Friday, September 14, 2012

Update (Where did those two years go?)

It has been a long time since Meg has posted in this blog so I was thinking that maybe I would take a stab at it. Since her last update we have mostly been rather tamely spending our winters in Florida and summers in Kansas, parked at my mom's old farmstead. 

We found a nice park in Florida for the last two winters, right across the river from Kennedy Space Center. We watched rocket and shuttle launches and made friends within a tight-knit community of "snowbirds" who winter there every year. We also met some local families with kids near the boys' ages.

Last fall we made an excursion to the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. Turns out we have family there that flies balloons, so within moments of the first event we were helping to launch and chase balloons. It is great fun being part of a chase crew and the plan is to attend every year. Meg and Billy returned to Albuquerque in March to help "our Jan" with her goats kidding. Meg got to play midwife to several deliveries and seems to have really enjoyed the experience.

The side trip to Albuquerque is an example of the "away missions" we have been taking, where a subset of the family jets off to another part of the country for a few days to a few weeks. This has helped us all pursue some of our individual interests, and gives us some necessary time outside the five-person family dynamic. Meg took all three boys to Maryland last summer, and often visits friends on her own while the boys and I hold down the fort.

The boys are growing and generally doing well. The summers in Kansas are some of their favorite times. Who can complain about playing at the pool with your friends for hours a day? I really like the pool as a social activity. The kids get lots of exercise and social interaction. They end up playing games that, while competitive, are much more about everyone just having fun. While they still play together most of the time, they also have a chance to spend time with their own special friends. 

Meg and I are still really enjoying our RV lifestyle, although the last couple of years have been a lot more sitting still than traveling. We have managed to visit our friends in Mississippi (who we met on the road back in 2008), helped with my mom's move to Houston, and seen and done lots more than all the fun stuff I already mentioned. 

Meg and I have taken up walking. We try to get in several miles every day and it has made a lot of difference in our overall health. We are both a lot happier when we are keeping up with our walking goals.

I have had kind of a slow summer as in mid-April I managed to smash off the end of my left pinkie. That put me on bed rest for a couple of weeks and made it hard to do much of anything all summer. It was all I could do to drive a grain truck for a friend during harvest.

Right now we are visiting (without our RV) in Maryland. Meg's expatriate brothers were both in town and there was a small family reunion event. We kept finding reasons to extend our visit, and we have now stayed over a month! It will be nice to be back "home" soon.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Clifford gets some attention

How did a whole month go by? Very quickly, that's how.

About a month ago, I boarded a plane in Baltimore in the morning. A few hours later, Joe and the boys picked me up at the airport in Wichita, driving Clifford the big red truck, trailer in tow. It was fun to watch my entire household approach, stopping at the end of the arrivals area just long enough for me to throw my suitcase in the back and swing up into the truck cab. We drove east, expecting to get (back) to Maryland in about two weeks. Long enough for a leisurely pace, maybe even with a few days in a couple of nice parks.

Clifford, shortly after we took her on as our home-truck.
Clifford was showing off a new muffler (yay!), a new grating sound (boo!), and an occasional weirdness in the shifting (eh?). A few miles out, darkness coming on, we decided the sound and the shifting issue needed to be diagnosed before we left a familiar area, so we spent the night at El Dorado State Park, and headed back into the Wichita area in the morning. Joe towed our little house around for hours, first to the diesel mechanic, and then to the transmission specialist, neither of whom could immediately identify the noise, but both of whom thought it should be addressed before our 1500-mile journey.

He scheduled to have the transmission guy look at things after the weekend, then brought the trailer to park it at one of our borrowed homes -- his dear sister has a big house and a huge heart, and loves to have her nephews around. As we parked, shifting gears over and over, the transmission fluid started leaking, then gushed out. The road looked like an automotive murder scene, the reddish stuff splashed all over the place. We quickly finished parking, unhitched, and arranged for a tow to the shop.

Long story short (too late!), it was a relatively minor transmission failure, but we decided to have some upgrades done while she was in the shop. It took a mere two weeks to have the transmission rebuilt, bigger, stronger, probably not faster (Joe babies Clifford, and rarely approaches the faster highway speed limits). The noise was a vibration caused by the new muffler, and could be addressed later.

I gave up on getting to Maryland in time for the events that had set our timeline. My cousin's band was playing at a favorite little cafe, and a dear friend was having her last big birthday party in Maryland before moving to Chicago. Yes, these are the kinds of things that fill our sails and set our "un-schedule". Why not?

When it started to look like Clifford would be ready on Thursday, we knew there was no way to make the Friday night gig. But we'd have 48 hours to make it to the Saturday night party. Of course that, too, would be impossible at our habitual, casual pace. What we call a "sprint" is maybe six hours a day, with a recovery day after two days. But we were feeling bold. We decided to try the sprint of all sprints. 24 hours of driving in 48 hours.

Next entry - Maryland again!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Three reunions

The boys have been in Kansas through July, while Meg went east to visit a brother and nephews in Mississippi, then still farther east to visit friends and attend her 20th high school reunion.

By coincidence, Joe's high school reunion was the same day. It wasn't a round anniversary for his graduating class, but various movers and shakers had gotten together and planned a reunion for all years. So, while he graduated with a tiny class of 30-some students, the reunion swamped the tiny town of Spearville with hundreds of alumni and their families. They had a huge festival, dinner and dance, with smaller side events for individual classes.

Meanwhile, back in Maryland, less than 100 of the over 500 graduates of Eleanor Roosevelt High School Class of 1990 met at a bar for an evening of drinks, snacks, and lots of laughs and hugs. Ours was a Facebook-based meetup, with only a few people attending who don't use Facebook and had learned about the event from friends.

