Monthly Archives: October 2013

2013_10_25-31 (M-R) FOOD At The Phase Place!

Sometimes I get busy and don’t keep up with my posts.  When I go back even as little as a week, as in this post, I find that many of the details are already lost in the continuous flow of daily living.

With the bus work in Williamston wrapped up, I turned my attention to figuring out what body panels and small parts I needed to order from Prevost to fix the damage I did to the passenger side of the bus leaving the campground in Townsend, TN.  I spent a fair amount of time in the Prevost CatBase Viewer database.  There were enough parts involved that I made an Excel spreadsheet.  I called Prevost U.S. Parts and got Roger Anderson on the line.  After discussing this for a while, we decided that it would be easiest for me to e-mail him the spreadsheet.

Next up was final preparations for the annual business meeting of our FMCA Freethinkers Associate Chapter (FTH), of which I am the vice-president and secretary.  There are a surprising number of documents that are involved in a simple meeting of a small group: an agenda (from the president), minutes from last year’s meeting, financial statements (which Linda and I prepare based on data from the treasurer), proposed amendments to the bylaws, and an updated roster.  All of these get converted to PDF files and uploaded to a folder in our Dropbox account.  I have provided a link to that folder to all of our members.

We made our usual trip to South Lyon on Saturday morning for breakfast with members of the South Lyon Amateur Radio Club (SLAARC).  Linda worked on recipes.  I installed the WP-Recipes plug-in and she has started using it to capture and publish recipes for some of our favorite whole-food plant-based (WFPB) dishes.  She is evening taking a photograph of the finished dish and adding it to the recipe page.  (Click on the Food & Health Tab and then on Recipes in the dropdown menu.)

While Linda worked on recipes I worked on WordPress websites.  Besides our own, I am working on websites for our FMCA Freethinkers Associate Chapter (FTH), our FMCA Great Lakes Converted Coaches Chapter (GLCC, of which Linda is the Treasurer), and our South Lyon Amateur Radio Club (SLAARC).

WordPress is constantly releasing updates and new versions.  This generally a good thing, but they always strongly advise that you backup your site (folders/files/database) before installing an upgrade.  I haven’t been doing that, so I decided on Saturday that I should.  The GLCC website is an add-on domain for our primary/personal site, so I was able to back it up using the backup utilities in the cPanel.  The FTH website is hosted by iPower and the SLAARC website is hosted by GoDaddy, neither of which use cPanel nor appear to have built in backup utilities.  There is some provision for backup built in to WordPress.

When I used the cPanel backup utility to backup our primary/personal site and the GLCC site it was about 1 GB.  We only had 2.5 GB on our free Dropbox account, so I signed up for the 100 GB Dropbox plan.  I then went on a search for a WordPress plug-in that would do the backups on a schedule.  I selected WordPress Backup To Dropbox (WPB2D) and then installed and activated it on all four sites.  I am going to test it for a couple of weeks and see how it works.  I hope it works well as it is a very simple plug-in to use.

Our FTH meeting was scheduled as a conference call for 6:00 PM EDT on Sunday evening, October 27.  We have 40 memberships in the chapter and needed 10 to make a quorum.  6:00 PM came and went and at 6:15 PM we only had 8 people on the line.  The president polled the group and decided we would try again the next night; same time, same place.

Our SLAARC information net is held every Sunday evening at 8:00 PM.  I was a regular participant up until we moved to the new house.  Although I have our 2m/70cm base station antenna mounted on the old TV tower, I do not have the coax run to the ham shack in the basement.  Hooking up the radio is inconvenient, especially in cold/dark/wet conditions, all of which we now have.  I would like to have the ham shack set up and functioning, but it has not made it to the top of the list yet.

On Monday I drove the bus to W. W. Williams in Dearborn, Michigan to have them look at the auxiliary air system and the speedometer.  They thought the constant cycling of the main engine air-compressor was either the governor or the air-dryer purge valve.  Since the governor had just been replaced, I authorized replacing the purge valve.  They thought the speedometer issue was the “tone wheel”, the sensor, or the gauge.  The sensor was just replaced, so I authorized them to check that it was installed correctly and to pull the output shaft housing on the end of the transmission to check the tone wheel.

I called Roger back at Prevost U.S. Parts.  He had filled in my spreadsheet and prepared a Prevost quote, so he e-mail those back to me.  I decided to hold off ordering until Michele at Phoenix Paint has a chance to look at the damage and decide if she can fix it.

Linda and I had staked out the size/location of our planned bus barn and driveway.  We adjusted the stakes slightly, moving the barn 5 feet farther from the road and squaring it up.  It’s currently 32 ft. wide by 56 ft. long with a driveway that includes a spur for turning around.  Phil from Precision Grading came by Monday evening, measured the area, and dug a couple of test holes to see what soil conditions we had.  He said we had 13 inches of good top soil in that area.  This will have to be removed and replaced with crushed concrete and 21AA road gravel, so we discussed possible locations on our property for the top soil.  Some of it will go in a depressed area behind the proposed barn location.  This area forms a lake whenever we get heavy/persistent rain.  Some it will probably go on the west side of the main garage driveway, which currently drops off more than we would like, and somewhat unevenly.  There are also low spots on the far west end of our property, and some of the topsoil will likely go there.

I spent the rest of this period working on the various websites.  In particular, I finally figured out how to configure and use the WP-Members plug-in to restrict access to selected portions of a WordPress site based on a Username and Password.  With that feature working, I focused on design (structure) and content for the FTH and GLCC sites.  I got sidetracked on Halloween with the idea of installing a “slider” (automated slideshow) in place of the default graphic in the RESPONSIVE Theme I am using for the GLCC site.  I selected and installed Meteor Slides based on its demonstration by the authors of RESPONSIVE.  It had the appearance of being very simple to install and use, and it was/is once I figured it out.  It took me 5 hours to do that, but I did.  The site is not ready for viewing yet, but I will share the address when it is.

2013_10_24 (F) 50/50

We were up early this morning as Linda had to go to the bakery today.  I stopped by the post office on my way to Williamston and arrived around 9:15 AM.  Joe was already working on the coach and I got busy working on some small items.  I needed some WD-40 and neither of us had any, so it was off to the store.  As long as I was out I picked up coffee at Panera.  Yum.

No, today was not a 50/50 raffle, although those seem to be regular features of large RV rallies and ham radio meetings.  Today was a day of even odds as to whether new parts would solve some nagging bus problems.  As of the end of the work day the score was parts 0, problems 2.  That doesn’t mean the day was wasted, not at all.  We have a new governor (pressure regulator/controller) on the main engine air compressor and a new speedometer sensor on the transmission.  We also had a new hub gasket on the driver-side drive axle and dynamic wheel balances on all six positions.  The chassis had been lubed, the side-view mirrors had been tightened, the entrance door latches were tightened, and the passenger-side engine compartment door latch assembly was lubricated, as were all of the bay key locks.  That’s a lot of stuff taken of.

The auxiliary air system, however, still bled down quickly to just under 100 PSI each time the air-dryer purged and then slowly built up pressure to 130 PSI and the repeated the cycle.  I called Joe as soon as I got home to let him know.  He called someone that he relies on for advice and was told that it was most likely the unloader valve in the head of the air compressor.  The valve is not an expensive part, but replacing it requires a lot of labor.  The air compressor is bolted to the transmission end of the main engine block and the head is tied in to the engine cooling system, so not only is it difficult to get to (in a bus), the coolant (antifreeze) has to be drained at least to the point where the air compressor head is empty so it can be removed without making a huge mess.  Ugh.

As for the transmission speed sensor, the speedometer continued its bizarre, random behavior as I drove.  It stayed at zero (0) MPH when I first started driving, as it usually does, then jumped around erratically independent of vehicle speed, then decided to sit at 85 MPH (maximum on the gauge) regardless of vehicle speed, and then jumped around a bit up there.  It never did settle in to the correct speed on the whole trip back.  In other words, exactly what it was doing before we changed the sensor.  Ugh, ugh.  But at least we know the problem is somewhere else.

Chuck drove out to Williamston from Novi and arrived just before 1:00 PM.  Joe needed to test drive the 2002 Prevost XL LeMirage he’d been working on, so he drive the three of us to lunch in it.  That was the first time I had ridden in an XL and the first time I had ridden in a converted coach powered by a Detroit Diesel Series 60 engine.  The ride was very nice and the engine obviously had a lot of torque.  The thing I noticed most, however, was how quiet it was without windshield and door gasket air leaks.

While Joe finished the front end work I finished putting trim back on the wheels, packed up my tools, and reloaded the car and the bays.  With all of the work done, Joe guided me out of the garage and I pulled around into the driveway where I could hook up the car without blocking anyone.  Eventually there was nothing left to do but pay Joe and leave, so that’s what I did.

Centramatic dynamic wheel balancer on driver-side front wheel.

Centramatic dynamic wheel balancer on driver-side front wheel.

I got back to house late afternoon, got the car unhooked, unloaded the bus and the car, stripped the bed, and started a load of laundry.  Retirement may mean that someone else fixes your bus, but it doesn’t mean that some else does your laundry.

I did not get a chance to winterize our coach while it was in Williamston.  Overnight low temperatures have been dropping down near freezing, and were forecast for the upper 20’s tonight.  The living area in the coach will stay above freezing just from retained heat and the heat put out by the refrigerator, but I was less sure about the bays.  There are still water lines in the front bay from the old combo washer/dryer so I turned on the electric bay heater.  The water tank bay does not have an electric heater, which I thought was odd, until I realized the Aqua-Hot is in test bay and has an electric heating element, so I turned that back on as well.

Linda left the bakery around 5:00 PM, which put her in the middle of the afternoon rush.  I’m not sure why it’s called rush hour since traffic mostly moves slowly or not at all.  While on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia last week we were reminded of similar reversals, made famous by George Carlin, such as why we drive on Parkways and park on driveways.  And we wonder why non-native speakers gave trouble with English?  I sat on the couch and worked on this blog posting and Juniper (our female cat) curled up beside and went to sleep; very unusual for her.  We had a heavy downpour of rain and sleet that lasted for 20 minutes, but Linda finally made it home at 6:37 PM.

Dinner was pan grilled onions and extra firm tofu slices in Bar-B-Que sauce served on a whole wheat bun with a mixed green salad, a few Tostitos whole grain dipping chips, salsa, and a small glass of white wine.  The odds of that being a really tasty meal were much higher than 50/50.  Simple yet simply delicious.

2013_10_23 (W) Williamston MI Bus Garage

Today started out complicated but settled in as it progressed.  Linda had to babysit today as we were still out of town on Monday and our daughter took Monday instead.  Normally Linda would just get up and drive to Ann Arbor, but our son borrowed her car just before we left for Tennessee and still had it.  She could have taken my car had I not needed it.  But I did, so I got up early and drove her to Ann Arbor.  But first I started a load of laundry.  (Even retired people sometimes have to multitask in order to get everything done that needs doing.)

