Europe · Life in General · UK and Ireland

Hallelujah! A Musical Christmas Card

A couple of weeks ago, I listened and watched the entire oratorio of Handel’s “Messiah” presented at the Washington Cathedral in Washington, D.C. It had been quite a while since I had heard the lesser-known pieces. If you don’t think you’ve ever heard of the “Messiah”, you have probably heard of one of the songs in it: the “Hallelujah Chorus”. The music took me back to Messiahs of other years.

During the middle of my time in high school, my father became the pastor of a small rural Lutheran church in northwestern Ohio. There, we lived at least ten miles from a town of any size. In the fall of my senior year and the fall following my graduation, he and I joined 150 other singers of the regionally famous Mennonite Choral Society in Berne, Indiana for practices and a performance of the Messiah just before Christmas. I don’t know how he found out about it or even if any auditions were required. I enjoyed singing some pieces from the Messiah at my previous high school the year before, so that could have been the catalyst. He had a beautiful tenor voice, and I sang soprano.

Once every week night, he and I headed out on dark and sometimes snowy or icy farm roads over the state line to Indiana to attend practices fifteen miles away. He was a taciturn man unless there were subjects to discuss that he was passionate about, so I don’t remember our conversations on the road – or even if there were any. I just remember the pride that I, and I’m sure he, felt about being part of such a wonderful performance. Knowing my dad, he probably was very happy that I did it with him.

The choir had performed the Messiah every year since 1893. Soloists were flown in from Chicago, which was Very Big Stuff to a small-town Ohio girl like me. A grand, beautiful pipe organ and small orchestra accompanied us.

The Messiah takes words from the Bible and tells the story of the nativity and its prophecy, as well as the crucifixion of Christ and victory over death. Even if you do not believe, the music itself is dramatic, heart-stopping, and absolutely beautiful. Both the oratorio and another piece, “Water Music Suite 1”, put Handel firmly in the list of my favorite composers. George Frederic Handel was originally German but he adopted London as his home. At age 56 he composed and had the very first Messiah performance not in London but in Dublin, Ireland on April 13, 1742. Not Christmas time? No, it was originally written as an Easter Oratorio.

How the Messiah came into being at all is an interesting story. The words had been compiled and edited by a man named Charles Jennens, who gave it to his friend Handel to put into music. The well-known story is that Handel completed it in 24 days without eating or sleeping much. After the composition of the Messiah, Handel was going through a difficult time. Overworked and laden with debt, he accepted an invitation from Lord Devonshire for a ten-month stay in Dublin. He brought with him the musical score he had worked on while living in London, and the rest is history.

While we were in Dublin this summer, I looked for signs that Handel was here, and I found them. Dubliners are still proud to have hosted the first performance, all these hundreds of years later.

Before it could ever happen, Handel needed an organ to work the oratorio through, and it is reputed that St. Michan’s Church of Dublin graciously let him use theirs. The church has a long and storied history, which you can Google if you’d like. St. Michan’s is now a bustling restaurant and bar called “The Church”, and we had dinner there in what was formerly the balcony. The keyboard to the organ sits in the little alcove below the pipes. In converting to a restaurant, renovations were thoughtfully and respectfully made to keep some of the original architecture and furnishings in place.

It was interesting to think what the former parishioners would have thought about food and alcohol being served in their church!

It is still the same organ Handel played. The restaurant would like to renovate the organ. If you have $100,000 to spare, you can help them out!

The inaugural Messiah was played at the then-new Musick Hall on Fishamble Street. The original entryway is all that remains; behind it is an apartment complex.

I also found a plaque nearby that commemorates the occasion.

A open-air Messiah is performed near these gates in the Temple Bar area every year on April 13. This past year it was presented by Our Lady’s Choral Society and the Dublin Handelian Orchestra. The streets are packed and people sing along with the music.

I came full circle with Handel when we later visited London and Westminster Abbey. He is buried there, and a life-size sculpture on the wall near his grave is a memorial to him.

A fitting tribute, indeed, to a great man.

There have been other Messiahs over the years since the two years in Berne, Indiana. A few years ago, I sang with the church choir that I was a member of for its Christmas Eve service. My oldest sang the soprano solos, and the torch was passed. Over the years, my voice dropped from soprano to alto, and now a frog has moved into my throat, so I no longer sing publicly. But no performance has ever been the same to me as those in the Mennonite Church long ago.

