Sunday, May 20, 2018

Rally Life

May 20, 2018

Saturday was a quiet day most of the day for us. We didn’t find any exciting seminars in the morning, so we stayed in and puttered around. Toward noon, Joe and I went over to the vendors’ building so he could look at the URB-E, the cute little electric scooter that I’d thought he might make use of. We both went for test drives--it was a lot of fun! But he says he doesn’t think he’d use it inside for support, he says it’s still too much strain on him. He was more interested in it as an auxiliary vehicle for when we are parked in a campground and need to go into town. He’s also thinking that an electric bicycle would do the same thing and be less expensive. So we have to have some more discussion and thinking on the subject.

Also at the vendors, we bought some new LED light bulbs for the coach, and some cute little items for our kitchen, both at home and in the RV. I got a couple for gifts.

While I walked Cassie, I took photos of some of the RVs set up in our “village.” Many people do make themselves quite at home and settled-- some may even be here for several weeks, I guess. There are signs, mini-gardens, patios, lights, etc. There are SO many “big rigs” here-- 38 foot and larger Class As abound, as well as large 5th wheels. I know a lot of folks are full-time RVers, so I guess if you are going to live full time in one of these rigs, you want some extra room.

In the afternoon, I went to a seminar on “Boondocking.” I learned a lot about some places out west where you can stay on public land for not-much money (such as $40/two weeks, or $180 for the entire winter season.) I also learned ways to save on water so it would be possible to be without hookups for a longer time (we’ve gone for 3 or even 4 days in the past, but no longer.) I would love to go out to Arizona next winter for maybe a month and live off the grid a little bit. The biggest expense is the gas to get there!

At about 5:30, we joined up with several hundred other folks in a huge pot-luck dinner. Joe made his macaroni salad. We sat with some nice folks and chatted for a while before going back to the rig. There was a band set up to play around the Firebirds, but we are so close to them, we could hear the music from our camper! So we “stayed home” rather than sit in the uncomfortable plastic chairs outside... we are not much for chatting anyway. And we really enjoyed the music while Joe was able to lie down. We both took showers sometime during the evening as well--a great time to do that, since no one else was using the bath houses, which can be crowded in the mornings.
These folks have a business making yard signs.

Now it’s Sunday morning. We had planned one more day here, but we are leaving for home today instead, because of the sad loss of mom’s cousin Jerry. We were both very fond of him, and want to be home for the funeral on Tuesday. So I am going to upload this blog as fast as possible. We want to leave at 11:30 so we can stop at Bontrager’s, an RV surplus store which is about 22 miles from here but right on our route home. And then we’ll hit the interstate and plan to drive as far as the Pennsylvania state line tonight (almost exactly half way home). That will leave us 6 hours to get the rest of the way home tomorrow.

Our trip has been VERY successful-- it is great to be back on the road, and we still love traveling as much as ever. Having done it now for the first time since Joe’s surgery and retirement, we are convinced that we can do more, and are looking forward to future adventures. It was a good trip.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Rally Ho!

May 18, 2018

We got up very early on Thursday morning by CDT, but it was 7:30 EDT, which was what we decided to work on. We knew we’d be back into Eastern time as soon as we hit the road. And after we filled the water tank, and dumped the waste tank, and walked the dog, we started off for the RVillage Rally 1: The Connected Road event. It is the first rally that RVillage has done, and it’s our own first RV rally as well. We were only about 90 minutes away via non-highways, so we drove the backroads to Elkhart, Indiana-- which meant we drove from a site in Indiana to another site in Indiana via Michigan.

We arrived at about 11 a.m. and were greeted with hugs by Curtis, the founder of RVillage. We were directed to our campsite, and got ourselves settled in among the other hundred or more RVs of every description. I took Cassie to the large grassy dog run, where she enjoyed meeting a few other dogs and rolling in the grass. Then I checked in,
picking up our name tags and a few other goodies, and signing myself up for a tour at the Thor factory on Friday afternoon. The weather was glorious--warm and sunny, such a treat after all those days of rain and cool weather. So we pulled out our awning and set ourselves up for a few days of relaxation and socializing.

