Thursday, November 17, 2016

Into the West

After filling up my fresh water tank & dumping my black/gray water tanks, unhooking electricity & my television dish, & hooking the trailer to the pickup, I finally pulled out of Branson headed west at 8am. WOO HOO. Talk about a happy camper. On the road again. . .

I made good time, just poking along at 62 mph, & got to the Oklahoma border by 10:12 am. Went thru Tulsa around noon – & I-44 is just as rough & beat up at last fall & past spring. Geez Louise, it’s a toll road, why is it so bad?

I’ve always hated the traffic on the south side of Oklahoma City where I-35 & I-40 are sharing that portion of road, so. . .I take the turnpike along the north & west sides of the city. Much, much easier, but the bridges on that stretch really create rocking & rolling. My paper towels not only unrolled but also toilet paper. Never had it that bad. Oh, & the bottom shelf on the frig door broke at the side bracket. Super glue again. And the wind was so strong (constant at least, not just gusty) from the SW, I barely drove 60 mph with both hands strangling the steering wheel. After getting gas around 4:30 pm, I camped at Elk Creek RV Park in Elk City, OK for $29/night, 30 amp, f/h.

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I hit the road Wednesday morning at 7:15 am. It’s still pretty dark on the western edge of Oklahoma at that hour, so I barely drove 55 mph in the dark. I managed to get this picture of the sun rising in my rearview mirror.

The sun was up enough to see the road ahead clearly by 8 am when I crossed into Texas! The road was like glass, no wind, & not much traffic. I whizzed right along steady & got thru Amarillo around 10 & Tucumcari NM by noon – oops, that would be 11am Mountain Time there. At Santa Rosa, I headed southwest on Highway 54 (that’s the same highway that goes thru my hometown in MO) & skipped Albuquerque. However there were three different highways & sections worse than some gravel roads going to BLM campsites.

I was to meet up with Wendy at a rest area on I-25 south of Albuquerque where she was coming from. But, it was closed, so Wendy went to the next exit. She texted me how to catch up with her, but I lost cell signal & never got the text to where she’d moved to. So. . .in the meantime, I’m following her original instructions & ended up on a frontage road along I-25 that ended at a gate without enough space to turn around with the trailer. I had no choice but to practice backing up, down that half mile at least of deserted road which included a couple of gentle curves. I finally got to a driveway with a gate & put the trailer right up next to the gate while managing 4 or 5 K-turns to get the pickup pointed in the opposite direction without falling into the ditch at the front of the pickup in the process. Whoop whoop whoop! I did it, not pretty or fast. Trial by fire. I was tired, hungry, scared, irritated & shocked, not sure if I was going to cry, throw up, cuss, walk, or what. Thankfully, while I was figuring out how to handle that, I just kept backing up a few more feet at a time.

After stopping for gas & dealing with a serious head wind, I made my way south on I-25 to meet up with Wendy FINALLY at Caballo Lake State Park, south of Truth or Consequences, NM. Boy, was I glad to finally park it & let Kira out of the truck after 10 hours of riding (including the slow backing). I slept SOOOO well that night too.

We just vegged out Thursday as thunderstorms woke me up at 3 am & rained on & off all day. However on Friday, Emily (a Casita owner in town) picked Wendy & I up to eat lunch & make a quick Walmart stop. I’ve stopped here to visit with her for four years now & enjoy that she knew Jeff back when he felt better.

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The clouds just hung on top of the mountains east of the Lake & our campsites. So strange not to have full sun over the area.

We left Saturday morning around 11, heading south on I-25 to Hatch, taking the shortcut across the desert to Deming, then west on I-10 to Arizona. Once again, I would have done a little dance at the Arizona state sign – except for the driving part. We scooted thru Tucson & north to pickup I-8. I’d never been that way before, having always headed west from Tucson on the Ajo Highway. Made it to the Shell station at the east end of Gila Bend around 5:30, close to dusk, pretty well worn out & pooped. BUT, we were only a few hours then from Quartzsite & our destination. We just boondocked at the far side of that truck parking lot & slept pretty well, not caring that we were officially in Arizona’s Pacific Timezone until 2am the next morning when it became 2am Mountain time.

We were both awake early Sunday morning so got back on the road by 9:30 am heading north to Buckeye to pick up I-10 west to Quartzsite. Traffic wasn’t too bad & no wind so went directly to the LTVA kiosk to get our annual $180 pass. We moseyed around looking for the perfect spot but finally took an open area with a great view of the red mountain directly to the west of that site. We wanted a tree & drove around all the various LTVA areas days later, looking for a better site but in spite of it still being summer in Quartzsite, it’ll change in a month & a shade tree won’t be wanted. Besides, we really like the view of that mountain behind us.

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We ate out several days the first week & got to know a few of our closest neighbors. On Veteran’s Day, November 11, I drove my pickup to Yuma to get it serviced (since the light came on early into my trip out to AZ, probably 1,600 miles ago). First, Wendy & I stopped at Applebee’s for my 8th year of a free veteran’s meal. It always meant a lot to Jeff & I since we’d never been allowed to celebrate Veteran’s Day much as most employers don’t acknowledge it as a holiday Last year’s meal was alone in Albuquerque, so having Wendy along this time was really nice. Getting the truck serviced took forever, & by the time we shopped at Walmart, it was pretty much dark on the way home. Only real problem was. . .my truck was running on fumes from the reserve tank & we barely made it to a gas station in Quartzsite in time. Unloading our groceries in the darkness of the desert wasn’t too bad since the not-quite-full moon was amazingly bright & helpful that night.

Otherwise, we’ve spent some pretty quiet, peaceful days. The first week & a half got pretty warm in the afternoons but the nights were, as all desert nights are, fantastic perfect sleeping temperature. There was that little issue with Wendy trying to climb a hill with her SUV but got it buried first in the gravel bed trying to get to it (she didn’t make it). Glad she has 4-wheel drive in her Sequoia cause the running board on my passenger side was loaded with gravel still when we got back to the trailers. Apparently it really was buried deep for a bit on the passenger side.

