win!

About another 1200 miles to home base, we'll see what new things we see along the road.

Thanks for visiting and feel free to leave a comment.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Situational Awareness

That's what I stressed when I taught my trainees in law enforcement classes.  Always be aware of your situation, don't get tunnel vision and lose track of your surroundings.

Yet today, me, of all people did exactly that, I lost track of my situational awareness.  How did that happen?  Let me 'splain.

Western Colorado is beautiful, but not too friendly to large vehicles like trucks and our Journey, towing our Honda Element.  There are many gas stations that carry gas and diesel, which we use, but aren't laid out to allow big vehicles to fit in.

After yesterday's 415 mile trek and an overnight at a Walmart, with some generator use, the fuel gauge was under 1/4 of a tank.  Normally I fuel around half a tank so I have plenty of mileage left to search out a fuel stop. Of course, this morning all there was available in the quaint little Colorado towns were gas stations with no room for a big vehicle like ours.  We looked and looked to find an accessible station no avail.  We tried exit after exit with no success until I spotted a station across the street that I could swing into, the pumps were parallel to the road instead of the pumps facing the store.

I turned left into the station and before I could get all the way in, a man came running out and stopped me.  He said I wouldn't fit under the roof over the pumps.  He was right, the roof was only 11 feet high and the Journey stands at 12'6".  I almost installed a sunroof in the Journey because I lost situational awareness, I was looking for a place to pull in and not looking up.

Now the fun started, I was half in the station with the car sticking out in the road blocking the lane.  You can't back up a towed car so the only hope was to dodge traffic while I unhooked the car and then backed the Journey out into the road which had traffic backing up.

Fortune smiles on a fool and it sure did for me.  A police officer came along and stopped traffic while I unhooked the car which Marti pulled out of the way and then he helped me back out.  Phew!

Now that I was unhooked, I was able to drive down the street to another station that I fit under and now could maneuver without the car.  After I fueled up, Marti and I moved to a large area and hooked up the car.

Lesson learned, keep track of your situation, breathe, and remember to drive the RV in three dimensions, width, length and UP!

I did figure out a new cable to replace the one I tore yesterday.  This is the cable that attaches to the plug that would stop the car if it ever came unhooked from the Journey.

I found a cable that is used by boaters to attach to an engine kill switch in case the operator falls overboard.  The cable pulls out and stops the engine.  With a little modification, cutting off the plastic part on one end and I had a new cable.  Cheap, too.

After the fueling debacle, we had a nice drive on I-70 through the Colorado mountains, passed Vail and drove along the Colorado river.  The mountains were beautiful,

and we saw many people rafting on the river.  That looks like fun, one of these days we'll have to try that.

The highway even runs through some tunnels.  The road is well engineered.

Tonight we're blacktop boondocking at a Flying J.  You can be sure we'll top off our fuel tank here before we head out in the morning.  1500 miles to go to get back to home base in South Carolina.  And I'll keep looking UP!  :c)

Thanks for visiting and feel free to leave a comment.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Rolling East And A Change Of Plans

We pulled out of the KOA in Cedar City, Utah this morning with a different plan.  That's why we say Semper Gumby (Always Flexible).

Our daughter is working on her second Master's degree, doing it online.  However, she needs to go to Virginia (to the university she is taking the course from) for a week in person.  Because her husband often needs to travel for his job at the drop of a hat, she needs someone to be home with our grandsons.  That is something we love to do, spend time with the boys.  So we need to be back to SC by July 9.  Might take some PDD driving.

I can't complain because my back has been really bothering me.  Motrin is my friend.  It is an old injury that I was told will get worse as I get older.  That prediction is coming true, so I'll need to check in with my doctor when I get back.

With those changes, we still had a wonderful day driving through Utah on I-15 and I-70.  Lot of great scenery, just goes to show that Utah doesn't keep everything in its five National Parks.

We're stopped for the night at a Walmart in Colorado after a 415 mile drive.  Yep getting back in practice for some PDD driving.  I need to visit the hardware department, when we were pulling into a fueling station, my hitch scraped the ground.  No major damage, just the thin, coiled breakaway cable was pinched and broken in half (the cable that pulls the toad brakes on if the toad were to detach from the Journey).

I'll engineer some kind of Rube Goldberg device to take the cable's place until I can get a new one.  It's never good to have your toad pass you on the highway!  :c)

Thanks for visiting and feel free to leave a comment.