Although we’ve never been to a rally before, this was exactly the way I expected it to be. Joey and I each went to a seminar in the afternoon. He learned about solar powering for RVs, and reported back that it would cost thousands of dollars to do it. I went to a seminar given by a company called Fantasy RV Tours, which takes “caravans” of RVers to pretty much everyplace in the US and Canada, as well as Mexico and even Australia! Their tours are very expensive, but they take away a lot of my own “job” on our trips-- planning a route, deciding what sights to see, and where to camp--as well as providing the reassurance of help in case of breakdowns or other unforseen troubles. And the cost also includes the entry fees for everything such as parks, attractions, museums, and campgrounds. On the other hand, we would still be paying for our own gas and most of our food (although a number of meals are included.) I think it could be worth considering for some trips to, for example, western Canada (which is the trip I saw featured.) It’s worth thinking about, anyway--I can always steal their itinerary and plan it out myself!

In the evening, we went to a Welcome session, with everyone there. It looks like several hundred people are attending. The information (sessions, activities, etc.) are given out via a phone app called HelloCrowd, which RVillage is utilizing. I am not thrilled with it-- it means always having to use the wifi or my data to call up the schedule. So when I checked in, I took a photo of the paper copy of the agenda at the check-in desk, to refer to. Several things are already changed around, but for the most part, it will help me know where to go. I still think paper is a lot easier than encouraging people to always be looking at their phones-- even though I’d say we are at the median age for attendees, even our own age group is phone-addicted.

After it got dark, there was a get-together at the Firebirds installation, a metal and fire art exhibit set up outside the seminar room building and the big meeting tent. We sat there for a little bit, but nothing really seemed to be happening, although the firebirds were very pretty. So we came back to our RV, and I read my book while Joe went to sleep.

Friday morning, Cassie woke me at about 6a.m. with an urgent need to go for a walk. After that, I fell back asleep, and so it was a late morning for all of us. Joe was planning to go to a seminar on Internet on the Road, which was ironically the one we were most interested in, but his body did not cooperate, and he missed it. I’m planning to go to a workshop on genealogy at 1:30, and then meet up for my tour of the Thor factory at 2:45, so I’ll have a full afternoon. The weather is a little less glorious today-- I’ve gotten mixed weather reports on my phone, and the awning was flapping earlier. We just did some tinkering to stabilize it, and I hope we don’t have any strong winds. It is a big pain to raise and lower it.

OK-- time for a quick lunch and off to my seminars!

Added at 7:30 pm:  The genealogy seminar was not so interesting, so I left it and went into the vendor room. I can't say there was a lot there that excited me either, except for a really fantastic little electric bicycle called an URB-E. I thought it would be ideal to help Joe get around while his legs feel too weak to take him very far. I spent a bit of time talking to the lady who was demo-ing the URB-E, and as a result, was late getting to the meeting point for the Thor factory tour. Fortunately, everyone had already left--but a couple who had followed the wrong tour group returned to double-check their directions and I overheard them ask about the Thor tour. So I was able to hitch a ride with them, and we got to the factory before the large group had filtered inside.

The tour was interesting--I love watching how things are put together in factories. I also happen to be attracted to the Thor ACE Class A RV, and of all things, they gave us a tour of the Class A line which included the ACE. So I got to see how they put it together, and then we got to go inside a few completed ones. I often don't see them at RV shows, so this was a treat. I still like it-- if we ever upgraded to a Class A, this is a real contender. Thor also makes 22 other models of RVs, including the new RUV style (a combination of SUV and RV), which I'd love to see sometime. 

Anyway, the tour was very interesting, and then we came home (in the rain AGAIN, will it EVER stop??). I found that Joe had put up the awning, had taken the dog for a walk, and had been researching motorized bicycles without my mentioning the URB-E yet (we'd seen someone driving it around the campground before I went into the vendors, so I guess that's what made him interested.)  We'll go test drive the URB-E tomorrow, but he found a much less alternative (albeit not as nifty) on line. We'll have to see what he thinks when he meets the URB-E in person tomorrow. 

Curried Noodles for dinner!!!!  Yay!!!!

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Southwest Michigan: "Down the Shore" (May the Oink be with you!)