We’ve visited the local library a few times, filled propane tanks, & found more places to eat out. Our solar panels have worked well, & I used my propane generator FINALLY after 5 days of boondocking. After a week, I got us both water for our fresh water tanks with the water bladder that lives above the cab of my truck. We’ll hook up to dump the tanks when needed but probably return to the same spot. Yep – life has been pretty GREAT back in the desert! The locals say summer will abruptly end soon as winter arrives. I’m ready as I had more than enough summer this year! And it’s so great to see these Arizona sunsets again that look like molten lava across the sky!!

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Monday, October 31, 2016

Fall 2016 – Finally

After Wendy left for Denver, I returned to Branson Ridge (formerly Compton Ridge) Campground west of Branson MO. This is the campground where Jeff & I spent the previous two summers, where we hung out as his health deteriorated last year, & where the staff was tremendously helpful teaching me how to manage continuing to live in the Casita by myself. I thought about returning to the exact campsite where Jeff & I were camped -- when he died last year. . .but. . .but. . .it just didn’t feel right. I’ve returned to that site tho while walking Kira, to sit at the picnic table in the covered deck shelter, thinking, reflecting, saying goodbye. It hasn’t been as sad as I expected. I managed to come to terms with various aspects of my time spent with Jeff in my life, & reached a degree of peacefulness instead of simply acceptance.

As my departure date to AZ neared, I happened upon a welder in Springfield who removed the cargo deck at the back of the Casita which housed stuff & two AGM 12v batteries to a simple steel box to house only the batteries. The previous cargo deck was replaced several years ago that housed four (too heavy) 6v batteries, but this 2-year old solution was going to fail sometime soon too. I moved what was left to the pickup or storage unit. I also replaced the icky dirty white spare tire cover. I like the look & ease of this arrangement much better & hope it is much more serviceable.

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I’ve bought a few other things, including one of those newer, kink-free, light-weight fresh water hoses & an Anderson leveler, visited with a lot of campers, 2016-10-04 21.51.48& eaten out a few times, but for the most part, spent 3 weeks just vegging, finally enjoying some cooler weather & sleeping with the windows open at night. And Kira & have have taken a lot of walks around the campground. This is one of the roads we walk DOWN all the time. Just happened to have the setting sun sneaking thru the trees.

I returned to Stockton Lake (where Wendy & I had camped) for a week to spend saying goodbye to several friends & to celebrate my dad’s 94th birthday with him. I replaced the battery in his 2-year old smart phone, as well as a new battery for my fon too. He’s still doing very well after my mom’s death, but his knee has given out a couple of times so he feels it’s only a matter of time until he goes to the nursing home where a wheel chair & a helping hand will be needed even more. I had a good, long visit (& often shared a meal) with four different friends that I may not get to see even next year when I return.

During my busy week of saying goodbye to friends & family, I spent Oct 13th, the date Jeff died last year, exclusively with his daughter. We met up south of Kansas City to spend three great hours over pizza – just girl talk – answering questions, calming sensations of guilt, & sharing our future plans. She’s the closest person I have to a daughter. She’s a daddy’s girl, just like me, so as badly as I’ve missed Jeff, I feel it’s been even harder for her since her dad has always been in her life, just a phone call away. I can only imagine how much loosing my own father is going to hurt.

I returned to Branson for the last two weeks of October to finish up medical appointments & get organized for my winter in AZ plus spring/summer in NM & CO. It cooled off finally enough to go thru, reorganize, & clean out my storage unit. I sold/gave away most all of Jeff’s power & hand tools. I didn’t know what most of them did & wasn’t going to need them. I ripped all the music CDs we still had that I cared about to my computer & donated them to the library. And of course, thru away stuff. Now at least I know what’s in the storage unit is what I’m not ready to give up yet & I can get to it all. I’ll downsize more next Fall.

A friend suggested getting a dash cam, like a GoPro, but they’re a pretty expensive toy. But I thought it would be neat to use an action camera attached to the back of the Casita to watch as I backed in to a campsite (still a tense undertaking). An Amazon search yielded lots of these inexpensive little cameras & I selected one with a spare battery & a free app to view what the camera sees on my smart phone. I still have to get it secured on my pickup dash & at the back of the trailer – but I’m content with my $53 Christmas present toy.

I spent the Saturday before leaving with my dad. He fried some crappy fish (pronounced croppy) for me & baked me some brownies (my favorite desert). My Casita friend, Debbie, who has camped with me & Wendy & lives around the corner from my dad finally came over to meet my dad & me. It was sad leaving cause unless something happens with him, I hope to not to have to go east of the Rockies until next October.

Unfortunately, the bone scan done by the VA revealed I’m getting close to full-blown osteoporosis. Crap!! Between my mother having it, chemo, menopause, & ex-smoker, it was only a matter of time – I guess. The VA has me on a once-a-week pill that we’ll see how well it works.

Also, I’ve noticed my 12-year old, 20# Maine coon cat, Boots, having problems moving around this summer. I was hoping it was just arthritis, but after doing some research, a vet visit confirmed he has diabetes. Double crap!! He seems to be getting around better from the diabetic cat food & twice daily insulin shots at least. I rescued him off a lonely country road 12 years ago as a scared, starving 7-wk old kitten & I’m not about to give him up without a fight.

I am letting my natural salt & pepper hair grow out & stay (probably until the next time I get bored & want a new look) so most of the sick, yucky red is gone finally. Got an “all clear” on my annual mammogram & was finally free to move about the country. I’m pulling out the morning of November 1st, headed west toward NM & AZ to meet up, travel & camp with my solo Casita girlfriends. YEE-HAW!

Friday, September 23, 2016

Reunion with Casita friends

My Quartzite friend, Wendy, arrived finally to visit me. We went out to eat that evening & visited my dad. This full-time RVing is a very strange & not understood idea to my dad, so it seemed like a good idea for him to meet one of my closest camping buddies. The next evening then, another Casita gal (Debbie), who lives around the corner from my dad, decided to come camp with us (all of an 11 mile trip for her). And she even brought food & fixed us some great bacon-wrapped hamburgers. Had a fantastic visit talking Casita stuff outside in the refreshing cool weather that rolled thru just for that weekend. One day, I took Wendy over to visit one of my high-school friends, & then another day we made a trip to Walmart & ate at a Chinese restaurant. Overall a lazy week tho.