An early morning trip is always an excuse to stop at Panera, especially as we so rarely do this anymore.  Bagels and coffee in hand we were back on the road.  I’m not driving all the way to Ann Arbor and not see my grand-daughter, so stayed for a while and watched her play.  She is a very active 10-month old and was either looking at her book collection or crawling around the living/dining rooms the whole time.

I eventually headed back to the house, put the laundry in the dryer, cleaned the cats’ litter tray (but forgot to feed them), gathered up the various things I needed to take with me, loaded them in the car, and reconnected it go the bus.  The laundry wasn’t dry yet, so I spent some time repositioning the stakes that we placed last evening to mark the outline of the bus barn and driveway.  It took longer than I expected, but that’s almost always the case, so I am used to it, and OK with it.  I hung up the dried clothes and prepared to drive the bus some 40+ miles WNW to Williamston, Michigan.

The reason for the trip to Williamston was that our mobile mechanic, Joe Cannarozzi, was already there working on another customer’s coach.  The customer had a 2-bay bus garage with heat; no small thing given that overnight lows were forecast to hit freezing or below.  Joe had all of his tools unpacked there, and was staying in the customer’s coach, so it was a much better place for him (and me) to work than our driveway.

Joe was wrapping up a conversation with John, one of the seven (7) partners in the partnership that owns the coach, so I unhooked the car while they talked.  I got to meet John and see the coach, a Prevost XL-45 LeMIrage “entertainer” conversion.  It was a nice conversion and they have had Joe do a fair amount of work on it.  John had never seen a motorhome bus conversion, so I gave him a brief tour of ours.  I also showed him the generator bay as they are also facing a soundproofing redo.  As a token of appreciation for letting Joe work on our bus in their garage, I gave John copies of the February and May 2013 issues of Bus Conversions Magazine and the summer issue of The Gypsy Journal.

Joe and John concluded their business and I 3-point turned the bus and pulled it into the left bay of the garage.  I then pulled my car into the other bay.  We unloaded tools and parts, raised the bus high enough to get the stands under it, and set it down on them.  Joe needed food so we went to get lunch at a nearby Italian restaurant.  Joe had a full meal while I had a salad of dark greens (mostly spinach) with sun-dried tomatoes and olives and a homemade Italian dressing.  It was quite good.

Linda called to let me know that two boxes had arrived from Prevost as promised.  I asked her to drive them out to where we were, which she did.  Joe then put me to work removing the “beauty rings” and lug nut bling from the wheels, after which he started removing the outside dual tires/wheels and the tag axle tires/wheels so he could install the Centramatic dynamic wheel balances.

While Joe muscled the tires around I dug out my metric hex wrench set and tightened the outside rear view mirrors.  (Prevost Car, Inc. is located in Saint Claire, Quebec, Canada and their coaches are an interesting mix of U.S. and metric parts.)  The passenger-side mirror, in particular, had been just loose enough for a long time that it vibrated while driving (slightly irritating) and wouldn’t hold its position (very irritating), dropping down beyond the limits of its remote adjustability to the point where I couldn’t use it to see down that side of the coach (dangerous).  Like many “little things”, however, I kept forgetting to fix it once we got home as we are very busy immediately after returning from a trip.

I opened the garage door to call Linda and check on her progress only to discover that it was raining lightly and watched the rain turn to snow right before my eyes.  When I arrived there was a little bit of graupel falling.  Welcome to Michigan in October.

Linda arrived with the parts, visited for a few minutes, and headed back to work on thank you cards for our open house guests.  Joe removed the driver-side outside drive tire, examined the oil leak evidence, and said he thought I only had a gasket leak.  He pulled the axle flange and we discovered that it didn’t have an axle flange gasket.  The last time someone worked on it (before we owned it) they used “form-a-seal”, a thick liquid that you squirt out of a tube like caulk or toothpaste, and it was obvious that there were areas where no effective seal existed.  Joe said that this is a “common” practice, but his preference was to use the appropriate gasket, several of which I now have in stock.

We cleaned off the remnants of the old form-a-seal and then Joe reassembled the hub, installed the wheel balancer, and reinstalled the outer dual tire.  I cleaned the oil from the inside of the beauty ring, as we did not want the old oil residue making us think we still had a leak, and then Joe reinstalled that as well.  We were short one washer, it was late, and Joe was tired, so we called it a day.  I packed up and left, taking one of the washers with me so I could buy more of the correct size.

I stopped at the Home Depot in Brighton, found the split-ring lock washers I needed, and finally got home around 8:30 PM.  Linda had picked up an Amy’s Roasted Vegetable pizza.  It is absolutely the best vegan pizza I have ever had.  It was real treat and a good end to a good day.

2013_10_22 (T) A Good Day’s Drive

Today was the final leg of our 12-day trip to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and back by way of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley and the mountains of West Virginia.  We had 276 miles to travel and figured it would take us 5.5 hours as our planned route was mostly US highways with some Interstate highway legs and a little bit of surface roads.  We planned to leave around 10 AM and arrive home between 3:30 and 4:00 PM.  We actually left at 11:19 AM and arrived home at 5:00 PM.  Although we were approaching Ann Arbor from the south around 4:15 PM and encountered increasingly heavy traffic, we slowed down to the posted truck speed of 60 MPH and sailed right around.

The drive from Chillicothe, OH to Columbus, OH on US-23 was very pleasant.  The highway was 4-lane divided most of the way, and often limited access.  The terrain was still gently rolling and was very pretty with fall colors under nice sunlight.  Lunch hour traffic around the outskirts of Columbus on I-270 was moderate but not congested, even in the construction zones.  We exited I-270 at the northwest corner of the Columbus area onto US-33 headed northwest.  Again, an excellent multi-lane divided US highway that rolls through some lovely countryside and passes just next to the highest point in Ohio.

We stayed on US-33 until it intersected I-75N at Wapakoneta, OH.  From there it was 90 miles to Toledo, OH but we exited before reaching Toledo, heading west on I-475/US-23 which turned north towards Sylvania, effectively bypassing Toledo.  Crossing the border into Michigan it always feels like we are almost home, but we are not.  The shortest distance to a border from our house is about 60 miles, which gets us to the bridge or tunnel from Detroit to Windsor, Canada.  But the shortest route to a bordering state is US-23 to Ohio which is straight north/south shot to our community.  Even so, it was 70 miles and another 80 minutes of driving, or about 25% of our trip today.

While it is always nice to return home, it is often the worst part of the trip in terms of roads.  Many of Michigan’s roads are not in the best shape, and US-23 from Ohio to Ann Arbor is one of those roads.  It’s not only annoying (our tax dollars not at work), it’s embarrassing.

We pulled into the driveway around 5:00 PM, plugged in the electrical shoreline and unloaded much of our stuff.  I got a load of laundry started while Linda put groceries away.  We still had some daylight, so we grabbed our box of yellow plastic stakes and a 100 foot tape measure and marked the approximate location of the proposed bus barn and driveway.  While Linda fixed dinner (black beans and rice from leftovers) I called Phil at Precision Grading to let him know he could stop by at his convenience to measure the layout for estimating purposes.

On balance it was a good 12-day outing.  We learned quite a bit about using our digital SLR camera in conjunction with powerful but free image editing software.  We were in scenic parts of the country at an ideal time of year for photography.  We got to do some sight-seeing, hiking, and captured some nice photographic images.  We got to spend time with new friends and with family.  And the coach ran well.

2013_10_21 (M) I-64, Do U?

We had decided yesterday that we would try to return home from the Lexington, Virginia area via I-64W across West Virginia to US-35 N into Ohio, branching off on US-23 N towards Columbus, Ohio and eventually getting on I-75 N and following US-23 N through Sylvania, Ohio (by-passing Toledo, Ohio), into Michigan, and home.

We needed a place to stay this evening, and I needed to order some parts for the coach from Prevost Car, Inc. so Linda researched campgrounds while I looked up part numbers on the Prevost CatBase Viewer.  I got the parts ordered and she identified two possible fairgrounds: the Gallia County Junior Fairgrounds near Gallipolis, Ohio and the county fairgrounds near Chillicothe, Ohio.  She called the phone number for the Chillicothe fairgrounds but never got an answer.  A woman answered when she called the Gallia Country Junior Fairgrounds and said they had 50A full hookup sites and we were welcome to stay there for $20.  Deal!  Gallipolis is only a few miles into Ohio on US-35N and the fairgrounds were only a mile or so off of the highway with good access from a major road.  She also found a listing for a Good Sam RV Park near Chillicothe, but the listing said their season ended on October 15.

L-to-R, me, Linda, Marilyn, Mary, and Ron.

L-to-R, me, Linda, Marilyn, Mary, and Ron.

After a light breakfast we prepared the coach for travel and helped Marilyn gather and move all of her stuff back to Ron and Mary’s mini-van as they got their A-liner ready to travel.  Checkout time was 11 AM, and we had both planned 5 hour travel days, so we were in no hurry to leave.  We were all packed by 10:30 AM, so we took a few group pictures, had our goodbye hugs, and made our exits just before 11 AM.

Welcome to West Virginia!

Welcome to West Virginia!







The weather was perfect today, with clear blue skies and temperatures climbing into the 60’s.  I-64 through Virginia and West Virginia is a designated scenic route, and it should be.  On the trip through western Virginia and into W. Virginia we often had the highway to ourselves.  This is mountain country and the road is rarely straight or level.  We had numerous long grades (up and down) and several that were marked 7% for up to 5 miles.  Reminiscent of our travels through the Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming, I was downshifting manually a lot, and on one long uphill had to drop into 2nd gear to keep the RPMs around 2000.  Unlike the trip over the Bighorns, I knew better how to drive mountains and the engine coolant temperature never climbed above 198 and the exhaust pyrometers stayed below 1000 degrees, typically 900 degrees or less.

I-64 joins up with I-77 in central W. Virginia and becomes the West Virginia Turnpike.  Traffic got noticeably heavier from here on.  We paid two tolls of $3.25 for a motorhome towing a car.  The WVT has toll booths staffed by real people, no tickets to take, no machines to feed money into.  Nice.  We tend to avoid toll roads not so much because of the cost, although that can be excessive, as the unattended mechanisms make it very difficult for us to pay tolls.

Welcome to Ohio!  (The bridge over the Ohio River was being resurfaced and down to one lane in each direction.)

Welcome to Ohio! (The bridge over the Ohio River was being resurfaced and down to one lane in each direction.)








We found the Gallia County Junior Fairgrounds easily and pulled in around 3:40 PM.  The place was deserted except for one car and a “campground” was not obvious.  Linda called the phone number she had used in the morning and did not get an answer.  We both walked around, peered in windows, knocked on doors, but nothing.  She eventually found signs with trailers and arrows and followed those to what might have been a campground, but no evidence of 50 A full hookups as we had been told.