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Today was a very laid-back day. We had no idea when we woke up what we would do, or where we’d end up tonight. The only plan I had was to try again at the beach--and when we awoke to shining sun for the first time after 5 days of gray, it was a very good omen. Even the roads in the campground were less puddley, although there were a lot of flooded campsites still. In fact, it was quite amazing how very wet they’d become!

Flooded Campsites
After walkies and breakfast, we packed up and headed down to the beach. Warren Dunes is named that for a reason--there are very large sand dunes in the park, along the parking lot areas. Although there were few people when we arrived at about 10:00 a.m. or so, when we left there were kids climbing up the dunes and then running and/or sliding down them. I loved the commentary left on the sand with pieces of large plant material-- LMAO was undoubtedly an unavoidable response to running down such large dunes.

Our activity was far tamer-- we took a blanket and our dog, parked at the end of the parking lot next to the dogs-allowed area, and walked down to the beach. It was gorgeous-- the sound of the waves breaking, not a cloud in the sky, and the sand was quite white (and very clean) too. We spread out the blanket, and all three of us lay on it and just dozed in the sunshine. It was utterly relaxing and mellow.

After an hour or so, we were ready for some lunch, so we headed back to the RV. We hung around for another hour, eating and reading our books, but then decided we should “do something.” We really had no idea WHAT to do, but we did have a tourist brochure for Southwest Michigan, and it mentioned a family-owned meat store, Falatic's, which sounded quite special-- all the meats were cut to order; and the article recommended the “chicken brat” and the beef jerky. Well, Joey is a fiend for beef jerky, so that decided it-- and the store was only 1/4 mile from the park entrance. So that is where we went. Sure enough, we ended up buying a steak for dinner, a couple of chicken brats, and a POUND of jerky! Joe says it is fantastic (I haven’t tasted it yet.) An extra bonus was a bright yellow truck parked right outside advertising “Chicago style hot dogs.” I just knew Joe wouldn’t resist it, and he did not. Despite having already eaten lunch, he ate a hot dog anyway. I had a tiny taste--it WAS really delicious!
"There's always room for a hot dog."

After that, we headed south on the Red Arrow Highway, the same road we’d come up on yesterday from Indiana. It runs through lots of little beach towns--this corner of Michigan is sort of analogous to the Jersey shore, but of course much smaller and quieter (and less expensive!) I was looking for something “to do”, and we stopped at a large antique store but it was closed. Then we got down to the town of New Buffalo, which is basically the pure southwest corner of the state--any further south and you’re in Indiana; any further west and you’re in Lake Michigan. And there we stopped at Oink’s Ice Cream and Yogurt Store.

Oink’s was totally adorable--I loved it even before we got inside. The store is painted bright pink with turquoise trim, and the parking lot is surrounded by old metal advertising signs, all of which are either ice cream signs or products with pig names or logos. There is a garage which has a 1953 Ford Courier in perfect condition, and it is being driven by 3 huge stuffed pigs. The rest of the garage is filled with pig-related memorabilia, and over the door is a display of old-fashioned ice cream churns. The windows of the store, as well as the interior, are just packed with more pigs of every description--advertising, toys, whatever. Oh yes, and the selection of ice cream is huge and they had two no-sugar-added flavors for Joe. Needless to say, it was delicious.

1953 Ford and Pig Memorabilia
The back of Oink’s was a chocolate and fudge shop, with lots of pig-related toys and t-shirts and things to buy, as well as chocolate-related “things”, but since the door was locked (the Oink’s employees wold have had to come and let us in) we didn’t go in--we really didn’t want to buy anything, we were just window shopping there. I resisted buying the magnet that said “I made a pig of myself at Oink’s”, but sad to say, it was accurate!

After we left Oink’s, we crossed into Indiana, having decided to return to the Indiana Dunes National Seashore campground. We really did not think the state park in Michigan was worth 3.5 times more money to stay there instead, even if it’s a tad closer to our destination tomorrow. While we drove, I saw a sign for a local winery (there were a number of those in Michigan as well) and decided to stop and pick up a bottle of local wine as our usual “souvenir” for Beth and Joe. By that time, I was driving, since Joe had gotten quite tired after Oink’s.