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After a week, we hooked up & traveled to a COE campground near Shell Knob MO (west of Branson on Tablerock Lake) that is centrally located for some Ozark sightseeing. Unfortunately, the curb-side tire on Wendy’s Casita failed about an hour from the campground. We don’t know if she ran over something or if it blew out or what, but her tire was totally shredded by the time road assistance got it changed. We spent one day in Branson, having lunch at my favorite Mexican restaurant, visiting the Visitor Center at Tablerock Dam, & later had frozen custard at Andy’s. And of course, a stop at Walmart again before returning to the campground.DSC04026

Another day, we visited Roaring River where a trout-loving cold stream gushes out of a small cave.

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Then, we wandered over to & around the eclectic, mountainside town of Eureka Springs AR next. While eating lunch, it poured outside & never stopped sprinkling until we returned to MO. The café had this intricate mural on the side of the building. Wendy got a new top & a pair of earrings.

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We also drove west to visit Thorncrown Chapel, a little church with glass walls, nestled in a dense stand of trees.

 

 

We spent some days just hanging around inside the A/C enjoying whatever we wanted. We left on Thursday before Labor Day weekend to return to the quiet, little campground near my hometown to wait out the holiday crazies. On the way, we stopped in Springfield for Wendy to get three new trailer tires so she’s good to travel many more miles. I got to have some Springfield cashew chicken again while in town. A cool front had come thru too & dropped both the temperature & humidity level so I actually slept with the windows open.

As with most RVers tho, Wendy’s plans changed slightly, so she decided to take another couple of weeks to just unwind here in MO without having to travel anywhere. Labor Day afternoon, we hooked up & traveled a half hour to camp at the COE campground on Stockton Lake (much cheaper than the campground near my hometown where we survived the holiday). We spent two glorious, lazy weeks looking out on a little bay. We haDSC04048d another wine night & visited my dad a couple of times. We drove around town & the DSC04034west side of Stockton Lake. AND, our Casita friend Debbie spent another night camped near us. Every time she shows up, the weather cools off. However, the day she picked me & Wendy up to go to Red Lobster in Springfield for Wendy’s birthday, it poured all the way down & back, quitting only about 15 minutes away from the campground.

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After more than 4 weeks camping together, I (almost tearfully) waved goodbye as Wendy finally headed west. I was so envious tho since I hate this hot, humid weather. I’m returning to Branson to get things wrapped up for my expected Nov 1st escape to the West.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Half an Orphan

My 90 year old mother with vascular dementia for the last 6-7 years died early Wednesday morning, Aug 3 (one day short of four weeks in the local nursing home) quietly in her sleep. Her kidneys had failed & she was fairly unresponsive the day before so it was no surprise. My poor father was just beside himself watching her so frail but unable to do much of anything to help but hold her hand.

I saw her Monday for “lunch” (barely some thickened liquids), but I’m not sure she really knew I was there. She looked so bad, I could barely stand it. And she reminded me WAY too much how bad Jeff looked before he died. However, we didn’t know it was finally her time & I needed to return to Branson. So I hooked up & pulled out Tuesday morning so I could make a Walmart run & Wednesday leave Kira at the local vets to have two small bumps lasered off her right front leg. They appeared to be growing slowly but she licked on them some & I wanted them gone. My dad called me at 7:15 Wednesday morning to tell me mom had died quietly in her sleep during the night, so when I left Kira at the vet’s barely an hour later, I was really stressed (one raw nerve). I’ve never been comfortable when one of my critters is anesthetized for a procedure, always fearing they won’t wake up or something will go horribly wrong, so I wasn’t doing too well. At least I learned that human anesthesia can now be used on animals so they wake up faster & without many side effects. In deed, Kira was bouncing around when I picked her up that afternoon. After dropping her off tho, I drove to Springfield to spend the day with my girlfriend (since the 8th grade) – the one I called at 2 am after my brother died & where I spent the night after Jeff died. She’s my surrogate sister & Kira’s godmother if something happens to me. It was good spending that sad & stressful day with her.

I posted on Facebook about my mother’s death & was blown away by all the prayers & condolences. Everyone’s support was extremely helpful & comforting. What an amazing way to communicate. I remember using the old party-line phones that hung on the wall, so using cell phones from anywhere (with texting) & internet (emails & Facebook) is nearly too easy.

Thursday, I hooked up again & returned to the small campground outside my hometown. My mom’s funeral was Friday morning in the church they attended, across from the house they used to live. I borrowed some appropriate clothes from my girlfriend who drove up to sit by me during the funeral so I could squeeze her hand. I had always expected to have Jeff for comfort but she was a good substitute. A number of my classmates attended but overall, most of mom & dad’s oldest friends have already passed away so not that many people are left to attend. After the graveside services, we returned to a dinner given by the church for the family. As soon as possible, I had to change into my uniform (tshirt & shorts) but at least I hadn’t embarrassed my dad at the funeral (he has to live here). Since I woke up at 3:30am that morning, I was seriously wiped out when I returned to the trailer that afternoon.

My parents were 25 days away from being married 73 years, but my dad has been amazing during all this. He could barely leave her alone in the nursing home, as he said, he didn’t have anything else to do. Although he hated to loose her, we both knew she had been leaving us by inches for the past few years, especially in the past month, & she was ready to be with her parents, siblings, & son (hopefully Jeff too). He’s sad but relieved now & basically just doing what I did when Jeff died – suck it up, continue living, & find friends & activities for distractions – you can’t bring them back or change anything. At least he’s starting to think of things to do now, like going for coffee with the guys every morning & attending church again, since he doesn’t have to stay around to watch after mom. The church pastor lost his wife 6 years ago & calls on my dad often, plus the neighbor guy’s wife has been in the nursing home for several years. Yep, birds of a feather stick together & help each other get thru the sad times. That’s what my new & old friends have done for me since Jeff died. That’s when you really learn who your friends are.