I looked up the choir on YouTube, and found a recording of the Hallelujah Chorus from the 2015 performance. It was years after mine, but all was exactly as I remembered. I have placed a link here for your enjoyment.

Here’s an interesting piece of trivia: why does the audience stand up when the Hallelujah chorus starts? The very first audience in the recital hall on Fishamble Street did not. Almost a year later, the Messiah performed in London, and King George II was in attendance. He stood up when the Hallelujah chorus began. It is believed that he was so moved that he stood to show his reverence. Although maybe he was just stretching his legs, who knows? Because the king stood, the audience had to stand too, and audiences have done that ever since.

It’s time for me to have some eggnog, a Christmas cookie, and another listen to the Hallelujah chorus. Merry Christmas! Happy Holidays! See you again in 2023.

Next time – a return to the RV’ing life in New Mexico

Life in General · USTravel

And…We’re Off Again

Our previous post, from Western Colorado, actually happened two months ago. What have we been doing since then? Getting ready for our 3 month trip to Europe!

Anyone who knows me well will not be surprised to hear of our plans. Thinking about it and saving for it kept me going through the last decade of work before retirement. In its original conception, the trip was going to be 9 months, plus Hawaii tacked on at the beginning. Why spend a lot of money flying back and forth over the ocean for a few weeks when you can see more in one trip for several months?

Then, grandchildren started arriving. COVID happened, and the purchase of our truck and 5th wheel. We had our trip to Hawaii earlier this year, so now it’s time for the other part of the plan. The trip duration has been reduced to only three months, but three months is still a blessing, and I’m glad we can go.

I started planning for the trip last fall. And then stopped for awhile. COVID variants arrived, waned, came back around again. Ukraine was invaded by Russia. Optimistically, I reserved AirBnbs and purchased plane tickets. Cal was worried about Covid resurgence. And it is resurging again. We have been vaccinated and boosted twice, and have our masks, but who knows? Neither of us could have foreseen the airport debacle that is going on right now in Europe and here in the States. But all plans are made, and we will hope for the best.

What about our truck and 5er? Our RV is going into storage on an air base. What could be more secure than that? We have a nephew in Albuquerque who is graciously letting us keep the truck in his driveway. I suspect he will be enjoying a few drives in it. When we return to the United States, we will be back to our RV’ing life the same as before.

Meanwhile, besides trip preparation, our time in Denver has been filled with the mundane stuff of everyday life. We have been happily enjoying the company of our grandchildren – and their mothers, of course!

Two days after we arrived, we had a late May snowstorm.

A bewildered buck

One place I enjoyed returning to this summer was Denver City Park. There were a couple of walks with friends. I wish I could have joined them more often. This is the kind of weather I prefer!

This year, for the first time, I had opportunity to be in the park twice in the evening for concerts by the Mile High Freedom Band:

In Ferril Lake, the fountain changes colors, and swan boats paddle around it.

As we rose north from Arizona and Utah so did the gas prices, and they peaked during our stay in Denver. We limited excursions to those around town. We were curious about a couple of brown signs we’ve seen on streets we travel often, so we followed those signs. The first was 8 miles out from our summer spot at Cherry Creek State Park to Aurora Reservoir. Despite the cool and overcast weather, people were out fishing and SUP’ing.

We discovered a great trail through the rolling prairie around the lake, and some blooms that looked a little like thistles.

Another brown sign we see on our way to City Park in Denver is for Four Mile Park. I was hoping for a hiking/biking trail until I did some research on it: it is a historical park.


Four Mile Historical Park is four miles from the heart of downtown Denver and was a last stop on the Cherokee Trail in the pioneer days. This house is the oldest house in Denver. A cabin was built to supply travelers, and then it became an inn and stage coach stop. Women slept in the parlor and the men upstairs, and the upstairs loft was also used for dances. It finally became a gentleman’s farm for a Denver lawyer and his family, and grew to 600 acres. Now there are only twelve acres and it is in the city with apartment buildings all around the outside.

Tim, the assistant site manager, walked us through the house. We could see its transformation over the years. The first room is the old cabin, then there is a walk through the parlor, and finally into the very genteel turn-of-the century home.