The stop gave us a chance to rest and nibble, but after about 45 minutes we decided we needed to make other plans.  Remember, a true traveler has no fixed plan…  In looking at our (out-of-date) Trailer Life Directory (2010) we returned to the listing for Sun Valley RV Park near Chillicothe, OH (a Good Sam Park).  It said they closed October 15, but we called anyway.  They were still open!  And they had space!  And they were only another hour up the road!  And that was the direction we needed to go anyway!

Sun Valley RV Park near Chillicothe, OH as seen from the driver’s position in the coach.  Our site was ahead to the left but we had to circle around to the right get lined up so we could back in.

Sun Valley RV Park near Chillicothe, OH as seen from the driver’s position in the coach. Our site was ahead to the left but we had to circle around to the right get lined up so we could back in.

So that’s where we went.  It was less than 2 miles from an exit off of US-23 which was only 4.5 miles from the junction of US-35 and US-23, so it was not out of our way to come here.  We arrived around 5:45 PM.  Although the sun had disappeared behind a thickening cloud cover it was still daylight.  We opted for a back-in full hookup 50A site as the pull-through sites did not have sewer connections and getting to the dump station from those sites the next morning would be more difficult than we wanted to deal with.

We unhooked the car in front of the office where the road was widened for large RV to pull over while they registered.  I walked the route from the office to our site to check for adequate turning radii and an absence of encroaching tree limbs.  It all looked good, and we were got parked and leveled easily.  After hooking up the electricity and sewer line and making the interior ready for use we went for a walk around the park, as we often do.  Sun Valley is mostly seasonal trailers and park models, but it was in nice shape (which is not always the case).

We had leftovers for dinner, but really, Linda’s leftover meals are still a treat.  She was very tired and went to bed early while I stayed up and worked on photographic image post-processing, redoing the picture of our coach on our website home page, and catching up on writing blog entries.  I also had a long conversation with Joe Cannarozzi, our mobile mechanic, who will be working on the coach starting on Wednesday.

2013_10_20 (N) The Blue Ridge Parkway, VA

The Beginning of the Blue Ridge Parkway headed south.

The Beginning of the Blue Ridge Parkway headed south.

After breakfast we arranged ourselves in Ron and Mary’s Honda mini-van and around 10 AM headed up I-81 towards Waynesboro, Virginia and the Blue Ridge Parkway.  We had beautiful blue skies, with no threat of rain and highs forecast to be in the 60’s.  We exited I-81 N at US-250 and headed east through Waynesboro to the northern terminus of the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Our merry little band of intrepid hikers.

Our merry little band of intrepid hikers.

Our first destination was the Visitor Center at Humpback Rocks.  We spent a few minutes there looking at the indoor exhibits and used the “facilities.”  We set Marilyn up in a comfy chair with her book.  Ron, Mary, Linda, and I then walked through the period farmstead on our way to the Humpback Rocks Trailhead.


Interior of an early 19th century mountain farmstead cabin.

Interior of an early 19th century mountain farmstead cabin.

The Humpback Rocks are a rock outcropping near the top of a mountain that requires a 0.8 mile hike with a 900 ft vertical elevation gain.  Most of the trial was in excellent shape considering the number of hikers who were using it.  It was entirely wooded, with natural rock “stairs” in some places and steps that clearly showed the hand of man, but were very well done.  Parts of the trail near the top were wet and the rocks were slippery but passable.

Mary, Ron, and Linda on the Humpback Rocks.

Mary, Ron, and Linda on the Humpback Rocks.

The Humpback Rocks are devoid of trees and provided a panoramic view of the valley to the west and the mountains beyond spanning more than 180 degrees from south to east of north.  Unfortunately, we were there around noon to 1 PM and the lighting was not ideal for photographing the valley and mountains.  We spent an hour up there enjoying the view anyway before heading down.


Linda, Ron, and Mary on the Humpback Rocks.

Linda, Ron, and Mary on the Humpback Rocks.

The hike down was harder in some ways than the hike up.  Uphill hikes are generally about leg muscles, but the pace is naturally slower and it’s not too hard to find good footing.  Downhill hikes are about impact on joints, and footing is tricky, especially on the wet/slippery rocks we had to deal with in a few spots along the way.  Ron and Mary use adjustable hiking poles, and had an extra one for Linda, which she needed.  I should have used one, but didn’t.  We have a pair of adjustable poles at home, left over from a previous era of winter camping and cross country ski backpacking, but we added a new pair for each of us to our “next time” list.

We made it back to the Visitor Center around 2 PM and had a picnic lunch that we had packed that morning, rested for a while in the warm sun, and eventually made ready to continue down the Blue Ridge Parkway.

A red berry bush along the Blue Ridge Parkway, VA.

A red berry bush along the Blue Ridge Parkway, VA.

The rest of the afternoon we drove south along the Parkway, stopping at some of the scenic overlooks to overlook the scenery and take photographs.  The time of day and angle of the sun were not ideal for photography, but that did not take anything away from the views.

We exited the Parkway at US-60 and headed south through Buena Vista on US-501 to Natural Bridge, where we vectored off on VA-130 over to US-11 N and drove the few miles back to the entrance to the Natural Bridge / Lexington KOA.

Tonight was Linda’s turn to prepared dinner and she opted to make her Farro with mushrooms which is a favorite of mine.  She added leafy greens to the leftover salad from the night before, and served the dish with whole grain bread.  A little wine helped wash everything down.  Ron, Mary, and Marilyn finished the pie from the previous evening and Mary sliced up some fresh strawberries for me and Linda.  Ron and I did the dishes, after which we started a campfire and sat around until late in the evening talking and enjoying our last night in camp together.

2013_10_19 (S) Lexington VA

As I mentioned yesterday, we are camping with family at the Natural Bridge / Lexington KOA.  We let Marilyn sleep until 8 AM, and then got up, got dressed, and started moving around the coach.  Ron and Mary came over around 8:30 – 8:45 AM, Panera Bagel Pack in tow, and we had breakfast in the coach.  Based on the weather forecast, which was overcast for today and a bit sunnier for tomorrow, we decided to go to Lexington, Virginia about 10 miles north of our campground.

As is true of much of the United States, I did not know anything about Lexington.  That turned out to be a bit surprising to me as there are three universities there, and it has a strong connection to the Civil War.  It is full of old, but well preserved/restored architecture, and has become the center of an active artist community.  All of these things combined to give it a very nice look and feel.

The backyard of Stonewall Jackson house, Lexington, VA.

The backyard of Stonewall Jackson house, Lexington, VA.

Our first stop was at the visitor center where we picked up some maps and got some tips from the staff.  From there we headed towards Main Street, stopping at the home of Stonewall Jackson.  We didn’t tour the inside ($) but the yard was open for an apple cider event.  A trio (banjo, fiddle, and guitar) was performing, and a hand-cranked apple press was in operation.  We walked the rear garden and got to taste some freshly pressed, unpasteurized apple juice.

Above photo with “oil painting” effect.

Above photo with “oil painting” effect.

While we were at the Stonewall Jackson house, we started hearing loud truck horns.  At first I thought they were emergency vehicles on their way somewhere, but we quickly found out that there was a truck parade going down Main Street.  We walked the short distance to the corner and stood there watching tractor after tractor go by.  Most of the rigs were tricked out, polished up, and looking good.  Owning/driving a highway bus doesn’t automatically make you a gear head, but it does tend to heighten you awareness and appreciation of large tractor-trailers.

Linda, Ron, and Marilyn in front of the Robert E. Lee Memorial Chapel, WLU, Lexington, VA.

Linda, Ron, and Marilyn in front of the Robert E. Lee Memorial Chapel, WLU, Lexington, VA.

We walked a little farther up the street to the campus of Washington and Lee University, where Robert E. Lee and many other members of his family are buried in the Robert E. Lee Memorial Chapel.  The founding of the university pre-dates the American Revolution and most of the buildings feature simple, pre-revolutionary era, architecture; red brick with white trim.  It was a very attractive campus, and the house that Robert E. Lee lived in when he was president of the university is still there.

3-L The Jackson Cemetery, Lexington, VA.

The Jackson Cemetery, Lexington, VA.

From WLU we walked back to South Main Street to Nikko’s Restaurant, which Linda found on as a “vegetarian friendly.”  She had a vegan sandwich and I had a portabella mushroom sandwich.  Both were very good.



Stonewall Jackson Chapel, Virginia Military Institute, Lexington, VA.

Stonewall Jackson Chapel, Virginia Military Institute, Lexington, VA.

After Nikko’s we walked a little farther south to the Jackson Cemetery, where Stonewall Jackson and a number of his family members are interred.  We then walked back to the car and drove to the campus of the Virginia Military Institute (VMI), a public 4-year undergraduate college offering a military style education.  Here we visited the Stonewall Jackson museum, which included an excellent collection of firearms ranging from pre-revolutionary era to the present day.

Stonewall Jackson Chapel, VMI, Lexington, VA.

Stonewall Jackson Chapel, VMI, Lexington, VA.

We finished up our time in Lexington with a short drive through the ante-bellum house district and then found the local Kroger supermarket.  Linda and Mary picked up a few things for upcoming dinners and some candy for the kids back at the KOA as they are doing “trick-or-treat” from 6:30 – 7:30 PM this evening.



Native American Flutes handcrafted by Ron Lott.

Native American Flutes handcrafted by Ron Lott.





We gathered in our coach for a while and Ron surprised us with gifts he had made and brought along.  He has become quite expert at making Native American flutes, and had made one for Marilyn, Linda, and me.  He had also made a small harp for Marilyn.  All of them use pentatonic scales, so almost anything you play sounds good, and harmonizes well with what others are playing.


Ron and Mary’s Aliner trailer, with lots of custom interior modifications.

Ron and Mary’s Aliner trailer, with lots of custom interior modifications.

Ron and Mary fixed dinner this evening.  They pan-fried vegetables for veggie fajitas, and had black beans, rice, refried beans, salsa, and guacamole, along with chips and a nice green salad.  They also had sour cream and chicken strips for the non-vegans.  We gathered at their Aliner trailer and had dinner on the picnic table.  The trick-or-treaters came around as we were eating and we enjoyed seeing their costumes and giving them the small candy items we had purchased earlier.

A flower.

A flower.

After dinner, Mary and Marilyn did the dishes while Ron got a nice campfire going using scraps from his woodworking shop.  Kiln dried hardwood makes a nice fire and we sat around it for a few hours talking about whatever and listen to the screams of joy from the “spooky trail” the campground had set up for the kids.  Sometime around 8 PM music suddenly started up.  It was far enough away to not be obnoxious, but loud enough we could hear it clearly.  It took us a few minutes to figure out that it was a live band and not someone’s entertainment system.  The band wrapped up around 11 PM and so did we.