The winery was our last stop, and we came back to Indiana Dunes. It is really quite a nice park, lacking only electricity to make it perfect, in my opinion. (Well, and wifi, but we haven’t had wifi since we left home!) Like I said before, you can’t beat the $12.50 price for a night. One thing about this campground and also Warren Dunes is that there is a freight train track running right up the coastline here, and we hear trains all night. It’s not a problem, but it’s surprisingly loud.

Although by crossing back into Indiana here, we went back into Central Time, we are pretending to be on Eastern Time, because we want to get out of here in time to get to Elkhart Campground tomorrow before noon (we were “assigned” a morning check-in time of 8am-12:00 for the rally.) So although it’s 9:30 local time, it’s 10:30 according to our “schedule.” So we have our phone alarms set for 6:30 a.m. Central Time (the phones change automatically), and I’m going to go to sleep so I can wake up and we can get out of here. I will probably upload this blog tomorrow after we get to Elkhart Campground, where there IS wifi, and I won’t have to use our date plan. We have already gone through $45 extra dollars, I think, of data on this trip. It’s crazy but we use the phones all the time for directions, wifi, and email, plus reading the internet for entertainment and information. Between the two of us, it’s quite extreme, and when we get home, I will have to look into getting a new plan of some sort.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

No Particular Place To Go

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

We’ve never before really traveled the way we are doing it this week-- ,no particular place to go,  or to be, and no plans until Thursday morning. Sunday was a quiet day--we did go out for some Chinese food and to get a few groceries. The Chinese restaurant (Waigu, I think it was called) advertised hand-pulled noodles, which looked very yummy. The noodles indeed were excellent, but we were less thrilled with the sauces--the curried chicken with the “cat’s ears” noodles was not very interesting, and the spicier sauce on the long noodles, although tastier, lacked complexity. We did end up with lots of leftovers, though! Joe let me do the shopping alone, and we went back to the RV to just relax.

Sunday night, we had more heavy rain--sheets of pounding on the roof, which sounded like being on a car inside a car wash. On Monday morning, the park ranger cam around and put “Site closed” signs on all the empty sites (there was only us left, and two others). She told me they were closing the campground and reassigning people who had already reserved sites for later in the week-- almost every site was soaked, many just bogs of mud. Ours was not mud, but there was water everywhere.

We packed ourselves up and went over to dump our tanks and refill our fresh water (which we’d used up completely the evening before.) Then Joe noticed that a bracket on the wheel cover, which held one of our tire monitors, had fallen off. So we spent an hour putting a new bracket onto the wheel (I need a manicure even more now.) We dumped, refilled, and after about 90 minutes, we were finally ready to leave the campground. At that point, we still had to put gas into the rental car (we filled the RV too), return the rental, and then find a place to refill the propane tank. It was about 1 pm at that point, and we found a local park to sit next to and eat a quick lunch, before heading out onto the highway.Joe drove for about an hour, and I drove for the rest of the way--about a 5 hour trip down the Interstates, through the Highway to Hell (I80-I94 south of Chicago), and finally a relatively easy 30 miles or so on I-94 in Indiana until we got to the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.

Information Panel for the Century Of Progress Homes Exhibit 

The campground isn’t precisely on the lakeshore, unfortunately--but it was a very nice place with lots of trees, paved sites, an excellent bath house, and the price was right-- $12.50. (We get half-price with our senior pass.) The only thing we didn’t have was electricity, but with our tank of propane, our refrigerator was happy, and we have very good lanterns etc. so we were not in the dark. There weren’t many people there-- again, camping this time of year is very easy since it’s so early, and early in the week is ideal anywhere.  We settled in for a quiet night, and went to sleep fairly early. Even though we drove less than 250 miles, we were both surprised at how tired we were.