The interesting thing is that the dining room and kitchen are in the basement. It’s cool down there, perfect for hot days when the wood burning stove is always lit. The stove also warms the space in winter.

Outside, there are both replica and and original buildings, barns with animals, and a boardwalk for children to sweep when they are visiting.

One thing I like about Denver is that, even when just going about running errands, I can look up and see the mountains when driving westward.

Of course, the best thing of all is the time spent with our grandchildren. Merely gazing at that perfection of a truck is happiness in spades for our grandson.

As with our trip to Hawaii, I don’t know how often I will be blogging while in Europe. We do have some places that we will be settling in for over a week, so maybe I’ll be catching up then.

Do you follow Facebook? If so, Twosna Travels is there, and a search on the name will find me. I may be more likely to post random photos there.

First stop – Belfast, Ireland. Until then: goodbye, slán, tschüss, arrivederci, antio sas!

Life in General

Mom B

Luella‘s high school graduation picture

I met her when I was 20, the year before I married her son, Cal. I was in the Army and on my way to Germany from Ft. Hood, Texas. Marriage wasn’t yet in our plans, but it was time to meet the family in Cloquet, Minnesota. She was still married to my boyfriend’s father, and our visit necessitated a large family gathering to the home. This included aunts and uncles and some cousins, the siblings and a couple of nieces, and friends from high school that she managed to find. She loved a family gathering and had lots of food ready for everyone. We married a year later. Her name was Luella, but I called her Mom. My mother had always called her mother-in-law “Mother”, and I saw no reason not to do the same.

Later, after she divorced, life was in a tiny apartment. She supported herself by cleaning at a motel and for people’s homes, and regaled us with stories of things she found in the rooms she cleaned. Once, while staying with her during this time, she made the biggest buttermilk pancakes I had ever seen in my life to that point, the size of a dinner plate.

The happiest years for her were after her remarriage. She married a man named Paul, and began being known as “Grandma B” because no one could pronounce Grandpa Paul’s Macedonian last name. Together they had a wonderful life in a tiny house in the Minnesota countryside. They planted a garden and canned their produce to last for the whole winter. They visited and lunched with their many friends, and had family over often. Over the years, their walls became filled with her cross stitched pictures which were always framed by Paul with wood he had laying around in his barn. Paul would cut out wood crafts and she would paint them. She also embroidered, quilted, and crocheted. She would go to rummage sales and boast about what good deals she received – stacks of vintage material for a dollar that would go into her quilts, embroidery, craft, and household items, books, and whatever she thought someone else might need.

Mom and Paul. Mom would have just taken a break from preparing Christmas dinner. She made the quilt behind the couch, the clothes that the dolls are wearing, and the apron she has on.

Mom B was a cross stitcher and so am I. I would bring my latest project to show her – usually the same project because I was so slow – and she would show me all of the things she was working on, something I looked forward to. We also shared a love of reading – especially non-fiction on her part – and we’d discuss the latest book she’d read, and she always had several to give me.

She was a giver. She shared their canned and baked goods, garden produce, crafts, and rummage sale finds not only with us but with family, friends, and anyone who had done her a good deed. And she was a giver of love. There was so much love to go around in that little house. Our girls loved going to “Grandma B’s and Grandpa Paul’s” house. They’d bury themselves in her craft room. One cold winter day, Mom and Paul built a big bonfire out in the snow, and we roasted marshmallows. Grandma B had Tupperware containers of homemade goodies to eat, and “pop” to drink from the refrigerator. There were hours of Rummikub played at their table with both of them, and they were tough to beat.

After Paul died, she moved into a retirement home near where she had been raised, in Duluth Heights, and made many new friends. She volunteered for the activities department. She slowed, and finally stopped, her crafting. Last summer she was no longer reading her books. With her usual efficiency, she gave away a lot of what she had left over the ten years she lived there. If I told her I liked something, she’d then want to give it to me. When her daughter came to clean out her apartment, the cupboards were bare. She had even either given away many of the dishes, or put them in a rummage sale. She took care of the things in her life so that no one else would have much to do.

Our last visit with Mom in August, 2021

My own mother was 44 years old when I was born. She spent the last several years of her life with dementia before she passed. Mom B was only 22 when Cal was born, so I enjoyed many more years with her after my own mother passed. Although I had given her the title upon my marriage, she truly became my Mom with the love that she gave to me, and so I have been blessed with two wonderful mothers.