Funny tho being around normal people, you know, those who live in the same house, city, & state all their lives & absolutely, positively have no idea why anyone would not want to live in a house, in a neighborhood & town, to see the same people & do the same things over & over again every day, for years or a lifetime. I had one not too close of old friend who doesn’t understand my journey of being a nomad say that with my mom’s death, maybe I could afford to get a house now, or at least a bigger RV. Ummmm, that’s not the issue & that person definitely doesn’t have no clue. I wouldn’t settle down or live in a house if someone GAVE me one. Too much work & I don’t want to watch the seasons change in the same spot . And I certainly don’t want to pull around (or have to backup) a bigger RV, especially not a slab side or stick-built. My little molded fiberglass travel trailer holds it’s original value, is tremendously road- & weather-worthy, lives big but is cozy (I’ve always liked cozy even in houses), & is real close to maintenance free. Besides, without having wheels under my bed, I couldn’t change my neighbors, the scenery, or chase the weather when needed/wanted. OMG, talk about stuck in the mud, to be stationery. And it has nothing to do with money. My only exit strategy is to hire a guy with a pickup to pull my trailer to my winter spot (probably Quartzsite) & then to my summer spot (somewhere in elevation in AZ, NM, or CO) while I follow in a Jeep or something small. I love meeting up with RV friends & stay in touch with many just as easy as living down the street from them. Conventional life is just too boring – & actually much more expensive. Plus, living small & simple keeps me disciplined, something to do with that rule about always having a bit more ‘stuff’ than you have room for”.

Oh, & there’s also the comments about me finding another husband or companion. I don’t want to care that much about anyone again. Or become a caregiver or watch them suffer & die. Or compromise & try to understand moods & behaviors. I learned I can’t control or change anyone else; I can barely control my dog or myself, & I’m tired of accommodating someone else’s wishes. I hope I don’t sound bitter, just realistic, appreciating what’s important to me & knowing where my boundaries are. I just want to continue enjoying previous & new friends on the road, without regrets or worries, & looking forward to new adventures. Just a rolling stone. . .

I’m going to stick around my dad’s all month tho to see what he needs help with & visit enough that he’ll get tired of me being around. My Casita buddy from this winter (Wendy) is planning on stopping by later this month on her way from Minneapolis to Denver (via a slight detour to me). I need some serious time with my tribe (those molded fiberglass types). And I’ve got more (old) friends around here to visit with than in Branson, so I’m fairly comfortable here – well, except for this horrible heat & humidity (air you can DRINK). In fact, I haven’t really felt comfortable at “our” campground in Branson this summer. There’s just too many ghosts (memories) behind nearly every tree, & there’s lots of trees around there. My dad’s health & mind are pretty good so I hope I don’t have to repeat this past month ever again, but at least not for a few more years. And I’m chomping at the bit to get back out west. Missouri may be home but not where I belong anymore.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Hot Times in the Ol’ Town

Since my 90 year old mother has vascular dementia (little strokes that are destroying memory cells), she’s not able to live alone or even be left unsupervised anymore. Although my long-suffering 93 year old father is dedicated to caring for her, she finally reached a point several weeks ago where he could no longer help her up when she fell (from weakness & a UTI infection). He knew the time would come but sadly realized he was at his limit physically so had my mom admitted to the nursing home located across the parking lot from their assisted living apartment where they’ve lived for four years. After nearly 73 years of marriage, he’s just devastated without her around all the time. Ironically though (and I understand these feelings), it’s a huge relief to actually be able to sleep without keeping an ear open to listen for her falling in the night, or just be able to relax without continually answering the same nonsense questions from her. It just breaks my heart that there isn’t a damned thing I or anyone else can do to ease his heartache – except be around for support.

So, I packed up & hooked up the trailer in Branson to park at the nearest RV campground to my hometown. With the heat indexes predicted to be dangerously high, it’s just miserable outside. Even Kira no longer argues with me about coming inside to the AC. I visited my parents every day but still managed to do a lot of visiting with classmates who live in the area. One friend even drove up from the Springfield area the week before our Reunion to spend an afternoon with me visiting another classmate (who has diabetes & a heart condition on top of having both hips replaced already). We also stopped in to see my dad since his dad worked with my dad. Unfortunately, one of our classmates also has vascular dementia & brain damage from a fall & was in the nursing home then. Her husband is also a classmate so we three enjoyed catching up. Another classmate lives in the neighboring apartment complex from my parents, & her husband has the beginnings of Alzheimer's. I also visited one of my best friends in high school who worked her way up from nurse to nurse practitioner. In the past three years, she had a heart attach, breast cancer, & now is recovering from back surgery. Nevertheless, my class reunion was great. Good thing we all had on name tags tho. I could barely recognize some classmates, but the familiarity was always in their eyes regardless of the gray hair & wrinkles. Now if the heat index just hadn’t been 105 outside!

Holy cow, only me & a couple of other classmates are the only ones I know of right now without major diseases or disabilities or a plethora of meds. However, with my parents longevity & the health problems they now live with, I’m beginning to question this whole idea of living to be a serious senior citizen. Quality of life is different for everyone, but for me not being able to get out of a chair or go for a gentle walk without a walker, having to take a ton of medication, & worst of all, forgetting your friends & family just doesn’t seem like much of a life to me. My best hope for me & everyone else is that we gently just don’t wake up one morning instead of suffering thru those last years. It’s not being dead & gone that upsets people – it’s the pain & indignities that happen before death that everyone fears.

However, we got news two weeks after mom was in the nursing home that her kidneys had totally shut down. They gave her a few weeks to live, & Hospice was called in. Ironically tho, those old kidneys are still working at times, so she could last another month or so. She has problems swallowing now (from the dementia & doesn’t eat as much as a cat). My dad is holding up remarkably well, but this death watch is just excruciating. At least he has time to get used to being at home alone, being able to watch TV or listen to music without my mother complaining, but can still walk over to see her any time he needs or wants. How odd that his daughter is able to give him advise on surviving the death of a spouse. When she passes, at least the clock starts on the healing – just not until then.

I had a VA appointment scheduled for a month, so drove the trailer back to Branson for that checkup after my Reunion weekend. Even managed to finally get a shingles vaccination. It kind of itches & swelled up but no other problems with it. Geez, I don’t ever want to have shingles! My cholesterol is still higher than wanted but is dropping due to diet & quitting smoking. Progress. And it was cloudy & gloomy with scattered rain. Finally got a quick-disconnect put on the trailer for my fresh water hose tho. And it doesn’t leak like with just a hose attached.