Today, Tuesday, we had absolutely no firm plans! I had done  little bit of research, and I decided we should first go down to the beach itself, and then maybe mosey on north--there are two state parks in Michigan within 50 or so miles of where we started, also right on Lake Michigan. So after a long walk with Cassie, and fresh biscuits for breakfast, we left our campsite at noon. We went down to the beach, only to discover that besides it being so overcast and cool, there was mist covering the lake--we could hardly even see much beyond the beach. Supposedly you can see the Chicago skyline, as well as the industry in the area of Gary, Indiana, along the coast-- but we saw nothing but mist.
"Florida Home"
However, we did find something completely unexpected-- a short stretch of road labeled “1933 Chicago World’s Fair Century” on my map. We found ourselves between some remarkable houses, and so we parked and got out to see what it was all about. It turned out that the houses (5 of them) were models for a Century of Progress exhibit at the Chicago World’s Fair. Each one had some particular special feature--one had a steel structure with a porcelain veneer, one was a “combination beach house and cruise ship”, one used a new kind of “maintenance free” composite stone, and one had walls made mostly of glass. They were beautiful houses, all of them, and after the fair, they were purchased and moved (4 by barge across Lake Michigan, and one by truck) to this stretch of beach to help publicize and encourage people to move to the town of Beverly Shores, a small resort community which was just being built. There are sign boards to explain the details of each particular house, and we lingered, reading them all and taking photos. I especially loved the pink Florida-style home, which would fit into any resort community. It sat on the ocean side of the road, just on the bluff overlooking the lake. Three of the houses on the land side are up off the road, so they all command views of the lake. They are all now on the National Register of Historic Places.
A 1933 House of the Future, with our own House of the Future

One interesting thing, though, is that all 5 houses are leased to private people, who are allowed to live in them while they are renovating them to their original styles. The glass-walled house was in the process of renovation, as was one of the others. Meanwhile I saw someone outside gardening at the Cedar House--it looked like that one was fully occupied. None of the others looked quite ready to be lived in.

We continued driving up the road and on through Beverly Shores (which is surrounded by the National Lakeshore holdings). It seemed that virtually ALL the houses we passed were quite distinct and unique architecturally. I took several photos of the houses, but didn’t have my camera out for the best shot of all--a yellow “caution-sign” type sign on the side of the road with a silhouette of a cat! I had never seen a “Cat Crossing” sign before, and was sorry to miss it.
This 1933 house is being renovated.

We followed the coastal road to its end and rejoined US 12, and just continued heading north. We stopped at a CVS to pick up some eye ointment (not to mention ice cream and cookies) and realized it was 3pm and we hadn’t eaten any lunch, since we’d left the campsite at noon. (We also noticed that we are back in the Eastern Daylight Time zone.) By that time, though, we were only 20 minutes from Warren Dunes State Park, just over the Michigan state line. So we continued on to there, and got a campsite in the park. All in all, we drove only 32 miles today.

 Again, we are right on Lake Michigan, but a mile away from it as the crow flies, so we’ll have to hope that tomorrow the weather is clearer, and we’ll try again for a nice view of the lake and maybe a little time sitting on the sand. Meanwhile, once again, we are just resting, reading, and drinking hot chocolates. This park, too, has a lot of flooded sites, but at least it hasn’t rained today. I understand they are having frightful storms right now in New Jersey, so maybe the rain we lived through all weekend has made it east. Here, it seems that the sky is much lighter, and some sun-type light seems to be falling through the trees, so I have hopes it will clear up tomorrow. A little warmer wouldn’t hurt, either!!
A modern private home in Beverly Shores, Indiana

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Natan's Big Day

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Today was the day that has brought us to Madison, Wisconsin-- the graduation of our godson, Natan Micah Cohen, from the University of Wisconsin, and his commissioning as a Second Lieutenant into the U.S. Air Force.

The day began auspiciously, with no rain! We prepared for “scattered showers beginning at noon,” however, by dressing warmly and taking rain ponchos. We also packed into our car Natan’s violin and guitar, both of which we’d transported for him from New Jersey, and a walking cane for Joe, realizing that the distances inside the graduation venue (Camp Randall Stadium) might be lengthy. We had written ahead, however, and obtained special parking permits and tags for those with physical limitations, so we hoped to be close to our destination.