2013_10_18 (F) Not Our Best Day Ever

Today was a travel day for us.  We were not in any particular hurry to leave this morning and yet seemed pressed to get on the road as we had about 300 miles to travel.  We also figure an average travel speed of 50 MPH even when traveling routes that are mostly Interstate Highways.  We don’t usually travel more than 62 MPH and often slower due to traffic.  The 50 MPH average also seems to make an adequate allowance for surface roads, stop lights/signs, rest areas, and truck stops for re-fueling.  We try to avoid major cities whenever possible, and to go through them at off-peak times when we cannot.  We also like to be where we are going before it gets dark.

We had a wonderful time this week participating in the SKP Photographers BOF workshop/rally at the Tremont Outdoor Resort in Townsend, TN.  The resort itself was OK, although marginal for our motorhome.  I was able to get us in, parked, and leveled last Sunday but not without adding some scratches to the upper body paint.  I got us out of our site this morning and onto the entrance road where we hooked up the toad.  All was well until I made a right turn onto TN-73 and cut it a little too tight to avoid a car in the oncoming lane, and clipped the body on the passenger side.

We did not know the extent of the damage until we pulled into a rest stop on I-81 northbound (still in Tennessee) to switch drivers.  I clipped the lower panel of the last bay on the passenger side just in front of the drive tires, damaging the panel, a smaller body panel just behind it, and part of the wheel well trim.  Ugh.  Getting paint scratches buffed out just became the least of our problems.  The rest of the day went fine, but this sort of thing tends to put you on edge and take some of the joy out of the lifestyle, at least temporarily.

Linda took the driver’s position and continued on I-81 N towards our destination in Virginia.  She test drove the bus when we first looked at it, and did just fine, but had not been behind the wheel in the four years since then.  She drove for about 150 miles, getting us to a rest area at MM109 in Virginia, and she did great.  We still had 70 miles to go to get to Natural Bridge, VA and needed to stop for fuel, so I moved back into the driver’s seat to finish the trip.  We stopped at the Pilot Truck Stop at exit 150 on the northwest corner of Roanoke, VA.  This particular location was smaller with more congested access than we usually encounter, but we got in and out just fine.

We pulled in to the Natural Bridge / Lexington KOA around 4 PM, so we averaged just about 50 MPH for the six hours between “wheels up” and “wheels down” (aviation lingo for takeoff and landing).  We do not generally seek out KOA facilities for a variety of reasons, cost being number one, but this particular KOA had a nice look and feel to it.  It is built on hilly, wooded terrain, but the roads were wide enough for us to get through and the trees were trimmed up high enough that we didn’t scrape.  The sites are cut into the sides of hills, but are close enough to level that we had no problem leveling the coach.  Part of the reason KOAs are pricier than other RV parks are the facilities, which are designed to make them attractive to families with children.  That often means congestion and noise.  The campground is near full, but so far has been very quiet.  There are campfires burning, as there were at Tremont Outdoor Resort, which reminds of our tent camping days many, many years ago.

The reason we are here is that KOAs accommodate everything from large motorhomes to tent campers, and we are meeting up with family here for a weekend of camping.  They are camping in an A-liner in a site close to ours.

For dinner Linda improvised a quinoa-based dish with potato, squash, bell pepper, tomato, mixed dark greens, and Cranberry Thokku, a spicy/hot Indian relish/sauce.  Earlier in the week we installed the WP Ultimate Recipe plug-in on our website/blog and started playing with it.  Linda plans to add the recipe for this dish as her first entry.  She is preparing a Farro dish on Sunday and will add that as well.

Linda’s sister (Marilyn) and brother (Ron) and his wife (Mary) arrived at 7:30 PM, got their camper parked and set up, and then came over to visit for a couple of hours.  We discussed options for tomorrow and decided to make those decisions after breakfast.  Ron and Mary returned to their trailer for the evening and Marilyn stayed behind as she is sleeping in the coach on the pull-out couch.


2013_10_17 (R) The Middle Prong

It rained lightly all last night and into the first part of the morning.  That may not bode well for many outdoor activities, and you might assume that it would be a bad thing for photography, what with everything being wet and the sky being overcast.  Au contraire; while overcast skies reduce lights levels, we tend to work on tripods for landscape photography anyway, so that is not a problem.  On the plus side, the lighting is much more uniform, which helps in situations such as narrow river valleys with lots of tree cover where strong direct sunlight causes unmanageably large dynamic ranges and can create troublesome specular highlights.  On the downside, colors tend not to be as vibrant as one might like.  On the upside, having everything freshly wet deepens the color and overall tone of the scene.

The Middle Prong, GSMNP.

The Middle Prong, GSMNP. (Luminance HDR, 3 10Mp raw images).

But first we went to breakfast and kept an eye on the weather, because none of us felt like actually working in the rain.  The overcast hung around, with low clouds in the valley by our camp, but the rain stopped and we headed back into the Great Smoky Mountain National Park Cades Cove entrance.  We immediately headed up the road that runs along the Middle Prong of the Little River.  Lou had scouted this road previously and knew that it ran for about 6 miles, the first couple paved and the rest newly redone gravel.  There were two narrow bridges before the turnaround at the end, and lots of places for one or two cars to pull off.  We had a caravan of three vehicles, so finding good spots to stop was a little hard, but I think we found some good ones as I hope the photographs in this post demonstrate.

The Middle Prong, GSMNP.

The Middle Prong, GSMNP (Luminance HDR, 6 exposures w/ Mantiuk08).

The Middle Prong drops gently but persistently for its entire length, and is littered with rocks and boulders the whole way, providing lots of possible “water shots.”  There was one waterfall opportunity as well, but it did not have much water running over it today.  We stopped anyway.

The Middle Prong, GSMNP.

The Middle Prong, GSMNP (Luminance HDR, 6 exposures w/ Reinhard05).

My main “focus” for today was learning how to use the High Dynamic Range technique.  This is a two step process that is primarily suitable for photography stationary objects or scenes, such as landscapes.  Step 1 involves shooting the scene with a range of exposure settings from under-exposed to over-exposed.  Step 2 involves the use of post-processing software to combine the set of images into a single final image.  I downloaded Luminance HDR (32 bit) the other night and installed it, but hadn’t had a chance to work with it yet.

The Middle Prong, GSMNP.

The Middle Prong, GSMNP (Luminance HDR, 6 exposures w/ fattal).

I got a set of images to work with while Linda took some excellent photographs on her cell phone.  She is much more inclined to capture images with her cell phone or her iPad than I am and we have spent a little time on cell phone camera/image apps in the workshop.  We headed back around noon, had a bite of lunch, and headed back to the classroom around 1:30 PM for our final session.  The topics today included HDR, cell phone apps, programs for making collages and videos from still photos, and Adobe Lightroom.

E The Middle Prong, GSMNP.

Lou and Vince shooting the Middle Prong, GSMNP (single image).

We originally planned to meet Friday morning to review images, but we wrapped up around 4 PM and decided that we had taught/learned as much as we could for the week.  That will allow Linda and me to get an earlier start tomorrow than we originally expected.  Back at the rig I hooked up the water softener and water line to the coach and refilled the fresh water tank.  I then worked on editing images and composing this blog, with some time out for a simple but very tasty dinner of green salad with granola topping and whole wheat penne pasta with sun-dried tomatoes and homemade marinara sauce.

Panorama of the Middle Prong, GSMNP.

Panorama of the Middle Prong, GSMNP. (constructed with MS Image Composite Editor from 9 images).

Lou was interested in seeing how WordPress works, so I agreed to meet him back at the classroom after dinner.  I decided to show him how I create a blog entry in real time by building this one.


2013_10_16 (W) GSMNP

I was up late last night post-processing images for the yesterday’s blog and downloading/installing 32-bit versions of the some of the free 64-bit software Lou had provided via flashdrive for SKP Photographers Workshop.  As a result we slept in a bit and, not having anything we had to do today, Linda made her yummy vegan pancakes and served them with real Maple syrup.

The Great Smoky Mountain National Park (GSMNP) re-opened this morning, and is supposed to remain open through at least Sunday.  We are camped about a mile outside the Cades Cove (Townsend, TN) entrance, so we decided to go for a drive in that direction.  We left around 10 AM, and in spite of the RV parks (and motels) around here not being full, due to the government shutdown forced park closure, lots of other people had apparently stuck around in the hopes the park would re-open and had the same idea about where to head.  Most of GSMNP is not accessible by motor vehicle, and Cades Cove has always been the major tourist draw for those who are sight-seeing in a car.

Giant fungus (18” diameter) along the Cades Cove Loop Road, GSMNP.

Giant fungus (18” diameter) along the Cades Cove Loop Road, GSMNP.

Traffic on the 11 mile long road to/from Cades Cove was bumper to bumper and moving slowly-to-not-at-all; but we were not in any hurry and it was fine with us.  We eventually reached the Visitor Center at the end of the Cades Cove Loop Road, found a parking spot (not a guaranteed thing), and walked around the area looking at and photographing the old buildings.  We stopped in a few pull-outs along the way and I shot a few landscapes and a babbling brook, but the day was heavily clouded with low light levels and color vibrancy and I wasn’t feeling particularly inspired photographically speaking.  We were also a little tired and did not do any of the waterfall hikes.  Besides, there were no open parking spots at many of the trailheads and vantage points.

We eventually made our way back to our starting point in the park and then continued on through the park on Scenic TN-73 towards US-441 to the northeast.  This was a very nice drive, but not really suitable for a large motorhome and we did not see any on this leg of the journey.  I mention that only because part of what we were doing today was scouting our exit route.  We eventually got to US-441 and headed north towards Gatlinburg.  Gatlinburg is an attractive tourist town with bumper-to-bumper traffic that moves slowly, but persistently, allowing me to gawk as I drove.  (Linda usually does the tourist toad driving, but her hip was bothering her, so I took over after Cades Cove.)  It’s also small enough that we were out the other side in a reasonable amount of time.

One of the two Baptist Churches we passed in Cades Cove, ca. 1839, GSMNP.

One of the two Baptist Churches we passed in Cades Cove, ca. 1839, GSMNP.

We continued north on US-441/US-321 to Pigeon Forge, home of Dolly World, to the point where US-321 South split off and headed back to Townsend.  We went this way partly for the scenery, which was nice, and partly to check out the road, which semi’s were advised on either end not to use.  While most of the road was fine for a larger, longer wheelbase vehicle, there was a stretch where the bus would not have gotten through easily due to narrow lanes and hairpin turns.  Also, for much of its length there was little-to-no shoulder and places where the branches overhanging the road had not been trimmed up and would have damaged the coach.

Our Trucker’s Atlas indicated that this stretch of US-321 is a truck route, and we had hoped it would be passable by a large motorhome as it in the direct/short route from where we are to where we need to go on Friday.  Linda found some online reviews that corroborated the warning signs; this was not a road for semi’s and motorhomes.  As a result, our confidence in being able to rely on our Trucker’s Atlas is somewhat reduced, and we are inclined to believe posted signs.