I’ve been listening to music again while driving & it dawned on me those memories that hit me so suddenly are very much like the brief aroma on a breeze from honeysuckle, lilacs, or pine trees. So intense, just for a few seconds, that make me feel like I could almost swim in the scent – or the memory. If I closed my eyes, I could just reach out & touch them. Fortunately, my distraction & de-sensitization this past winter has actually helped. When I heard the news about my mom, I remember thinking it was just too soon after Jeff’s death. And now watching her fade away, so weak & fragile, is too reminiscent of watching Jeff last summer. There’s no easy way to let go of a loved one, whether it’s a split second event or one that takes years of decline. One of my few comforts after Jeff’s death was that he was no longer suffering. I hope I feel that too about my mom too.

Thankfully I don’t have a big agenda this summer cause those plans sure would have gone out the window (jello plans). I’ve come back to park near my hometown for however long it takes – for now, just waiting. . .& to support my dad. I’m surprised that I feel homesick for winter in AZ & NM tho. Funny how listening to the same music now here in MO reminds me of winter of Quartzsite & the Wolf Sanctuary almost more than of Jeff. Good grief, nothing seems to stay the same anymore. I just get adjusted & something else jolts loose. But I’ve realized that my & Jeff’s relationship went thru a number of different phases in 20 years since everything always changes, & I’m slowly adjusting to being a single now instead of half of a couple. I’m discovering my individuality again, happy to follow my own preferences instead of compromising & understanding.

I’m returning to Branson Tuesday so that Kira can have two little bumps lasered off her right front leg Wednesday. She isn’t messing with them too much (yet) but they seem to be getting bigger. Then I’ll return to my hometown for at least a month. I have more visits with school friends to distract me from this death watch, but I’m so thankful to be able to easily be where I need to be & have these last weeks with my mom. I rather be enjoying the cool weather in CO than here – this is a once a lifetime situation so I can’t miss it going off to chase the weather that fits my clothes.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Missouri Humidity

I’d been back in Branson for a little over a week only. . .& I miss the desert. How sad, or maybe weird. It’s just so populated here, I feel crowded. And although I LOVE trees (I think they have souls), I’m feeling claustrophobic without being able to see the horizon more frequently. And the humidity is just sucking my breath away. It takes no effort outside to cause profuse sweating, running down my face & into my eyes, even dripping off the end of my nose. Apparently I’ve become VERY spoiled (or soft) traveling out west. And poor, super-furry Kira comes back inside the AC some days within 10 minutes of being out. I imagine some of those holiday campers wondered why I stay inside all the time. Well, I’m NOT on vacation or just camping – I live in my trailer. At least I’ve made two trips to visit my parents & three visits to my girlfriend in Springfield (usually to leave Kira while I take care of other things). I’ve always been nervous leaving her alone in the trailer with the AC running for more than local trips in case of a power outage that won’t restart the AC even when power returns. Plus, 9 hours shut up is pushing the limit for her bladder.

I spent a day getting my 2010 Toyota Tundra pickup serviced in Springfield at the Toyota dealer. I’ve driven 6,000 miles since it’s last servicing last October. Not too bad for a full-time traveler. Jeff & I drove many, many more miles just to & from work living 25 miles in the country outside of Kansas City. There was a lot more income then, but a lot more expenses too. At 92,000 miles on the truck now, it was past time to have the transmission & 4-wheel drive systems checked too. Ugh – much bigger bill than I’d expected, but I’m dead in the water if that truck has a problem. At least I got a $67 discount with Toyota’s veteran’s discount. I’ve had the same service rep (David) helping me twice now, & he’s SOOOO good at answering my naïve questions & concerns, explaining things to me, & trying to be proactive in keeping the truck reliable. And I’m really getting impressed with this truck. It clings to all these curves & corners around Branson, & I like sitting up higher than cars so if I’m ever in an accident, I feel as safe as possible. It handles like a car, so I feel very comfortable driving it finally. It’s fast becoming MY pickup.

The campground hasn’t been horribly crowded, even over 4th of July holiday, & I’ve enjoyed catching up with past campers & staff. It’s good to talk with people who knew Jeff when he felt better. I really like having people parked around too, sitting outside to talk to when we walk by. And Kira knows where she is too, having tons of fun sniffing all the new doggie smells. Oh, and the campground has changed it’s name from Compton Ridge to Branson Ridge RV Resort.

While the truck was getting serviced, my girlfriend & I ate Chinese food. Springfield is the first place I ever ate Chinese food, & I’ve always preferred Springfield cashew chicken. It’s peculiar to this area where the chicken chunks are breaded instead of just cooked bare & is usually listed specifically as Springfield cashew chicken. There was even a little place near where I worked in Kansas City that had it. Yum, yum. I’ve scratched most of my eating-out itches too.

I’ve got VA appointments set up for late July, had my glasses adjusted, & got my gold Baht necklace I’ve worn for 32 years repaired after a link wore out. I want to find someone to reconfigure the two 12v batteries storage hanging off the back of the trailer. Still have things to find & clean out of the storage unit – but it may have to wait until cooler Fall weather. I’m excited about my upcoming Class Reunion – our 50th!! OMG, how’d we all get so old (apparently, very carefully). I’m collecting some simple, no-microwave-or-oven-needed recipes that are quick, easy to make & keep, boondocking-friendly, & healthy that I think I’ll make a blog post about. Considering I’ve lost 20# since Jeff’s death, that’s not saying too much good about my cooking, huh? Maybe it’s more about my state of mind – no appetite sometimes. I’m certainly not a foodie but I don’t trust my memory, so things need to be written down somewhere accessible. It’s SOOOO great having a Walmart & gas station within a few miles. Some of the solo women friends I made this winter are having a grand time hanging out in CO which just has me salivating about spending the summer somewhere more comfortable. Gotta get my life (routine) more organized first tho.

All this driving has given me lots of time (still again) to reflect on Jeff’s death, my future, & our past relationship. I can tell my memories of our life together are getting farther away from me, but his lasting affect on me is very strong. There’s a Celine Dion song that describes how our relationship started & why I was so dependent on him emotionally. He certainly wasn’t perfect nor the best looking, but he loved me unconditionally & was devoted to taking care of me.