Life never brought us to the Duluth area to live, so she is not someone I ever knew on a day to day basis. Once our daughters were born, we focused on getting them up to Minnesota at least every eighteen months or so. There would be a summer visit, and then a winter visit. During most of their childhood years, the trip to visit her was a twelve hour drive for us. They were never far from her thoughts. She made stuffed animals with elaborate clothing for them, and cross stitch pictures for their rooms. Letters and packages were always going back and forth. After each visit she would load them up with more “stuff”- handmade items and rummage sale finds for them, baked and canned goods for all of us, including her famous cinnamon rolls. There would even be a frozen pie in a rummage sale pie pan which we could keep, and which we hurriedly had to get in the oven once we got home.

Life is seldom perfect, and it was not for Mom. She had a hardscrabble upbringing and bore six children at a young age. She was a young Army wife who often lived far from the home and family that she loved. She struggled with mental illness, the worst times being prior to her marriage to Paul, and did not always receive the help or consideration that she should’ve had. The divorce from her first husband was rancorous. All of that left marks not only on her but on the people she loved.

Yet she didn’t wear these scars on her sleeve. Instead, she focused on giving her love in many forms, especially to her grandchildren. She loved every one of her fifteen grandchildren and nineteen great grandchildren, but the ones that she was able to see and communicate with regularly were most special to her. They loved her in return. In her example, I have learned what kind of grandmother I want to be.

Mom B passed on St. Patrick’s Day of this year, and her funeral was this weekend. It was a celebration of her life, and four of her grandchildren stood up to say what she had meant to them. The visit to Duluth was an occasion for Cal and I to have all of our own family together. We visited favorite places and shared memories with other family members. We went with our family, including our grandchildren, to Canal Park. That is a place we have enjoyed visiting with every trip over the years, and it feels that the torch has been passed. The grandparents are all gone, and now we are the elder generation. It was bittersweet, because I don’t know when or if we will ever have this time all together in that place again.

Our family at Canal Park, Duluth, minus Cal – the photographer

Thanks for the memories, Mom. Rest in peace knowing you were appreciated and so, so loved.

Next time – Back to Maui!

Life in General · USTravel

Summer in Denver

We have been in Denver for over two months and it’s been eventful and fun. Of course, one of the most exciting events has been the birth of our cute and adorable granddaughter, Josie. She is loved by her mothers, her big brother Teddy, and of course, us! We have also assisted with their move to a new house.

Denver’s commercial RV parks did not work out for us, so we have been residents of two different state parks for the summer: Cherry Creek and Chatfield. There is a two week limit to a stay, so after two weeks, off to the other park we go. It seems crazy, and it’s been interesting telling people I live in a state park. But it has worked for us. Each time we return to the parks, we go to a different site, and we’ve liked having that changing perspective all summer.

Cherry Creek State Park

Cherry Creek is very close to our family. It’s also closest to the places we have established for medical and dental care, and all of the associated places one needs to go. It’s an urban park, with the Denver suburbs all around it. This is very handy on the one hand, but on the other, it makes for more noise and less of an “out there” natural experience. On our second rotation to the park, it began being populated by lots of bugs – mostly miller moths and mosquitos. I was very happy I was staying at my daughter’s house, waiting for the birth of her daughter. A medical technician I talked to one day had this to say: “I tell my friends that if they are new to camping, or have new equipment to check out and set up, Cherry Creek is good for a night or two”. It’s also great for bike riders, boaters, walking, being close to the city of Denver, and to have a place to stay for the summer. We’ve seen animals – mostly deer, but also coyote, squirrels, rabbits, and different birds.