Joe's reunion was organized primarily through mailings, word-of-mouth, and old-fashioned networks of written and telephone correspondence with friends and relatives. There were some e-mails and even Facebook communication, so the broadcast signal was across all traditional correspondence and modern networking bands.

The contrast in attendance between the reunions wasn't solely an effect of the information channels used, but it does suggest that social networking sites aren't anywhere close to replicating the value and effectiveness of our real-life networks. And it really shows the power of virtual networks to practically exclude large segments of our communities from the social reinforcement of rituals and other shared experiences.

The third reunion is tomorrow, when Meg flies back to Kansas to meet the boys who were so much younger at the beginning of the month.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Kinsley, KS

Now that we have no house near Spearville, we were challenged to find somewhere to park our home while we're visiting for the summer. There aren't any state park campgrounds close enough to be practical.

As summertime temperatures are regularly over 100 degrees Fahrenheit in Western Kansas, we needed to be hooked up to electricity so we could use the air conditioning. For a month-long visit I prefer to hook up to a spigot, instead of filling and re-filling the fresh water tank. And when we're using more than a tankful of water, a sewer hookup keeps us from having to pack and move just to flush the tanks. So it's just as well that we had little choice but to stay at a commercial RV park. (Commercial campgrounds more consistently offer "full" electric/water/sewer hookups).

The nearest RV parks are about 15 miles west, in Dodge City, and about 20 miles east, in Kinsley. Since Kinsley is a much smaller town, and we'd passed the RV park and thought it looked nice, we went east. Four Aces RV park is grassy and has a few nice, shady back-in spots as well as ten pull-throughs with concrete pads. The folks there are friendly as all get-out, and the rates are reasonable, with weekly and monthly discounts. Yes, we had to drive some 20 miles to Spearville to meet up with friends, but we combined all errands into no more than one daily trip (as we usually did when living in the country).

Kinsley is about twice the size of Spearville and well under one-tenth the population of Dodge. You can walk around most of the town in half an hour. The grocery store is open seven days a week and has a bit more of a food selection that the Merc in Spearville [though it is primarily a food store, without the "little bit of everything" department store half that distinguishes the Merc].

We enjoyed the Kinsley library and appreciated the town's always-open recycling drop-off point. They accept a variety of cardboard, paper, plastics, glass and metal. Dodge City also has a drop-off recycling program, and Spearville has a once-a-month drop-off. It's nice to see rural communities addressing the problems of resource depletion and waste and with programs like this.

Like many of the old towns on the railroad, downtown Kinsley is a mix of empty storefronts and active businesses. One rather crumbly but lovable little treasure we discovered is the Palace movie theater, where they show current movies for a reasonable price, on a tiny screen. The seats are terribly worn and the decor is vintage, if a bit sad. It's pretty sweet all the same.

Spearville, Kansas

Joe grew up in the country a few miles outside of Spearville, Kansas. We lived for a few years on a nearby farmstead that had been in his family a hundred years ago. And Billy started kindergarten at the grade school in Spearville.

When we became full-time RVers, the kids were anxious to know how they would keep up their relationships with friends in Spearville. We decided we should return for a couple of months a year to the closest thing they have to a hometown.

Summer in western Kansas doesn't really fit our overall travel scheme of following the fine weather. It's hella hot at harvest time (June-July). But other considerations make summertime in Spearville the logical choice. The town kids are available for play in all the hours they'd normally be in school or doing homework. Harvest is kind of exciting. And the pool is open.

The boys learned to swim at the Spearville pool, and their love of the water is a big part of what makes beaches and warm springs so fun to visit all winter long. There are same-age kids that Billy, Leo, and Karl can each relate to and have fun with, and all the kids drift into and out of mixed-age groups in their play. It's a great scene for informal acquisition of social skills and interpersonal awareness. Joe gets in some relaxation and socializing, bringing the kids for at least a few hours almost every day. Sometimes Meg comes along, though she usually opts for walking around town, visiting the library, or just staying home. (The place we're calling "home" for these weeks is the subject of the next blog entry.)

Spearville has a handful of businesses and services, including our beloved Windmill Restaurant, two sole branch community banks, the township Library and the Spearville Mercantile ("The Merc"), which serves as our primary source of groceries when we're in town. The Merc is half grocery, half old-fashioned department store, with toys, hardware, fabrics, and jewelry. I've often been surprised at the arcane items they carry -- we once needed a replacement weight for an older-model pressure cooker, and there we found it, neatly filed with the other pressure cooker parts.

Spearville is also home to a wind farm, built in 2006. Joe was so absorbed in the construction and start-up of this project that anytime we were in town (almost every day of the week, that is), he insisted on driving a wide circuit to the various sites where the turbines were being anticipated, stored, assembled, and tested. He still can't take his eyes off the windmills for long -- our game on the way to town is always "Guess how many windmills are turning!" (Usually at least 2 or 3 are being serviced.)

With alternative energy the hot topic it is these days, little towns like Spearville are popping into the spotlight, becoming the subjects of board meetings, hosting community information sessions, and spawning activists for and against the boon or curse of proposed wind farms. The towns that succeed in attracting wind farms earn grants and income from the companies that harvest the rural wind to power the urban machine back east.

It was rather disappointing this year to see that no progress has been made on the second phase of the project, which would double the size of the wind farm. Sadly, the windmill towers, generators, and blades were delivered over a year ago, and here they sit, a huge investment in materials awaiting funding and scheduling to become productive.