 For all those times you stood by me, for all the truth you made me see, for all the joy you brought to my life, for all the wrong that you made right. For every dream you made come true, for all the love I found in you, I’ll be forever thankful baby, you’re the one who held me up – never let me fall. You’re the one who saw me thru it all.

You were my strength when I was weak, my voice when I couldn’t speak. You were my eyes when I couldn’t see; you saw the best there was in me. You lifted me up when I couldn’t reach. You gave me faith cause you believed. I’m every thing I am because you loved me.

You gave me wings; you made me fly. You touched my hand – I could touch the sky. I lost my faith; you gave it back to me. You said no star was out of reach. You stood by me & I stood tall. I had your love – I had it all. I’m grateful for each day you gave me. Maybe I don’t know that much, but I know this much is true – I was blessed because I was loved by you.

You were always there for me, your tender wind carried me, a light in the dark, shining your love into my life. You’ve been my inspiration, thru the lies you were the truth; my world is a better place because of you.

I’m every thing I am because you loved me.

Ironically, this relationship actually prepared me to continue on without him. He taught me, showed me, made me stronger, & I hope I never stop feeling him still protecting & guiding me. I hope I never loose that connection nor forget the pain of lose too much. His spirit is still propping me up. I’ll be forever grateful he was such a great part of my life – & I’ll forever remember him in those quiet times alone. In the meantime, I’ll continue with the adventure we both wanted.

I’ve decided to spend a couple of weeks at an RV park near my parents, visiting with them & assorted childhood friends while waiting for my class reunion. Also planning a day trip to Kansas City for Jeff’s grandson’s 8th birthday party & visit with old friends. Then it’s back to Branson. There’s a solo Casita friend who’s planning on coming to Branson to hang out near me then. We may even decide to caravan to some cooler places & meet up with more solo Casita gals. That would put a special spin on my summer of heat!

So, I’ve taken nearly two weeks to get this posted as life has become more intense lately.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Finally Made A Decision

I hate indecision, but that seems to be a problem for me ever since Jeff died. No one to bounce ideas off of or someone else’s desires to consider. Too frequently, it just leaves me STUCK doing nothing.

Somehow tho, unbeknownst to me, my emotions have shifted. Suddenly I started feeling restless – maybe the infamous hitch itch. I started thinking about making a plan for when to leave the Wolf Sanctuary & where to go. I could wait as late as July 15th to leave & make it to my Class Reunion in MO. But – geewhiz, I’m needing to see somewhere different. In 3 months, I’ve made 4 trips to Walmart in Gallup. No where else! I may have mold or rot growing on me!!

OK, so I think I’ll move up the date & leave July 10th. That puts me here an even four months in one place at the Sanctuary. Several days later tho, I started thinking. . .always a dangerous experience, maybe I’ll leave after the 4th of July weekend on the 5th. That sounds good. I told the staff in the Sanctuary office that I’d decided on a departure date. We talked about some of the virtual assistant things I could do from anywhere & keep a few necessary tasks taken care of without me being here. Great – I sort of have a job (no pay) but don’t have to report to a specific place at a designated time for a certain amount of time. That’ll work.

Then a slight earthquake in my thinking happened. There were two wild fires down the middle of NM that weren’t a problem for us. But the wild fire in eastern AZ south of Show Low was blowing smoke at us. And possibly some of the heat. All of the southwest has been experiencing unusually high temperatures this year, not just for June but for anytime. I’ve been running my AC in the afternoons until dark since the early part of June. Nighttime temps tho are heavenly, just perfect with the window open. So why get in a hurry to leave? More indecision.

One morning while walking Kira tho, I looked across the valley at the pine-covered distant hill & realized I wasn’t feeling the peace & contentment of the landscape like I had for months. There was that itchy feeling again. Damn I hate waiting!! After 5 years of being a nomad, of being tied to a workkamping commitment too many times (I know, you can always leave if you want), it’s getting harder to WAIT to launch.

Finally, I realized I had just hit critical mass. I was feeling trapped in this serene, remote location that has been so comforting & healing. Mostly, I’m so frustrated from my flaky-to-non-existence 3G Verizon cell signal with ever-so-slow internet connection. I wanted to make a call whenever I wanted or needed without waiting for the signal to return or worrying about the call dropping (& not have my phone even ring if someone called). And there’s the hassle of tank dumping into the blue boy then haul it in the pickup to the porta potty to dump. Thankfully, I’ve only dumped 3 times in a little over 3 months by using the campground shower & porta potties. And getting water in the bladder on the pickup cab to replenish my on-board fresh water tank was needed every few weeks. I’m so grateful for having electricity tho (recharging batteries, watching endless TV & now running the AC) – but damn, after boondocking in Quartzsite all winter, I really, really want to park with full hookups again!! And then there was the 4-hr-round-trip to a Walmart in Gallup. Now I’ve saved hundreds of dollars in this 3 months by not traveling or shopping or eating out – BUT! BUT!!! I haven’t had Chinese food or my favorite shrimp enchiladas since before leaving Branson Nov 3rd. And this heat means it’s time for a chocolate malt (with nutmeg) from Andy’s Frozen Custard too. I’m salivating just thinking of it all. And although I needed the time alone, I’ve had very few campers around to visit with. Bottom line – I’m civilization starved!!

So, I made an executive decision to pack up & boogey on my next day off. I just couldn’t wait until after 4th of July? My launch date on my first day off work was just days away now. Yippee!! No time to twiddle my thumbs anymore. I’m just feeling so anxious to get going. Since I have plenty of time to take my time traveling east, I’d like to see some of the northern NM State Parks that were still closed for the winter whenever we were traveling thru the state. But with such a short season, all electric sites were reserved at Blue Water SP west of Grants when I wanted to visit. And with this heat, I’m not doing without AC. OK, so scratch that idea (Made another decision.) And after several nights having trouble going to sleep (pre-trip excitement), I decided (again) to just bite the bullet & make this trip as fast as I can manage to get from western NM to Branson, mostly on I-40. It’s not like there’s a lot to see between Albuquerque & Branson anyway (or that we hadn’t already visited). I considered driving at night for the cooler temps, but normally, I’m yawning by sundown so that probably wouldn’t be the wisest or safest choice. I’ll just have to leave at daybreak & get parked & plugged in by late afternoon when it’s the hottest. Kira rides in her crate behind my driver’s seat & the cats ride in the trailer. They like the heat much more than Kira & I, but just to be safe, I’ll carry my indoor-outdoor temperature base in the truck to read off the outdoor sensor inside the trailer what the temp is. Good – not only decisions made, but a plan of action too.