We had a flock of chattering magpies at our second site. I could hear them hopping around on the top of the RV.
These flowers came into bloom along the roadside and stayed in bloom for the summer.
On a hike through the wetlands area, this burn area had its own beauty.
Another hike, this time along the dam.
Our grandson enjoyed the beach.
Our second site at Cherry Creek

Chatfield State Park

We’ve come to look forward to our stays at Chatfield. It is a half hour away from Cherry Creek and closer to the foothills of the Front Range of the Rockies. It’s also a half hour away from our family, and just about the same distance from anything we need to do, but we relax and feel like we’re more in nature. On our first stay we were overlooking the lake and the marina. It was fun to watch all the activity on the lake from a distance – boats launching in and out of the water, sailboaters readying their sails and doing evening laps around the lake, and waterskiers having a grand time. But we have come to prefer the sites on the back loop, in the pine trees, looking at the foothills. We see deer going through our site so often that I no longer run for the camera when I see one. One day, we came back after being out for a bike ride, and a doe and her two fawns were calmly having their lunch, unperturbed that we had arrived. Chatfield is a great place to head out for all kinds of excursions into the foothills and mountains. It’s a very photogenic place – I have way too many pictures!

The “natural” part of our view from our first site
Chatfield Dam is connected to the South Platte River and protects the area from flooding.
We took a bike ride up to the top of the dam…
…got a great view of Denver from there…
…and were able to see look over at our site and the marina for a rare view.
The evening skies are ever changing
Our second site at Chatfield, one of our favorites for the summer
Chatfield has a hot air balloon launch and the balloons have become a regular sight.
One of the visitors to our site
Some of the residents of the prairie dog village outside Chatfield’s gate

We have also enjoyed having several human visitors this summer:

Kris, Rusty and Bailey were our first visitors. Bailey had a lot of fun chasing sticks in (the very cold) Cherry Creek.
We had a quick but enjoyable evening visit with my sister and brother-in-law, Gloria and Chuck.
Our daughter-in-law’s brother, Emmett, came to visit during the longest hail storm ever

Next time – one of our excursions. Which one? Hmmm…

Life in General · USTravel

St. Louis Area Top 10

Almost 28 years ago we arrived in St. Louis Lambert Airport on a hot and muggy day in June, our two little girls in tow, on a flight from Frankfurt, Germany. It was to be Cal’s last military assignment. We had family here, my two sisters and their families. For a time my mother lived here too, several years in a nursing home until she passed. We were a cross roads for other family members coming through town. The girls had older cousins and there were family gatherings and all of life’s busy-ness. When we arrived, Cal and I had not lived anywhere in our lives much longer than 5 years, and we were in our mid-30’s. We are both nomadic people at heart; it boggles both of our minds that we stayed here this long. But there were kids to raise, educations to finish, and careers to maintain. Now the girls are grown and gone, living in other cities. Most of our extended family have left too except for one of my sisters, her husband, and her daughter, husband and kids.

I have always loved the St. Louis area. My sister Diana moved here in the late sixties and it was so exciting to visit her, two brothers who were also here for awhile, and the “big city” from my small-town home in Ohio. Although I’m ready to move on now, I thought I’d leave a list of our favorite places. St. Louis is mostly known for the Arch, pictured at top. That’s been a great place to visit but not on our top 10. Without further ado:

#10–St. Charles County Parks, and St. Peters City Parks. This was a new discovery in the past year when we had our apartment here. Our impression of this area “west of the Missouri river” was that of burgeoning subdivisions, chain stores and restaurants, and way too much suburban spread. What we did not know was how St. Peters has created wonderful walking paths in and among the housing, through woods and prairies and around little lakes, and sometimes we could walk or ride a bike without an awareness that civilization was close by. Even with COVID and more people wanting to get outside, we were able to find paths that were not crowded. Many county parks have been created by original family farms left to the county for that purpose, with more miles of trails and some interesting things to see.

#9–Ice Cream! Ted Drewes, of course! Then there is Fritz’s, and Doozle’s, and Skeeter’s. I know, it’s more than one. But they all make a mighty fine concrete, especially hot fudge and peanut butter flavor.

#8–Wineries–Hands down for us, Montel Winery in Augusta. Take a pretty day, a scenic drive down Route 94, then have some lunch on their patio overlooking the valley. All of that would be wonderful, but there are several great wines to go along with it. And maybe some live music too. We’ve whiled away many happy hours here.