The water powered mill at the Cade Coves Visitor Center area, GSMNP.  The mill was operating, demonstrating the grinding of corn into corn meal.

The water powered mill at the Cade Coves Visitor Center area, GSMNP. The mill was operating, demonstrating the grinding of corn into corn meal.

Although I am not thrilled at the prospect, our route out of here on Friday morning will be to backtrack on US-321/TN73 S/W to US-66 N to Maryville and pick up US-129 N to Knoxville where we merge onto I-40 E which takes us to the southern terminus of I-81 N and on to Lexington, Virginia.  I have really studied the satellite images of the highway system in Knoxville and the US-129 N to I-40 E transition should be a no-brainer unless the highway signs are completely screwed up or they have a road closed with a poorly marked detour.

Linda made a whole wheat penne pasta dish with homemade marinara sauce, pan-fried eggplant, and garlic.  She made the marinara sauce a couple of weeks ago and froze some of it.  I raved about it when she made it, and it was just as good thawed out and re-heated.

The Little River along Little River Road en route to US-441, GSMNP.

The Little River along Little River Road en route to US-441, GSMNP.

The photo workshop participants reconvened at 8 PM in the resort classroom building to go over the agenda for Thursday.  With rain forecast to move in for the afternoon, the plan was to drive about 15 minutes in the morning to a nearby waterfall, capture some images there as interest and weather permitted, and then return to camp for lunch, followed by another 3 – 4 hours of classroom demonstration and discussion.  Lou showed some photographs he took on his cell phone and demonstrated several cell phone camera apps that he uses.  We agreed to meet for breakfast at 8 AM at Riverstone Family Restaurant, just up the road from our resort, and leave for the falls from there.


2013_10_15 (T) Image Post-Processing

(At the end of this blog are the same 10 images I posted yesterday, only this time with image post-processing.  There is also a new image that I created today.)

The photography workshop today was mostly classroom work.  We spent the morning seeing several image post-processing programs demonstrated and discussing their functions.  The featured programs were Faststone Image Viewer and Photoscape, both of which are free downloads.  Each of the five workshop participants contributed a few pictures from yesterday and Lou, the workshop presenter, used them as examples to demonstrate the use of the image editors.  Most of us were new to this sort of image manipulation, so the focus was on understanding the image histogram, adjusting levels, adjusting “lighting” (highlights, shadows, contrast, and saturation), sharpening, cropping, and resizing.

After lunch Sue Wharton, one of the participants, demonstrated and discussed Adobe Photoshop Elements, which can be purchased for a moderate price.  Sue has used versions of Elements, all the way back to the very first one, to organize her photographs.  She emphasized that Elements will do everything we saw demonstrated in Faststone Image Viewer and Photoscape, but demonstrated some additional features that the free programs did not have.

We also discussed Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Lightroom.  Photoshop is generally considered the ultimate photographic image editing tool, but it is a considerably more expensive program with a steep learning curve.  We were told that Lightroom, which is also not free, was the number one choice of professional photographers for managing their collections of digital images.  As of this writing I am not completely clear on the just what each of these programs does or how they (should) fit together, but the general consensus was that Lightroom is the ultimate “front end” image organizer, below which you need an image editing program or programs, which is most of what we saw demonstrated today.  Adobe Elements, however, is a very acceptable all-in-one solution to both the organizing and editing tasks.  Another program we discussed, but did have demonstrated, was Topaz Photoshop Plug-ins, along with iView (and irfinview), which are needed for the standalone use of Topaz plug-ins if you don’t have Photoshop or Photoshop Elements.

The last thing we discussed was how to create panoramic photographs using a two part process.  Part 1 was setting up the camera properly on a tripod and adjusting it so you could take a sequence of overlapping photographs as you pan across the scene.  Part 2 was using special programs or plug-ins to create a single composite image from the multiple photographs.  Lou demonstrated the use of a special panoramic camera mount that allowed the “nodal point” of the lens to be positioned at the exact center of rotation.  While this is slightly less critical than back in the film camera days, setting the camera up properly for panoramic shots still leads to better compositing in part 2.  One of Lou’s favorite tools for creating composite images is Microsoft Image Composite Editor (ICE) available as a free download from Microsoft.  He demonstrated how it works using some properly taken photographs he already had on hand.

After a mid-afternoon break, we headed to the Visitor Center in Townsend.  Everyone came, including a couple of spouses who are not participating in the actual workshop, so we first spent a little time in the Visitor Center gift shop.  The back parking lot had an unobstructed view of low hills with some middle and foreground elements that provided the opportunity to shoot up to a 180 degree panorama.  It was not a spectacular landscape, and the sky was cloudy to overcast, but it was an excellent spot for learning how to do this technique.  It had the further advantage of being close to both the Tremont Outdoor Resort, where we are all staying, and the restaurant where we planned to have dinner.

We all set up our tripods, leveled them (and our cameras), and went to work.  I first did a test shot in the center of the scene to determine the correct exposure.  Once I had that, I set the camera to Manual and locked that exposure in.  (That may not sound like a big deal, but I had only figured out how to do this within the last 24 hours, even though we have had the Sony Alpha 100 for years.)  I also set the camera to manual focus and adjusted it the way I wanted.  It is critical that both of these functions be set to manual; if the exposure or focus changes from shot to shot, the compositing software may not be able to stitch the images together, either satisfactorily or perhaps at all.  With the anti-shake feature off, and using a remote (cable) release, I shot a full 180 degree panorama with a moderate telephoto lens, taking 16 photographs to do it.

We went to dinner at a local Bar-B-Que restaurant on the river.  Linda had checked the menu in advance and packaged a blend of toppings that we could put on a salad consisting of lettuce and tomatoes.  Our salads ended up having beans, broccoli, onions, dried fruit, and peanuts (and probably a couple of other things).  Being as it was dinner out, I got small orders of French fries and onion rings.  The food was OK for the price.

After dinner Vince and I headed back to the classroom where Lou helped us stitch together our composite panoramas.  I finally got back to our coach around 8 PM.  Linda and I then worked on post-processing the images from yesterday’s blog post using what we had learned today.  And here they…I hope you enjoy them.













Townsend TN Visitor Center - 180 deg panoramic composite of 16 photographs.

Townsend TN Visitor Center – 180 deg panoramic composite of 16 photographs.

2013_10_14 (M) The Cherohala Skyway

(Photos at the end)

Today was day 1 of 4+ for our SKP Photographers BOF mini-rally and digital photography workshop.  In the morning we got introduced to each other and then spent a couple of hours going over photography basics, with an emphasis on how digital SLRs deal with some of these issues through their available camera settings, and with a preview of the topic of image post-processing software and techniques.  We wrapped up with a discussion of our afternoon/evening field trip and then broke for lunch around 11:15 AM.

We reconvened at 12:15 PM in our cars and headed out caravan style.  We had four vehicles.  Lou and Val Petkus took the “wagonmaster” (lead) position since they knew where we going.  Linda and I took the “tailgunner” position (last in line) as we had a 2m amateur radio installed in the car and Lou had one installed in theirs. The other two cars had Family Radio Service (FRS) radios, but Linda and I did not, and Lou and Val left theirs at home.  It allowed me to communicate to Lou if one of the intermediate vehicles signaled a need to pull over.  I also allowed me to stay in touch with Lou in case we got separated, which in fact we did going through Maryville, TN.  As with Knoxville the other day, the route appeared clear enough and easy enough on the map but we got separated from the group at a stop light and then missed a turn.  We caught up with them shortly thereafter at a Pilot gas station.  I don’t know why, but I have come to the conclusion that we apparently have difficulty reading highway signs in Tennessee.

Our destination was the Cherohala Skyway, which runs through the large tract of national forests immediately south of Smoky Mountain National Park.  SMNP was where Lou originally planned for us to go on photo outings, which is why we are in an RV park 5 minutes from Cades Cove.  Since SMNP remains closed due the idiocy of the United States Congress, Lou had to find alternative locations.

Although the eastern terminus of the Cherohala Skyway at Tellico Plains, Tennessee was 90 minutes from our encampment, it was a great choice for landscapes and worth the drive.  It crosses the Appalachian Mountains into North Carolina, cresting at 5,300 ft. ASL before dropping back down below 2000 ft. ASL and ending at Robbinsville.  The highest points are in North Carolina.  We drove past them, but not all the way to Robbinsville, and then came back to Big Junction at 5,200 ft. ASL with a great view looking southwest across ridge after receding ridge of mountains and valleys.

We got there around 6 PM, got our cameras set up (on tripods with shutter releases, of course) and then had the “sack dinners” we brought along.  We started looking for photo ops around 6:30 PM and were actively shooting from 6:45 until about 7:30 PM.  Sunsets are not an easy subject, and you never know how they are going to progress.  One of the mistakes a lot of people make is to quit shooting before it’s really over.  The best shots often come a little time after you think there isn’t anything else to photograph.

We wrapped up at Big Junction around 8 PM and drove back to Townsend, TN in the dark, arriving at the Tremont Outdoor Resort a little before 10 PM.

Cherohala Skyway.

Cherohala Skyway.

Cherohala Skyway.

Cherohala Skyway.

Big Junction, Cherohala Skyway.

Big Junction, Cherohala Skyway.

Cherohala Skyway.

Cherohala Skyway.

Big Junction, Cherohala Skyway (in NC looking west towards TN).

Big Junction, Cherohala Skyway (in NC looking west towards TN).

Big Junction, Cherohala Skyway.

Big Junction, Cherohala Skyway.

Big Junction, Cherohala Skyway.

Big Junction, Cherohala Skyway.

Setting sun from Big Junction overlook, Cherohala Skyway.

Setting sun from Big Junction overlook, Cherohala Skyway.

The final glow.  Big Junction, Cherohala Skyway.

The final glow. Big Junction, Cherohala Skyway.


2013_10_13 (N) A Fork In The Road

We spent a quiet night with only an occasional car passing by.  Someone nearby must have a pack of dogs and fed them around 6 AM as I heard them howling in the distance.  At first I thought they were coyotes, but it wasn’t the right kind of howl.  We finally got up around 8 AM to cool temperatures and light fog.  I checked the house batteries state of charge (I really need to get the Magnum ME-ARC remote panel installed up in the house) and it was 71%, not bad for having powered the coach for 8 hours.

Sunrise at Acres of Land near Richmond, KY

Sunrise at Acres of Land near Richmond, KY

A nice sunrise lit up the bedroom and by 9 AM the fog had burned off as we ate our breakfast of Linda’s homemade granola with fresh bananas, orange juice, and a cup of coffee.  This morning’s coffee was the Breakfast Blend from World Markets that Kathy brought to our open house.  It was delicious and already ground.  We generally grind our coffee beans, but it’s always nice to have ground coffee on hand, especially when we only want to make a couple of cups.