My last day (morning actually) at work took FOREVER. And then waiting for the cooler evening temps to get hooked & packed up was just as long & frustrating. After stowing away & cleaning up the cabin, I put on my head band (to keep the sweat from running into my eyes & across my glasses), & I went outside in the 90 degree full sun to bag up the two trash cans at my site, put them in the pickup & truck them over to the trash gage (to keep the protected ravens from picking thru the bags). Well, I’m on a roll (as in not melting down yet), so I drove around the front of the trailer, plugged in the rearview camera & lined up the trailer hitch with the truck. OK – time to take a break. But, gee, I bet it won’t take much effort now to hook the trailer up today instead of waiting until the cool of the morning. I HOPE I’ve actually slept more than a few hours by then but can still get on the road earlier by doing more this evening. OK, backup, get out & look, back up a smidge more, get out & look, one more tiny backup. The remote camera wasn’t too much good with a pine bough right in front of it. Since I was parked on a slope with the hitch REAL close to the ground & the backend up in the air, I attached the safety chains before raising the hitch. WOO WHO, I think that’ll work. I had to pull up a twitch to get the hitch to latch, but after more than 3 months of sitting still, AND in the heat, it went amazingly smooth. OK, continuing my roll, I secured everything on the outside & removed the BAL leveler that I like using to level up side to side. I’m not backing up by myself on blocks so even with the effort, the BAL leveler has worked great for me! Finally, just a few things left to secure after the sun goes down before packing up those last few things in the morning. Time to go inside to the AC, drink some water, & wait some more.

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Oh but, not that kind of wait (as in waiting for sundown or morning). In all these months, I’ve never actually got to touch or get too close to one of the ambassador wolves, those that are comfortable enough to get near humans. Here I am sitting down near my trailer site getting to touch & pet Flurry, an Artic wolf (amber eyes & all). Not one of my better pictures, but it was hot outside & I’d been working.

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Surprisingly, I slept pretty well that night (might have been all the activity outside in the heat). I woke up at 6am, jumped into gear, & rolled out at 7am, mountain time. The temperature was just perfect. And for the first time, I didn’t have the heeby jeebies when I first started pulling the trailer. OMG, it was SOOOO great to be moving again – an adventure. The drive on Highway 53 east to Grants & I-40 is just a gorgeous route.

Jumped on I-40 heading to Albuquerque but was hoping the traffic wouldn’t be too bad on a Sunday morning. And indeed, it was a piece of cake. It’s not a bad town to get thru anyway, & those 5 lanes of traffic weren’t too crowded. Hot dog, so far so good. I stopped once at a rest stop to potty & get a V8 to drink out of my frig. Cats are doing good with decent temperature from window & ceiling vent open. I decided not to let Kira out since she gets so excited with new places to smell that she’d be hot & thirsty. I stopped again for gas in Santa Rosa.

East of Tucumcari, I started noticing some green grass (or weeds) along side the road {gasp}. Wow, how long has it been since I’ve seen grass, much less green? And finally, the Texas state line – & more green grass. The wind finally started kicking a little before I got to Amarillo, but that’s only an hour from NM.

I stayed the night at Oasis RV Park, 12 miles or so west of Amarillo, the same place I stayed last November when heading west along with the couple from RVillage who let me tag along. Didn’t unhook the trailer, level cement pad, got plugged in & AC going, set up satellite, & took Kira for a walk on MORE green grass. Slept good, no wake ups, & had my alarm set for 6am. W e l l – excitement I guess, I woke up at 5am & pulled out at 6am. Hmmm, it was thinking about getting light outside but hadn’t quite made it yet. It’s much lighter at 6am in mid Mountain Time Zone than 6am at the western edge of Central Time Zone. I missed seeing the left turn back onto I-40 in time to turn so had to go another 2 miles on the frontage road to get on the interstate. OK, zooming thru Amarillo on a Monday morning at that hour was no problem either. Now to get thru Oklahoma City in one piece.

Two more hours of easy driving & I’m out of TX. All the semis & cars are passing me as I poke along at an even 62mph. Oh well, I’ll get there in one piece. I started seeing fully-leafed out deciduous trees – large groups of them – & little fresh-water ponds. OMG, I didn’t realize how much I’d missed this landscape. Had to stop for gas again & figured out I could start pumping gas, run inside to potty, & be back before the gas tank was full.

I decided to try the Kilpatrick Turnpike along the western & northern sides of Oklahoma City with two pay stations (cash only – coins, no bills) for $3.20 total (3 axles), but missing that traffic was well worth it. The road heads east on the north side of town & dumps effortlessly into I-44. I sort of started getting claustrophobic east of Ok City as there were lush forests right up next to the road on both sides. Agh, no views at all. Oh well, there’s more road in front of me & the scenery was constantly shifting (unlike many parts of the country). Traffic was tolerable & no wind today. The temp reading on the pickup only got to 91° all day long (just like yesterday) & the trailer was a degree cooler.

I stopped at a Quick Trip outside of Tulsa for gas again (at a lovely $1.83/gal), rumbled over the roughest road of the trip, & got closer to MO. More toll booths on I-44 but it was necessary & worth it. I could have stayed on I-40 east of Ok City & taken I-49 (Hwy 71) north at Ft Smith but would have had to jump off near Fayetteville to wiggle up & down & around Hwy 76 into Branson. Jeff LOVED roads like that to get his wiggle fix on all those curves, but I’m not ready to tackle that kind of driving yet.

FINALLY, I’ve reached the MO state line at Joplin. OMG, I can’t believe I did this, or survived this marathon drive. OK, a few more hours, but at least I’m in totally familiar territory now. Around Mt Vernon, I noticed the trailer temp was at 94° tho so I pulled over to check. All that bumping thru Tulsa had closed the ceiling vent & stopped the (hot) air flow – plus the sensor jumped off the hook to land in the trash container on the bathroom door so it really felt the heat. The cats were fine temperature wise although a little bug-eyed at the long bumpy day.