#7–Restaurants–Many more than one here, too, and the favorites have changed over the years. For Chinese dine-in and dim sum – Lulu’s in University City. Chinese takeout – a new favorite, China King in St. Peter’s. Mexican – Casa Juarez in Maryland Heights, Casa Mia in St. Peters, and for mariachi and margaritas, El Maguey in Bridgeton. Gyros – Sweet Spot, Bridgeton. Barbeque – Sugarfire both in Olivette and in St. Charles, and Pappy’s downtown and (new) in St. Peters. Pizza – Pantera’s in O’Fallon and Racanelli’s in St. Peters (you won’t find us eating “St. Louis style” pizza). Best for lunch – Joe Fassi’s on the Hill, and Gioa’s Deli both on the Hill and in Creve Coeur. Now you’ll have to excuse me, I think I need a lunch break….

#6–Driving the River Road from Alton to Pere Marquette, IL has given us so many wonderful memories. The bluffs on the Mississippi River are imposing and tower over the road. Barges are moving their loads up and down the river and there are yacht parties and waterskiers. There is hiking and perhaps a picnic lunch upon arrival at Pere Marquette. Or lunch in a restaurant overlooking the river in Grafton, or at Fin Inn when we had kids, where they could view the fish in the tanks right at the table. Also some antique shopping in Grafton. But the primary focus of this trip for us was usually apple picking near Grafton, usually on Labor Day Monday, and we would patronize the small orchards. These have all but disappeared now, so we go to Eckert’s and pick the Jonathan variety of apples. Then put the car on a ferry to go home. A free ferry goes over the Illinois River to Calhoun County, where we could buy peaches in August, and enjoy the hilly drive through the countryside. Then another ferry over the Mississippi to St. Charles County.

#5–The Bluff Rd, also in Illinois, and this one is Cal’s choice because this was his favorite scenic motorcycle ride along the bluffs south from the bridge coming from I255. There was an area where there were old open mines above the road, and fresh cool air would come pouring out. He would stop in Prairie du Rocher for lunch at Lisa’s Market Street Grill. It also makes a great afternoon drive in the car. There are a couple of hiking trails along the way and Ft. Prairie Du Rocher to see. A close second favorite drive for him was on Highway 94 north of St. Charles.

#4–A sneak peak to #3 will show our favorite, Forest Park. The Muny, which is in Forest Park, is in a category all its own. It’s America’s largest outdoor theatre and we have seen numerous musicals there. It makes for magical summer nights. We would pay for seats when there was a children’s musical, but when the girls were older they and I would pick up supper somewhere and sit in line for hours for the free seats. And then, we went back to paying for seats because after all, who wants to sit in the summer heat 2 hours to use binoculars for the show? But it was all fun. Close mentions for entertainment in Forest Park: the Shakespeare Festival which takes place before the Muny opens, and the St. Louis Symphony concert on Art Hill in September.

#3–Forest Park and this is huge but if I listed everything it would take up my top 10. The Art Museum, the Science Center, the Zoo, the beauty of the park in all seasons, the trails for biking and hiking.

#2–After seeing the pictures above, local St. Louisans will know the #2 top spot, Missouri Botanical Gardens. It is a place of beauty in all seasons. We have been to other gardens all around the US and nothing ever compares. The first picture I posted is from a postcard I sent my parents way back in 1975 when I was here visiting. As you can see by comparing it to the next one, they’ve added many improvements in the years since then. The second is a more recent postcard and shows the “onions” in the water from the Chihuly glass exhibit that was a favorite a few years ago. The onions became a permanent fixture, as did the “sunshine” glass in the next picture in the Rose Garden. We work off all of the benefits from walking through the garden by visiting Joe Fassi’s, as noted in #7.

#1–The honor goes to the Katy Trail, and no one who knows us would be surprised. The Katy Trail runs 240 miles across Missouri and we have ridden all of it, round trip, over a period of years. We enjoyed incredible scenery, bed and breakfasts, historic hotels, and local restaurants, funky attractions, the fun of discovering the state mile by mile, and have a bushel of incredible memories. Much of it goes right through the St. Louis area so we have walked or biked some sections many times.

A huge tip of the hat goes to both Atonement and Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Churches, who provided us with spiritual nourishment, friendship and support, and became our community.

Thanks for the memories, St. Louis.

And now, the trip begins. We are on the road, and my next posts will be from our new journey.