It took about 20 minutes to drive around the lake to the stadium, and of course there was a lot of
pedestrian traffic once we were in the immediate vicinity-- hundreds of graduates clad in black and red gowns crossing toward the stadium as we crept slowly up to the parking deck. Sure enough, we were in great shape, being able to park right next to the elevator in the corner of the deck closest to the door we were entering. Although there were mobs of happy families, we didn’t have far to walk at all to get inside. Once upstairs, we found our way to section W (where the rest of the Cohen family was already sitting). We sat in the top row, however, so Joe would not have to climb up too many steps once the graduation was over. Amazingly, Natan was able to see us, and he took a photo from his seat down on the ground. Maybe it helped that we were defiantly wearing our Michigan State sweatshirts, and the green stood out in a sea of Wisconsin red.

The commencement ceremonies began promptly at noon, and ran according to schedule, ending in just about the 90 minutes that we’d been prepared for. The graduation speaker, journalist David Muir, was pretty good, and we enjoyed the opening performance by one of UW’s a cappella groups. The most fun part was a brief “Jump Around” approximately 3/4 of the way through the ceremonies, one last opportunity for the graduates to experience the famous 3rd quarter UW football tradition.

Natan and Ruby
When the graduation was over, we wended our way through the thousands of others to get back to our car, and then to Natan and Ruby’s apartment only a few blocks away. While Natan got his degree in Civil and Environmental Engineering, Ruby was getting her Master's in Social Work. We had a bite to eat at their place, and met Ruby’s parents, Katie and Paul. They were very lovely, and we enjoyed our break in the action. Natan had less time, of course--he had to hurry out again, dressed in his beautiful uniform, to get to the base ahead of us. The rest of us--Ann and Steve, Noah, Adam, Katie and Paul, Ruby, and Joe and I-- arrived at about 3:30, went through the security at the gate of the Truax Field Air National Guard Base, and then into the building, which was basically an airplane hangar set up with a stage and rows of chairs for all the guests.

The ceremony was very moving, very special, and we were all so proud and moved by it. There were 34 graduates of the ROTC program and I didn’t count but I think about 25% of them were women. All four branches of the armed services were represented. First, of course, was a Pledge of Allegiance and a prayer, and then an address by Major General James Jacobson, who was very personable and spoke well about how these young men and women were trained for leadership, and how important that is. Then the entire group repeated together their Oath of Office. After that was the actual presesntation of their commissions.

They went up in groups of four, each one being called by name and handed his or her certificate. They spaced themselves evenly across the stage as they came up. Then we were told what each one would be going on to in the next step of their journey-- everything from immediate duty on a naval ship in San Diego, to training in Military Intelligence, or as an Ordnance Officer, or the Basic School at the Marine base at Quantico, or as an Engineer, or even an “Educational Delay” in one case, for the candidate to attend the University of Pennsylvania Dental School, before becoming an army dentist! Natan, and several other young officers in his program, has been selected as a pilot. He will be going to Enid, Oklahoma in September until his pilot training program begins.

As each officer’s name and assignment was announced, it was also announced who would pin their insignia on them for the first time, and who would offer them their first salute. Ann and Steve went up onto the stage to stand on either side of Natan, and pin on his Second Lieutenant bars. He then received his first salute from an officer who he had selected for the honor.
First Salute

During this entire procedure--which lasted probably about a half hour, because 9 groups had to go up and go through the whole thing--the room was almost silent! No one spoke, everyone was respectfully quiet, and you could sense the pride and respect all of us had for these new young officers and the commitment they were making to the country and to their futures. It was amazingly moving and just a true “wow” moment to contemplate.

Afterwards, of course, there was celebration-- the ceremonies ended with the playing of all four service anthems, and then came the hugs, the photos, and all the laughter and smiles and introductions and joy. Needless to say, my camera battery had died long before (isn’t that always the way?) but fortunately Joe’s camera worked okay, and Adam and Noah took good photos for Ann and Steve during the pinning, and I have gotten good photos from all of them.

Then we all went back to Natan and Ruby’s apartment and had pizza for dinner, before Joe and I had to leave to come back and attend to poor Cassie. And shortly after that, the thunderstorms started again.