I finally jumped off I-44 west of Springfield, zoomed around town on the James River Trafficway & headed south on Hwy 13 for BRANSON. The 8 stop lights in Nixa are a royal pain but 13 has less hills than taking 4-lane 65 to the east. Besides Compton Ridge is west of Branson proper & much more accessible coming in from Branson West (past a Walmart). I scooted around the plethora of curves on Hwy 76, past the stop light going to Silver Dollar City, & turned right onto Highway 265. Holy cow, I’m only a mile away from friends, stopping, shade, & full hook ups!!!! It was 4:30pm. Not counting my fuel stops, I covered a little over 1,000 miles in 18 hours of driving at 62 mph. Not too shabby.

I had called Compton Ridge to warn them I was coming & when I drove up, several workers & one camper from summers past were at the office to welcome me. I had thought of my arrival several times during the drive & tears always flowed but I was just so grateful & happy to have arrived & to see “my family” that I just babbled with joy – no tears. And Miss Kira knew we were back home. She just wiggled all over – & sniffed. Yes, so many interesting smells & the possibility of new doggy friends in the area (doggy heaven). And there’s the golf carts to bark at too. She still remembers running along side one as I rode comfortably when we worked in Pagosa Springs CO 5 years ago.

I wasn’t sure where I wanted to park & I was too brain dead to tackle backing in even if I’d found a site I wanted. I just didn't want a site where Jeff & I had parked before. Finally I just pulled into Site #1, right in front of the office, & got plugged in. It didn’t take long, even with the heat, for Kira & I to be out walking the kinks out. Kira had been in her crate in the truck over 10 hours. However, we both QUICKLY became aware of the much higher humidity than we’d experienced for over 8 months. Good grief, we’ll both waste away from sweating (& panting) so much. I got the TV hooked up & settled in to just veg. I don’t have the words to describe how good it felt finally. Anxiety, worry, stress – all gone – replaced with comfort, contentment, thankfulness, excitement, & peace. However, I wanted Mexican food but couldn’t find anyone nearby to go out to eat. So, I just went by myself. I play solitaire a lot at restaurants anyway, so it didn’t matter no one was around to talk to. My shrimp enchiladas were just as good as I remembered!

I spent the 2nd travel day listening to music – our music. Andrea Bocelli over & over. Cried a few times but had a conversation with Jeff finally. It’s all the things he would have told me if he’d known he was dying. (I do think he suspected, knew or was told by his doctor, but he just couldn’t talk to me about it) It wasn’t my thoughts that I heard either – it was how he’d have said it. When I envisioned arriving at the campground & the tears rolled, he told me “It’s OK, baby. I’ll be with you.” So at that last road, the anxiety fired up again & I repeated what he said to myself several times & it worked. We both felt so at home in the Branson area & love it so much. It really had to me my imagination; I know that (mostly) but I could just feel how happy he was to be back too. His ashes have traveled under my bed since we left. Although he wanted me to sprinkle him around the beautiful places I would continue to visit – but I’m just not ready to let go of ANY of him yet. It’ll happen sometime.

I slept REAL good Monday night & got some appointments set up Tuesday. Found a new site I can get into Thursday when those campers leave. In the meantime, I’m sitting in full sun. Oh well, as long as my AC doesn’t stop, we’re golden. I made a Walmart run Tuesday, & listened to music again on the way home. Bad words & dirty names! That was INTENSE. This was Jeff’s town & he was so close to me right then. On our evening walk, Kira & I met up with some other workers from previous summers & it felt so good to talk about Jeff with people who knew & cared for him too.

Since I was changing sites Thursday, I traveled up to my hometown to see my parents Wednesday. I dropped Kira off at my girlfriend’s house in Springfield & got to visit with her a little. My folks are doing amazingly well for 90 & 93. Mom’s dementia is as bad as ever but didn’t seem too much worse. They are both looking healthy, not overweight or sickly skinny. A classmate/girlfriend who lives in their complex came over to visit with me, & we talked about our upcoming class reunion as well as her ailing husband, Jeff’s death, & my travels. I left later than planned but just HAD to stop at Andy’s Frozen Custard in Springfield for that chocolate malt. Oh yum. There’s no grass growing under my feet as far as eating out goes. When I returned to pickup Kira, I was invited to stay for supper so by the time I got home 11 hours after leaving, I was dog TIRED, full, cool, & feeling the lack of the last few days adrenalin. We took a short walk but Kira was ready as ready as me to be inside the cool & crash early for the night.

Thursday I moved to my new site about 10 am. It was already getting really steamy but I think I’ll like this site. It’s a much busier, crowded area than we’d parked before, but being by myself, I haven’t minded other campers within spitting distance of me. The bathroom/shower house is close, the satellite is happy, I’m on pavement, & have trees on both the east & west for shade most of the day. Oh, Kira doesn’t take long to scratch on the door to come inside. Guess it’s still too hot for her even in the shaded outside. I have more appointments to make & projects to start.

Then I talked to my cousin who lives in Branson with her husband. We all went to school together although they’re both a grade or two ahead of me. Although my cousin is a great cook, she tries to go out & eat as often as possible. So. . .we met for CATFISH. Oh yum, I felt like purring. Afterwards I went by our storage unit & deposited my generator, solar panels, & blue boy. Ain’t gona need any of that for several months. Picked up some large plastic storage drawers that I wanted to try in the trailer to consolidate some of the clutter. Yeah, I took out more cushions, small storage containers, & plastic tables than I brought in. It’s not quite right yet, but even inside the AC, I was dripping with sweat. Think I’ll sleep on it.

Talked to my girlfriend in Kansas City for two hours about my visit next month. Woke up a couple of times overnight so slept until almost 8am. It’s Friday afternoon now & it’s been raining all day. Woo hoo. A day of rain is fantastic; a 2nd day is too much tho. I got all caught up reading on the blogs since last weekend & fixed me a big breakfast (for lunch). Kira’s been outside under the trailer all morning (in the rain) but it’s cool enough to turn off the AC. Just don’t want the humidity inside tho. We probably should go for a walk before it rains again. Not much planned for the weekend other than to finalize my inside rearranging. That’s all my news for now. Gotta few more friends to see & places to go this week – but it sure is nice to be back home (even if it is hot & humid).

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