Life in General · USTravel

RV Weekending in the Summer of 2020

Early morning at our city RV park

As Labor Day comes to a close, so does the summer of 2020. If you’ve followed the news through this historic summer, you know it hasn’t been exactly uplifting. So we must all try to stay uplifted in our own lives. Having Frodo and Sam has helped to do that for us. From June all the way through the end of last month, we were out in the RV just about every other weekend. When we’re not there, it gives us something to look forward to. When we’ve been out, we’ve found respite from the times we’ve been living in.

We’ve been to our local 370 Lakeside RV park three times and though not woodsy or particularly scenic, I’ve enjoyed the wetlands, the birds, and the bike trail around the lake. It’s close to home so it’s been a good place to learn our new RV’ing skills. We had epic rainstorms on two of our Saturday nights and on Sunday morning of the last one, the entire picnic pad at our site was a miniature lake–and the only one in the park to still be wet! We were really glad that our tenting days are over. The next pictures are from our various weekends there.

Geese at dawn
The early bird catches the rainbow
Blue heron in the wetlands
A goose in our backyard for the entire weekend
Seen on the bike trail

There was also an Onandaga State Park weekend with some friends of ours, Kris and Rusty Thompson, and their granddaughter, Alexandra. We were able to share a family site, thank you very much to them. When you have a kid around, it’s absolutely obligatory to have a campfire. When it’s 95 degrees out even at dusk, though, what do you do? Well, if you’re RV’ing, you have can use an electrical outlet to have your fan going!

Social distancing while enjoying the fire…and the fan.

Part of what made Onandaga fun was this manic cardinal who kept attacking our window. He returned often through the weekend. It wasn’t the first time we’ve seen this behavior in a cardinal, and I did feel a little sorry for the poor confused little guy.

Our family campsite at Onandaga

We stayed at another state park, Cuivre River, which is a park we had tented with our girls a couple of times back in the day. It was a different business altogether driving the long narrow road through the park with a 34 foot RV. Together with a tightly packed campground, it wasn’t our favorite stay of the summer, but we did enjoy two great hikes with trailheads just off the RV camping area. One was a prairie walk and the flowers were in bloom. These pictures are from those hikes, and the last picture is from the one commercial RV park we stayed at, Lazy Day.

Morning on the prairie
Hiking through the tall prairie grass
We were on a trail aptly called “Mossy Trail”.
Campsite at Cuivre River, a challenge for leveling..complete with a great big stump!
Here we are!

An Ozark fishing pond
Life in General · USTravel

Frodo and Sam

With our successful home sale and move to the apartment, all systems were go. I looked forward to starting to plan a trip to Hawaii and other international travel for the next year. We were all settled in for just two weeks when COVID 19 became a reality in everyone’s life. My company told everyone to go home, work remotely, and not come back to the office. The gym that I had just joined closed down. And it wasn’t long before Hawaii mandated a two week quarantine for anyone arriving. We enjoyed Saturday walks and bike rides in various parks which, Cal being retired, he was enjoying every day. With COVID isolation, getting outside was the only thing to do. I had started wondering if we were going to be able to travel over any ocean the following year. A flight to Denver to see our grandson was canceled. And so was our family reunion planned for Washington state in July.

After a few weeks, we noticed an RV motorhome in the parking lot behind us on Thursday afternoons. On Friday morning it was gone, only to return again on Sunday, and then disappear. An idea began to germinate. What if…?

I started seeing Cal spending a lot of time on his notepad researching RV’s and Ford trucks. We both came around to the idea, he sooner than I, that an RV would put us in our own little bubble so we could keep traveling. He did the research, took me out to see his favorites, we had endless “what if” discussions, and in May we found ourselves to be the proud owners of a Montana High Country 5th wheel and a Ford Super Duty 350 truck. Frodo is the truck, and Samwise Gamgee is the “5er” (RV lingo for our 5th wheel) following him along, just like in the Lord of the Rings ( We were fans of the book before the movie ever came out, by the way).

It may have seemed like a sudden, impetuous move. But it was an idea we had played around with for years. We used to go to one or two RV shows a year until we pretty much decided what we wanted. I have nine siblings and 3 of them have had RVs, two of them living the life full-time and now on the other side of it, so we’ve had many years to observe, discuss and plan. It just wasn’t supposed to happen this soon. Life has a way of planning things for you when you least expect it, right? And who could’ve expected the COVID pandemic?