We had 186 miles to travel today, and check-in time at Tremont Outdoor Resort was 1 PM, so we targeted 10 AM as our departure time.  We left a little after 10 and took KY-876 east back to I-75 and continued south towards Tennessee.  Just after crossing the border we started down a long, steep grade but had to come to a complete stop before reaching the bottom.  We sat still, or moved along very slowly, while police cars, ambulances, fire trucks, and emergency management vehicles sped past us on the right shoulder.  We eventually had to move to left as the accident was in the right lane, and got the ire of an SUV who apparently felt we had cut them off.  Sorry.  It was an accident scene everyone in the right lane had to move to the left.  Here’s a tip for folks driving cars: when a semi or large RV puts on its turn signal, you might want to consider letting them move over.  These are large, slow vehicles and they need your cooperation to operate safely.

When we reached the accident scene there were two motorhomes on the side of the road, one with a towed vehicle that had the driver’s side smashed in, and a small white car that had been rear-ended and squashed pretty bad.  We tried to move through the accident zone as quickly as traffic allowed, but were not able in that short span of time to surmise just what had happened, other than something bad.

The rest of the trip to Knoxville was uneventful although traffic was heavier as cars and trucks cleared the accident scene and tried to make up for lost time.  We finally left  I-75, picking up I-275 through the city to where it was supposed to join up with I-40, which we thought we would take west and shortly thereafter pick up US-129 headed south towards Maryville.  That was the plan.  Remember plans from a recent post?  The Knoxville highway system is complex, and we were following the directions on our Rand-McNally RVND 7710 GPS while Linda double checked what we were doing on her Samsung Galaxy III smartphone.  Everything was fine until we came to a literal fork in the road and the GPS failed to tell us which way to go.  Intuitively we needed to go to the right, but that exit sign said “Downtown” and that didn’t seem right so we took the exit to the left and ended up…downtown.  Not just downtown, but on a very steep hill going up where we had to stop at a red light.  I don’t know what the grade of this hill was, but the bus was barely able to get moving from a dead stop.

On the plus side, while we were stopped there, a man crossed the street wearing a nice suit and bow tie and smiled and waved to us.  Also on the plus side, Sunday afternoon traffic was very light, so we didn’t have any further difficulties driving the 1.8 miles through the University of Tennessee campus back over to US-129 southbound.

At that point we were back on plan.  Just north of Maryville we picked up TN-35 which links up with the E Lamar Alexander Parkway, US-321 / TN-73 eastbound, which continued on as TN-73 and took us to Townsend.  Although the road got narrow and twisty in places, it was a pleasant and pretty drive.  All told, the accident scene and the Knoxville sight-seeing delayed our arrival at the Tremont Outdoor Resort by about 45 minutes from what the GPS originally predicted and we pulled in around 2:30 PM.

We turned off of TN-73 and crossed a bridge over a small river to enter the resort, at which point the GPS alerted us that we exceeded the weight limit of the bridge.  There were no weight limits posted  on this bridge, so we are not sure what that was all about.  We pulled up to the check-in area, scraping the top of the coach with the low over hanging branches that they assured us on the phone they did not have, and Linda went in to take care of the paperwork.  I could see from the driver’s seat that the roads in this RV park were not generous and might be problem.  When she returned with the map we unhooked the car and drove the route they wanted us to take to our site.  Right.  There were trucks parked where they shouldn’t be, and a maintenance golf cart by the restrooms that block part of the road.  I backed up and took the left fork in the entrance road, pulled up the tag axle, and made the hard left in sections B & C of the park.  From there I made a hard right, scratching the passenger side of the coach on some low pine/fir branches, finally got lined up, and back down into our section and into site B3.

The reason I mention all of this is that when we call to make a reservation we are very, very specific with people about the size and weight of our coach and specifically ask about overhead obstructions such as tree limbs.  (We always call, never book online, because of this.)  People consistently tell us that “you won’t have any problem” and it is, quite frankly either an ignorant response (they have no idea if we will have a problem or not) or they just plain lie about it.  I am also convinced that when we tell them we are 8.5 feet wide, 40 feet long (closer to 60 feet with the car in tow), 13 ft 2 inches tall, and weigh about 41,000 pounds those are just numbers that don’t mean anything to them.

But we got parked, leveled the coach, shut down the engine, and “made camp.”  I pulled out our Kenwood TH-F6 HTs (small hand held ham radios known as handi-talkies) and gave Lou, K9LU, a call on the previously agreed frequency of 146.550 MHz.  He was monitoring the frequency and came right back to my call.  Lou is the founder of the SKP Photographers BOF, and the organizer of the photography workshop we are here to participate in.  We went for a stroll around the RV park, as we usually do when we first arrive, and eventually made our way to Lou and Val’s 5th wheel where we had a nice chat.

We skipped lunch today, so Linda started dinner preparations when we got back to the coach.  She improvised a dish of diced potatoes, tomatoes, mushrooms, onion, and garlic, seasoned with basil and pan fried in a little bit of olive oil.  She served it with a side of broccoli and glass of red wine.  A couple of hours later we had some more of the wonderful blackberry pie we bought on the Fulton Farm Market on Friday.  I will be sorry to see the end of that pie, it really has been that good.

Since we are here for a digital photography workshop, I presume we will have more photographs to post over the next few days, but not today.


2013_10_12 (S) Acres of “Land”

We had an issue last night that I didn’t mention in yesterday’s blog post.  With the generator running the microwave/convection oven would not operate correctly.  It would run for a few second and then start to pulse.  We are not sure what the problem is, but presume it is the microwave and not the generator/inverter, which seem to be working fine otherwise.  We won’t be able to diagnose this any further until we get to Tremont RV Park and can hook up to shore power.

We knew last night that the Fulton Farm Market was expecting a busy day today with lots of folks showing up to buy pumpkins and other seasonal items, so this morning around 8:30 AM we fired up the engine and repositioned the coach where there would not be any cars blocking our exit.  I also started up the generator to recharge the batteries, and all of the engines running spooked the cats a bit, so they went under the front passenger seat.

The Market was scheduled to open at 10 AM and we were originally thinking of sticking around until 11 AM.  By 9 AM it was obvious we had made the right decision to move, based on the activity of the employees, and decided to move our departure time up to 10 AM.  They pull wagons with tractors out to the pumpkin patch where folks can pick their own pumpkin, and they were blocking off parts of the parking lot with cones to create pickup and drop-off stations for the wagons that we originally thought we would be able to use as exit paths.

Around 9:15 Linda noticed that the OPEN sign on the store building (barn) was already turned on, so we wandered over to get some coffee.  The gal who runs the coffee shop showed up right behind us and put on some decaf to brew.  We had a nice chat while we waited, and 5 minutes later we were headed back to the coach with our coffee.  We chatted briefly with one of the cashiers on the way out.  We made the coach ready for travel and at 10 AM, with cars showing up, we started up and pulled out.  No fixed plan.

We turned out onto OH-202 headed south and eventually came to I-70 where we headed west back to I-75 and continued out southbound journey.  We had 184 miles to travel today and figured it would take 4 hours with a lunch stop.  There was a lot of construction in the Dayton area and again in Cincinnati, but we made it through without any difficulty.  Southern Ohio is hilly and northern Kentucky even more so, with a good climb up away from the Ohio River right after you cross at Cincinnati.

I-75 in Kentucky is a very good road with smooth surface.  It goes up and down and back and forth as it twists through the rolling terrain, and it was a fun drive with no stress.  We pulled in to a rest stop north of Lexington to have a bite of lunch and stretch our legs.  Another hour and we were at exit #87 just south of Richmond.  We headed west on KY-876 (Barnes Mill Rd) and 6 miles later pulled into the gravel parking lot on the south side of the road across from the Acres of Land Winery.  It was 2 PM.

L 70(1) Our parking spot across from Acres of Land Winery, a Harvest Hosts location.

Our parking spot across from Acres of Land Winery, a Harvest Hosts location.

We had looked at satellite images of the site last night, so we knew what to expect when we got there.  The driveway in from the road was steep, but we did not bottom out.  The gravel parking lot was a long two long parallel rows with a loop around at the end.  What we did not expect was the extent to which it was overgrown.  It was mostly tall grasses, but it was obvious that this lot had not seen any use in quite some time.  We also noticed a large concrete pad at the near end.  We found out later that they had a serious fire in 2009, and we suspect that the pad is where the winery was and the gravel lot was where customers parked.  All of that activity now takes place on the north side of the road.

We pulled all the way around and back near the entrance.  The site was not quite level enough, so I leveled the coach before shutting down the engine.  I checked the battery state of charge (SOC) before shutting the generator down.  I figured it would be 100% since the generator had run the refrigerator all the way down allowing the Magnum 4024 to just charge the batteries, but it was only at 94%.

R 48 Restaurant and Tasting Room, Acres of Land Winery, Richmond, KY.

Restaurant and Tasting Room, Acres of Land Winery, Richmond, KY.

We opened windows and turned on ceiling fans and headed over to the winery.  Acres of Land is owned and operated by Lowell and Katherine Land.  Lowell grew up in the white farm house not far from where we are parked, and is the 3rd generation of his family to farm this property.  Originally a tobacco farm, tobacco growing started moving overseas to take advantage of cheaper labor and the Land’s started looking for an alternative crop.  The property turned out to be suitable for growing grapes and they converted the farm into a vineyard and winery.

Our coach viewed from a front window of the tasting room.

Our coach viewed from a front window of the tasting room.

They charge $2.50 to taste three wines and $4.50 to taste six.  We decided to only taste three and to split the tasting.  The way they do the tastings is quite different from what we are used to in Michigan and other places.  We circled the three wines we wanted to try on order slip and then found a table where we could sit.  The wines are served in small wine glasses (brandy snifters?) placed in hanging holders that hold three or six glasses, depending which tasting you ordered.  There is a white laminated disk around the base of the holder on which they write the number of the wine from the order form so it is under the corresponding glass.  In our case, Katherine brought the wine sampler to our table and chatted with us for a little while.  What we liked about this approach is that you could actually go back and forth between wines if you wanted to.

In our case we had their Red Robin, Vignoles, and Late Harvest Vignoles, and sampled them in that order.  The Red Robin was sweet but very full and had a lovely mouth feel.  The Vignoles was equally nice, refreshing but not thin.  Both were well done in our opinion.  The Late Harvest Vignoles, however, was a more complex and unusual wine, and was my favorite of the three.  As much as I would have liked to take home several bottles of each, we decided to buy just one of the Late Harvest Vignoles for $18.

One of the 10-yr-old Bourbon barrels being used to age a special red wine.

One of the 10-yr-old Bourbon barrels being used to age a special red wine.