All in all, it was a truly wonderful and special day, and we are so hugely proud of Natan’s accomplishments and commitment. Joe and I were thrilled to be able to drive out here and be here for it all.

Weather, and the RV Lifestyle

Cassie zonks out on a lazy day
Sunday Update, May 13, 2018--
I’m typing this Sunday morning, as a sort of summary of the past few days from the “lifestyle” point of view (as opposed to the “activities” point of view, which I will do separately.) We have been set up since Thursday evening at Mendota County Park on Lake Mendota. It’s kind of like being in a suburb or residential neighborhood-- there are private homes bordering directly on the park (and I mean directly-- you can walk into private back yards only a few feet from the road leading into the park, where I walk with Cassie.) It’s very pretty, but small (which is not a problem, just an observation.) If Lake Mendota is a clock face, we are parked at 9:00, and the campus of the University of Wisconsin is down at 6:00. Our car rental place is at 3:00. so we have now driven all around the lake in one direction or another, depending on our destination.

It’s been VERY rainy this weekend, but we were extra lucky yesterday during the day-- the temperature was mild (maybe about 60 degrees) and there was not a drop of rain all morning, which meant that graduation, held in the football stadium, was quite comfortable and pleasant. There was a light sprinkle in the afternoon while we were inside having some lunch, but it stopped when we drove to the base for Natan’s commissioning ceremony. It didn’t rain until just after Joe and I got back to the RV and I’d had a chance to walk Cassie. The road in the park at that point was almost all dried up, except for one particularly deep puddle. And then it POURED again, thunder and lightening, on and off for several hours. Cassie spent a lot of time curled up between the bed and the wall in the bedroom, where she comes to feel more secure during thunderstorms. So this morning, all the puddles are back, the large puddle is larger, and the ground, which was already saturated, is now full of puddles in the lower grassy areas. Our campsite is not quite as dry as the best ones, but certainly not as bad as a few, which are one big muddy morass.

We have been quite snug and comfortable inside, thanks to the propane furnace. However, when we got home yesterday, it was cold inside, and sure enough, we’d run out of propane. The propane not only powers the furnace, but also the stove. And it’s still pretty damp and chilly outside. Luckily, we are not in such bad shape-- we have a very nice electric heater, which is keeping us comfortable (thank goodness we DO have an electric hookup!). Also, before this trip, we invested in a new item--an induction heater to cook on. It runs on electricity without heating up the room, and we’d thought it would be a good thing to have when the weather is very hot-- cooking on the stove in hot weather is uncomfortable. We made sure to bring along some pots that will work on the cooktop (they need to have a ferrous metal in them to work) and our tea kettle is all metal too. So we’re able to cook if we want to, and I have just boiled water for tea. The coffee maker is electric, so Joe had his coffee, and the refrigerator runs on electricity when we are plugged in, so that’s working fine, and even the hot water heater runs on electricity. But when we leave tomorrow, our first thing will be to find a place to fill the propane tank again before we go wherever we might go.

Flooded campsite
I see people are starting to pull out this morning-- we will probably be more or less by ourselves tonight, I suspect. Cassie would be a lot happier here if she could spend some time outside in the grass, as usual in a site like this, but since it’s so muddy, she’s been staying inside with us. She’s been enjoying her walks, though-- there are ducks and geese on the lake, and she rediscovered her golden retriever side when we inadvertently flushed a duck this morning-- it was on a grassy puddle behind some bushes. Two geese followed it-- great canine excitement!
It is very nice to have the option of making our phones into a wifi hotspot-- I remember having to drive around looking for a place with wifi to “borrow” so I could upload my blogs. But when I am finished with this one, we’ll turn on of our phones and upload that way.

Our plans for today include just hanging out, but we will do some errands also. We need a few items, such as bottled water, and we are going out to a Chinese Noodle Restaurant for lunch. Beth and Joe have been sending us food porn pictures from Japan, and I can’t stand it any more! Although there appear to be numerous Ramen places here in Madison, Joe found a Chinese place which makes home-made hand-pulled noodles, and I am salivating for them. So we’ll go out for lunch, and then a shopping trip, and then back to our little nest to rest up until tomorrow. And I *do* have to figure out where we are going after this!!
Reading in bed

[Added after lunch: Noodles were yummy, with lots of leftovers. Stopped at a grocery store, and now we are home again. The rain is stopped, the sun is out, and it's warmer. Where SHOULD we go tomorrow??]