Here are some views from the inside:

Our new living room/dining room/kitchen combo
Looking back towards the door and the bedroom
Straight ahead, that’s a picture window to the side of the king-size bed. But from the outside, it doesn’t look like a window. If you look at the picture of the RV, it’s where “Montana” is splashed across the front. At first it was a drawback for us, but now we think it’s awesome. We can sit on the bed and have a bird’s -eye view of the kingdom.
Our view from the living room window, which is even better in the back row of the park.

Right now there is no better feeling than getting Sam all set up and unhooked from Frodo, and stepping into that RV for the first time on a Friday afternoon. And we’re always sorry to leave on Sunday. There’s no place like Sam!

Life in General

Downsizing and Stuff

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Much of life has passed since my Guatemala blogs. They aren’t finished, and I would like to pick them up again…sometime. But for now, I’d like to catch up on my life because much has happened along the way.

In the beginning of February, as planned, we put our 4 bedroom home on the market. By the time the first weekend was up, we had a contract and by the beginning of March, we were starting a new chapter in our little two bedroom apartment. How does everything fit?? A year prior, the house was full of STUFF, which is the reason for the title of today’s blog. Literally, stuff.

Cal and I have been married for almost 41 years, and as late stage baby boomers, I’ve always been amazed at how, unintentionally, we fit into the demographics of our age. We accumulated in our 20’s and 30’s, aided by two 4 year (almost-) stints of living in Germany. I was delighted at all the things I could purchase while living in Europe. Not only that, but while there we did a lot of volksmarching. There were volksmarching clubs all over Europe, but especially Germany. One weekend a year, a club would sponsor a self-guided walk around their town with a distance of either 10 or 20 kilometers. There was an award for completing the walk, and they would publish a brochure giving particulars of the walk with a picture of the award. On any given weekend, there were several volksmarches to choose from. The walk was a great way to see the countryside, and the food waiting at the end was to die for. I still remember the times I tucked into a nice warm bowl of thick soup with a big fat sausage sticking out from the bowl, a hearty slice of rye bread, and a choice of home-made tortes for dessert…mmmm….but I’m digressing. The first time we were there, the awards were mainly decorative medals. By the second time, the awards morphed into plates, beer mugs, various souvenirs, often locally made. All total, we had over 100 beer mugs, countless decorative plates and other volksmarching trinkets, plus a cuckoo clock, Christmas pyramid, nutcrackers (2 of which were bar stools), other European tchotchkes, and a huge wall unit called a “schrank” to put it all in.

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Other items up for downsizing: tons of books. Crafting and scrapbooking supplies. Cal had a whole garage full of stuff. We still had kid’s toys and games. Not to mention the fact that I started saving up stuff way before I needed to for a garage sale, instead of shedding along the way.

That whole thing about your kids not wanting your stuff? That was us as well. To give our girls credit, they did take some things. My older daughter pointed out that she did not possess many of the memories that came with the purchases of items that were so special to me and I thought should be special to her, too. She was right, of course. She doesn’t need my stuff, and like many people her age, she prefers to accumulate experiences. She took the useful things ( the schrank – yay!), and our other daughter was interested in a few of the funky, off-the-wall items (the sword I bought for Cal in Turkey, for instance). Last summer we sent a U-Haul truck out to Denver to put those items in storage for them.

Which left a whole lot of stuff for a 3 day garage sale. Deciding what to give up involved a lot of soul searching on my part. It all looked great in our big, 2400 square foot house, but so much of it was representative of a past that we were finished with. Admittedly, I had to give a long hard look at some things before parting with them. There were things I’d had since I was a child. I took some pictures and said goodbye.

If you have ever had a garage sale, you know it is an exhausting business. Some stuff sold, a lot of it didn’t. We could have set everything out for more weekends if we had wanted to. We sold some things on E-bay and Marketplace. Several boxes of books went to a church book sale. Cal made 8 trips to the thrift shop in our little Camry. Lots of stuff went for free. Most of our shelving units went to an elated young person for her first apartment. Hardly anyone was interested in our awesome beer mugs.

What is so amazing, here in our little apartment, is that the rest of it fits! We were lucky to find an apartment with a large 2nd bedroom. There are boxes stacked 2/3 of the way to the ceiling along one wall. I have a suspicion that some day, I will open some of those boxes, and I won’t even want those things either. Because there is another part to this story, and I will save it for next time.