About the time we finished our tasting Lowell was assembling a group for a tour of the winery.  We have toured a fair number of wineries, so we did not see anything here that we hadn’t seen before, except for one thing; Acres of Land has a wine that they age in used bourbon barrels.  The particular barrels they use come from a Kentucky distillery that used them to age their 10-year-old bourbon.  We did not get a chance to taste this wine as it wasn’t on their tasting menu.  We might not have liked it anyway as neither Linda nor I care for bourbon or whiskey, but Katherine thought it was a uniquely divine product.

This was our 4th Harvest Hosts location, and we are big fans of the program, but the challenge for us is to make sure our “free camping” doesn’t turn out to consistently be the most expensive stops we make.  We don’t buy things we don’t like, and need is a pretty relative concept, but you can drop a lot of coin on wine very easily.  We like the idea, however, of trying wines and other local agricultural products as we travel, and it fits our lifestyle to buy things we can consume rather than “collect” things we then have to find a place for in the house.

Dinner was a nice salad (Swiss chard, kale, and spinach) with carrots, celery, cucumbers, broccoli, tomatoes, peppers, and fresh strawberries with a balsamic vinaigrette dressing.  Dessert was another serving of the blackberry pie we bought at the Fulton Farm Market yesterday.  Being in the refrigerator for 24 hours had helped it set up so it wasn’t so juicy.

I left the generator off until 8 PM by which time it was down the house batteries were down to 67% SOC.  I checked that the Magnum 4024 AC Input was set to 50 Amps and reset the maximum charge rate from 80% to 90%.  Ideally the batteries should be brought back up to 100% SOC every time.  But the last few percent is done at a low current float charge rate which can take quite a while and is not a particularly efficient use of the generator.

Linda scanned for other-the-air TV channels and found one that was carrying game one of the ALCS between the Detroit Tigers and the Boston Red Sox.  We are in very pleasant country, but we are not wandering the in wilderness, at least not yet.


2013_10_11 (F) Fulton Farms

Our plan was to be almost completely packed yesterday with only a few things to load this morning.  It’s good to have a plan as long as you don’t take it too seriously.  Lao Tzu supposedly said that “A true traveler has no fixed plan, and it not intent on arriving.”  I love that sentiment, but I think most people interpret this as “the journey is more important than the destination.”  Or perhaps that “one should not have a plan”, but I don’t think it says that.  I think the emphasis is on not having a fixed plan.  At any given moment you need to have some idea of where you want to go next, or you would just sit in one place and never move.  And having decided to head there, you should have some idea of how you might get there.  But once the planning is done it’s time for the trip.  And it is a certainty that you will have opportunities along the way that you did not plan for and could not even have anticipated.  Whether you experience those will depend on whether you are flexible with regards to your plan.  You may not even make to your original (planned) destination, but if not, it will be the result of a thousand small decisions made along the way, not because you are lost.  As another quote goes “all who wander are not lost.”  I like that one too.

In other words, we woke up this morning with a plan to be on the road by noon but with lots still to do.  We were not in a panic about it, but got at it right away and it was a busy morning.  It helped that Linda had kept a running list yesterday of stuff we needed to load on the bus, and things we needed to do around the house, just before departure.  Although the morning was a bit more intense than I would have like, we pulled out about quarter past noon, so it all worked out OK.

We decided yesterday to divide up the trip to Townsend, Tennessee into three roughly equal segments of about 200 miles each and spent part of the afternoon researching places to stop for the night.  Given that we needed to be at the Tremont RV Resort in Townsend on Sunday, our route choices were basically determined; I-96 E to US-23 S into Ohio and onto I-75 S all the way to Knoxville, and then Tennessee highways from there into Townsend.  Our first leg would ideally put us somewhere just north of Dayton.   We are still learning to “boondock” (camp for the night without hookups and without paying for a site) so we looked for opportunities to do that.  A Walmart is often a possibility, but we always look for Coast-to-Coast resorts, where we can stay for $10/night, and Harvest Host locations where we can stay for free.

Exterior of Fulton Farms Market.

Exterior of Fulton Farms Market.

There is a Coast-to-Coast resort in Wapakoneta, OH, but it would have made our first leg about 150 miles.  We decided to head for the Fulton Farms Market instead.  They are located southeast of Troy, Ohio on Highway 202 about 6 miles from I-75 and 20 miles north of Dayton.  The market was still open when we arrived around 4:30 PM, having made a rest stop and a fuel stop along the way, and there were still plenty of customers there even though they close at 5 PM.

Linda talking to Joyce Fulton.

Linda talking to Joyce Fulton.

Fulton Farms Market is owned by Bill and Joyce Fulton and is a host location in the Harvest Hosts program that we belong to.  We went inside to let them know we had arrived and bought some apples and a blackberry pie (after reading the ingredients label very carefully).  We also got to meet Joyce and had a nice chat with her.  She was very gracious and glad we had stopped as they have not had very Harvest Hosts visitors in the time they have been a host location.


Interior of Fulton Farms Market.

Interior of Fulton Farms Market.




The Fulton Farm Market is a very nice place with a large, level, paved parking lot that easily accommodated our bus.  I recommend it to anyone passing through the Troy, OH area with or without an RV.  This is the third Harvest Hosts location where we have stopped.  The second one was the Forestedge Winery near Laporte, Minnesota which I wrote about previously.  Same thing; great place, great people, great products, and we were the first Harvest Hosts members who had ever stopped there.  HH is a great program, but I worry that host locations will drop out after a time if no one ever stops, and who could blame them?

We are headed for another Harvest Hosts location tomorrow in Kentucky, but that’s another story for another day.  Our main concern on this end will be repositioning the coach in the morning, without unhooking the car, so we are able to exit the premises after customers start showing up in their cars around 10 AM.  Our drive tomorrow is only about 180 miles and should only take about 4 hours, so we don’t want to leave here too early and Joyce made it clear that we welcome to stick around in the morning.

2013_10_07-10 (M – R) Wrap-up and Re-load

Linda did double duty this week (Monday and Wednesday) in the babysitting department as she will miss her regularly scheduled shift next week while we attend an RV rally / photography workshop.  So our daughter got Wednesday “off” will fill in for her next Monday.  I took the opportunity to work at my desk and finally prepared the various materials that I have to supply to the members of our FMCA Freethinkers associate chapter for our upcoming annual business meeting.  We also took care of errands and finished cleaning up from the open house.

One errand I had not ever been on was taking boxes of paper to a shredding facility (Royal Oak Recycling in White Lake Township).  This place has you drive onto a scale with your car, drive to a dock and unload your stuff, and then drive back on the scale.  I had 10 copier paper boxes of mixed paper and hadn’t really thought about the fact that “20 lb” paper means that a case of 10 reams weights 20 pounds.  I didn’t think I had that much paper, but the difference in the before and after weight of the car was 220 lbs.  ROR charges 15 cents per pound if you want to watch them shred your paper, or they pay you 2.5 cents per pound if you are willing to just drop it off.  Since the papers to be shred were mostly old personal and business financial records, we wanted to verify that they had indeed been shredded, so I paid.  They only take cash, so it was a good thing that I had enough to cover the $33+ amount.

At one time I sent updated rosters to the members of our Freethinkers chapter by attaching the PDF to an e-mail.  More recently, I decided to put the roster and other documents in my personal Dropbox, generate a link, and just e-mail the link to everyone.  That technology works very well, and is capable of even more sophisticated operating modes.  But I have also been thinking about, and working on, a website for this group using WordPress.  I decided that I would put some effort into giving it some structure and preliminary content, and use it to deliver documents and other materials to the members.  The challenge is that some of the materials, like the roster, contain information that is for the members only and cannot be available for public view.

I was able to password protect individual pages, but the protection is less than ideal as web browsers apparently remember these passwords even when you ask them not to.  It’s may be that this is being done using cookies, but however it is being done I could not figure out a way to defeat it.  I also played around with WordPress user roles, but the only thing that WordPress seemed to have built into it was the ability to require users to log in to post a comment/reply.  This is apparently one of the reasons for the “subscriber” user role.  If have been looking at a WordPress plug-in called S2, or S2 Member, or S2 Framework, that appears to have the ability to place all or part of WordPress website behind a user login function, but I have not had a chance to install, configure, and play with it yet.

On Wednesday I drove Linda to her babysitting gig in Ann Arbor and then I drove back to Ann Arbor in the afternoon to visit with Madeline and her mom and dad.  Shawna had an evening appointment so Linda and I had a quiet dinner with our son and then drove home together.

We spent Thursday re-loading the bus for our trip to Tennessee and Virginia.  Phil from Precision Grading came by around 6:30 PM.  We talked about the approximate location of the bus barn/garage and he set up his transit so we could measure the contours of the site, the driveway in from the road, and the surrounding yard.  Based on his measurements, it looks like our planned site should work very well in terms of drainage, which is always a prime consideration.

Linda spent the rest of the evening working at her desk and following the Detroit Tigers in game 5 of the first round of the American League playoffs.  I spent the rest of the evening updating the firmware in our Sony Alpha 100 digital SLR and updating the Sony Image Data Converter and Motion Picture Browser programs.


2013_10_06 (N) The House Is Open

The weather was not what we had hoped for, but it was not as bad as forecast with the really heavy rain slipping just off to our east.  We tried to finish our preparations the night before, but inevitably ended up working most of the morning to finish getting ready.  But by noon we were relaxing, catching our breath, and waiting for visitors.

Our son, daughter-in-law, and grand-daughter were the first to arrive, so we got to spend a little quality time with “schmoo.”  With the comfort of her parents nearby she decided I was not as scary as previously thought.  She also discovered that she could crawl quite well on the carpet in the basement.  Our daughter, her husband, and his daughter (our 16 year old step-grand-daughter) showed up next, so we had just the locally-based family for a while.

Other visitors eventually came and went throughout the afternoon, and we had a quite a crowd between 2 and 5 PM.  A few people called to say they couldn’t make it due to illness, a few others who said they were coming didn’t show up, and a few who didn’t RSVP showed up anyway, so it all balanced out in the end.  Everyone seemed to like the new house and many of them also enjoyed finally seeing the bus for the first time.  One person noted that the bus was “a big commitment.”  I hadn’t thought about it in those terms, but it is an appropriate description on so many levels.

The conversation was brisk, and folks who had never met seemed to make quick friends.  The one downside to the open house was that Linda and I did not get to visit very long with anyone as we were continuously busy greeting new arrivals, giving “tours” of the house and the bus, and saying “farewell” as folks left.  Keeping up with the food and beverages would have been an added challenge, but our daughter was gracious enough to help with all of that.

The food seemed to be a big hit.  Everyone who knows us knows by now that we are following a whole-food, plant-based (vegan) way of eating.  I think some of them are unsure (concerned?) about what they will be fed if they come to our house.  The fact is that if they didn’t know how we eat, and we hadn’t said anything about the food, no one would have known that it did not involve the use of any animal products.  Linda has gotten that good at cooking this way.