Friday, May 11, 2018

Nothing But Driving

Thursday, May 10, 2018

"Are we there yet?"
Today was the only day when I really felt pressure to be someplace by a particular time. Today was our last leg of the drive to Madison, and we had a rental car waiting for us. They closed by 5:30, and I did not want to be too late to pick the car up. However, it is clear to me that we are no longer the “get up and drive within an hour” people. For one thing, I slept very late--until a little after 8:00! Also, we wanted to take showers, we needed to dump our holding tanks, and we had a couple of other small things to attend to. Including climbing up to check on the roof-- last night we had heavy rain and thunderstorms, and we heard a loud THUMP on the roof. That, at least, was a fast fix-- I climbed up the ladder with no problem (pretty good for an old lady!) and Joe handed me up a broom to knock down a 6“ piece of branch which had caused the noise we’d heard.

As all these things were going on, I was obsessing about what route we should take. There is a particularly awful stretch of I-80 which runs from Gary, Indiana to south of Chicago. Last year we’d ended up on this route (for the 2nd or 3rd time) and I swore we would NOT go there again--it is packed with trucks, there is a lot of merging of other roads, and there is always congestion for one reason or another. I spent a lot of time debating with myself and with Google Maps, but I was also worried about time, and Google insisted the fastest way included that segment of highway, even though by the time we got close, there was a 20 minute delay there due to an accident.

Just before we left the campground, though, I made the happy realization that we would gain an hour! As a result, we were JUST about on time when we left.
View of Lake Mendota and Park

The drive was uneventful (for which after Tuesday, of course, we are grateful.) But we DID end up on the dreaded Route 80 anyway. And as predicted, it was awful. We were extremely happy to leave it behind at sometime around 2:30 pm, and head north on I-90 (which in Illinois is a toll road) toward Wisconsin. We arrived at the car rental at 4:30 pm, and it was quite convenient--we were able to park the RV at the curb on the street outside the Hertz place, while I went in to pick up the car. It is one of those new keyless wonders-- press a button and it works! Not my usual style! Then I drove to the campground with Joey following behind in the camper. We both set our phones to the same map, to make sure that we were in sync with each other. It went very smoothly.

We’re now ensconced at Mendota County Park, which is right on Lake Mendota in Middletown, which I guess is sort of a suburb of Madison. The lake is beautiful, with places to dock boats, swim, etc.  The campground is small and just off a main road, but it is surprisingly quiet anyway, and very convenient for our purposes. It’s about half-full at the moment, and I overheard someone saying that they were here for their granddaughter’s graduation Saturday, so I wouldn’t be surprised if that was the main draw at the moment. It’s certainly not the weather-- although yesterday was a deliciously cool spring day, the rain started last night and we are in for rain showers on and off more or less constantly for the next two days. And it’s COLD-- only in the 40s! But we are snug in the RV, with our furnace running last night, and we are not worried about it except insofar as we will be bundling up for graduation tomorrow.
Campsite and Rental Car
After we got here, we connected with Natan, “our” graduate, and his fiancee Ruby. We made plans to meet them for dinner, and then drove to meet them at Cafe Hollander. Driving through Madison was very easy, and we had no trouble finding our way. Dinner was fun, we enjoyed spending time with the kids before things got so hectic. Then we came back home. By this time, Joe was in significant need to just rest (he drove all day, refusing to let me help.)

So we are perfectly happy that most of Friday we will just hunker down at “home”, reading, napping, and waiting for the graduation festivities to begin. I had thought that perhaps we’d go sightseeing a bit in Madison and/or the campus, but I would rather have Joe resting up so that he is more comfortable on Saturday, when we have the big commencement ceremonies and then Natan’s commissioning ceremony in the evening. And anyway, who wants to walk around and sightsee in the rain and cold? We will be happy with some down time. Monday is supposed to be beautiful again--we can always spend an extra day here if we are so inclined by then, and see more of the area before we leave.