The last guests were gone by 6 PM and we spent a couple of hours putting food away and cleaning up dishes.  A lot of folks brought a card and/or housing warming gift, which was very thoughtful and quite unexpected, so we spent a quiet hour opening them and making careful note of who brought what.  Most of the gifts were consumable, so we will enjoy them without having to find a permanent place for them.  The few gifts that were objects were equally appreciated and will find their place somewhere in the house and/or bus.

We were glad to see those who could come, and sorry not to see those who couldn’t, and apologize to those we didn’t invite.  There was certainly no slight intended.  We will have folks back individually, but the open house allowed a lot of people to form a clear image of where we now live and that should make it easier for them to find their way back here at some point in the future.  The open house also provided a hard deadline for us to get sufficiently moved in, without which we would very likely still have had boxes piled in rooms and artwork stacked in the library a year from now.


2013_10_05 (S) Power Wa(r)shing

The thunderstorms developed overnight as forecast.  I woke up around 3:30 AM to the strong smell of coffee, the sight of lightning, and the sound of thunder and rain.  Although the two bags of coffee beans we had roasted yesterday were closed, they were not sealed air-tight and the lovely smell had spread through the house.  We had the house closed up and the air-conditioning on because of the humidity, which probably helped circulate the smell.

It never sounded like it rained very hard, so we were surprised to find our road flooded in the usual places on our way out to our ham radio club (SLAARC) breakfast in South Lyon.  I had my usual dry English muffin with strawberry jam and Linda had her usual dry rye toast with orange marmalade.; and coffee, of course.  (We go for conversation, not the food.)  The day remained overcast and humid, but there wasn’t any appreciable additional rain.

Since we have now been in S. E. Michigan for 37 years I may have picked up some sort of local speech inflection, but if so I am unaware of it.  For most of my life people who did not know me we generally unable to guess where I was from.  The reason is that I hail from the St. Louis, Missouri area.  That may seem strange given that the Mason-Dixon Line goes right through the middle of Missouri, dividing it in half north and south, with the Ozarks in the southern portion.  That’s “hillbilly” country, and southern speech inflections are common there.  And while they are heard in the St. Louis area, more now than when I was child, St. Louis speech is distinguished primarily by being indistinguishable, that is to say, very neutral.  Add to that the fact that I was raised by an English teacher whose father was an English teacher and whose mother taught Latin (for a while), and you get a very neutral speech. Except for one word…”wash”.  For some reason I learned to pronounce it “warsh.”  The “r” in that word was my only real speech tell-tale, and it was usually too subtle and too specific for folks to pick up.  This brings me to my major task of the day.

While Linda was occupied with cleaning the inside of the bus and the house and making food for tomorrow, I got to use the power washer to clean the lower deck.  The basement would not have a walkout feature had the builder piled dirt completely around the basement walls, but they left an area unburied and formed a kind of valley leading out into the back yard.  There is a 12’ x 15’ deck set into the ground outside the doorwall, and based on the labeling of the electrical panel, it apparently once supported a hot tub.  This lower deck is under part of the upper/main deck and had gotten very dirty over the years.  In fact, it was coated with a green growth (mold/mildew I suspect) that was quite slippery, especially when wet, and a bit of hazard.  Another piece of neglected maintenance, I either had to clean it or close it off with yellow caution tape.

We have an electric power washer and it was the right tool for the job; powerful enough without being too powerful, and without the hassle of a gasoline engine.  I was also pleased to find that the well/pump did not have any trouble supplying the needed raw water.  (The outside faucets are plumbed so that well water can be supplied directly to them without going through any of the filters or conditioning equipment.)

The hardest part of this work was being slightly bent over for three (3) hours.  The trigger wand requires two hands to control, and is just short enough that I have to bend over slightly to get the adjustable nozzle the right distance from the wood to work effectively.  Getting the green stuff off of the wood was really a stripping job not a cleaning job, and I needed the nozzle about 2” – 3” from the surface to get the job done.  I found it easiest to clean about a 2’ section of each 6” wide board before moving on.

Linda worked off and on all day making the food for tomorrow since the open house starts at lunch time and runs through the dinner hour.  We have an assortment of fresh fruit and vegetables, as well as chips and pretzels, but no tree nuts as one of our guests as a serious air-born tree-nut allergy.  We have hummus and she made a vegan “ranch dressing” for dipping.

For “main course” selections she made a vegan chili that she will keep warm in the crock pot and serve on slider buns from the bakery “as needed.”  She also made one of my favorite dishes, a chilled garbanzo bean (chickpea) salad that tastes just like egg salad (as best I recall).  That will also be served on the slider buns as needed.

For dessert choices she baked eight dozen chocolate mini-cupcakes and frosted them with vanilla icing, all vegan of course.  She also made two large dishes of apple crisp using apples from our own apple tree.

Beverage choices include water, sparkling water, sparkling fruit flavored water, a variety of beers, red and white wine, and coffee.  If someone wants it, we can also make tea.

We finished up with our days work around 8 PM, a much more satisfying day than yesterday.  We had a simple dinner of Linda’s homemade granola with fresh fruit.  We went to bed excited about the open house and satisfied with the preparations.


2013_10_04 (F) Craftsmen & Gamesmen

I read a book years ago titled “The Gamesman.”  It was one of those pop social/psychology works that probably isn’t particularly scientific but none-the-less provides an interesting and even useful framework for looking at and possibly understanding the world, especially the world of work.  My take away from that book, which still rings true 30+ years later, was that I am a craftsman at heart who kept finding myself drawn into the gamesmanship of the workplace for which, in spite of not liking it, I seemed to have some aptitude.  Today was one of those days were a lot actually got done but I didn’t seem to be the one doing it, i.e., not a craftsman kind of day.  At least I made a partial recovery when we got home from Lowe’s and I had things I could install: light bulbs, a curtain rod, and salt for the water softener.  Such days leave me tired but not in a satisfied way.  Some days are like that, but so far I haven’t had very many of them in retirement.

I fixed two of our toilets on Thursday, but one of them apparently isn’t completely fixed yet.  I awoke this morning to sound of water running.  The flap had not sealed, causing the tank to not fill and the water to continue to run.  I have no idea how much water ran into the septic tank, but it was more than should have.  To make matters worse, I wanted to start a load of laundry early this morning only to discover that we had zero (0) gallons of water softener capacity remaining.  The softener indicated that it was going to recharge today, which meant around midnight based on how it is programmed, so I decided to start the regeneration cycle manually.  That was at 7:45 AM.  The cycle finished around 12:45 PM.  Yup, 5 hours during which I could not do the laundry, or dishes, or much else other than flush the toilets.  That’s why it’s set to run at night.  More thumb twiddling.

I checked my e-mail to see what the latest chatter was regarding the RV rally / photo workshop we are scheduled to attend.  With the federal government shut down we won’t have access to Smoky Mountain National Park (or any other federal facilities) and there was some thought of cancelling the workshop.  The problem is that the RV park where all of us are staying doesn’t give refunds and our deposit is 50% of the total camping fee for the week.  Since SMNP is closed the RV park was willing to let us re-book for any time during the next 12 months (that they had openings) for only an additional $25.  I wish I had to way to make money for doing nothing.

Our specific interest in this workshop is to learn to more fully use our digital camera (Sony Alpha 100) and to learn something about digital image post-processing software.  From that point of view, being in the Smoky Mountains in the fall was simply a bonus.  While we like nature, and I have always liked doing nature photography, our objectives for the workshop don’t require any specific subject matter in front of the lens.

We also made plans (and reservations) to meet up with Linda’s sister, brother, and his wife after the rally/workshop for a few days of camping, so we were committed to going whether there was a workshop or not.  It turned out that some of the other participants had done the same thing, and the final consensus was that the rally/workshop would go on as scheduled, national park or no national park.  That was a relief, but everything was up in the air for about 48 hours while this got sorted out.

Keith came by today to cut/trim the lawn.  He usually comes every other Tuesday, and normally would have come next week, but we asked him to pull ahead to the end of this week so the yard would look nice for the open house /warming.  He saves Fridays for “make up” work in case he gets rained out during the week.  That’s happened to him a lot this summer, but he was here as promised and in spite of the threat of rain.  It spritzed a little right after he arrived around 11 AM and then stopped, allowing him to get the whole yard done.  He always does a good job, and took the extra time today to get his blower out and blow off the driveways and the deck; a nice touch, and much appreciated.  But this was work Keith did, not me, so it was his craftsmanship, not mine.

Keith was done about the same time the water softener finished regenerating, so I finally got my load of laundry in the machine and we headed for Lowe’s and Meijer’s for last minute household items and food.  We are trying to prep this event so that the only thing we have to get on Sunday morning is ice for beverages.  We stopped at Teeko’s coffee shop before heading home.  (At Latson Road and Grand River Avenue, between Brighton and Howell, we have a Lowe’s, Walmart, Staples, Meijer’s, O’Reilly’s Auto, Teeko’s, and lots of other small stores.)  Teeko’s has become one of our favorite places to get coffee.  They stock “green” (dried but unroasted) beans and roast them at time of purchase.  They have a very nifty air-roaster that can produce anything from a very light to a very dark roast, but never burns the beans.  They have a nice variety of beans from Africa, Central/South America, and islands like Sumatra and Hawaii.  They even keep some 100% Kona on hand (we have some at home).  This time we picked up a pound each of a Costa Rica Decaf and Organic Guatemalan Nueva.

Linda made a really nice dish for dinner:  Fresh beets roasted with balsamic vinegar, grape seed oil, and a touch of sugar and served over fresh kale, wilted and mixed with couscous.  I’m sure there were some other seasonings in there, but those were the main ingredients.  Roasted beets are a real treat.

Linda has been monitoring the weather forecast leading up to/through Sunday.  The rain never materialized today, but it was very cloudy and humid and the high hit 81.  Not Michigan’s October best, but nothing to be done about it other than turn on the air conditioning.  Thunderstorms are forecast for overnight, and based on the radar it looks like we will finally get the promised rain.  Tomorrow will be a big day, with final house cleaning and lots of food preparation.  She has some tasty things planned for Sunday.


2013_10_03 (R) The Sound of Music

Today was a bakery day for Linda, so I was left to my own devices.  I let the Garmin Express update run all night last night.  When I checked this morning it indicated there had been an error, so I downloaded the 2014.20 map update, again.  It took another 3+ hours, again.  It said it downloaded it so I installed it.  It said it was “done”, but that the “update failed.”  At this point I have no idea if my maps are up-to-date or not.  We have had the Garmin nuvi 465T GPS unit for quite some time now, and I really like it.  I also liked the desktop docking software that came with it, which always worked fine.  The replacement desktop docking software, Garmin Express, is simpler to use but doesn’t seem to work very well.  A quick Google Search yesterday indicated that lots of other folks have apparently had issues with it as well.

In terms of getting ready for the open house / warming on Sunday, I am down to what builders call a “punch list.”  I don’t know the origin of that term, and yet it seems somehow appropriate.  (I always supposed that it came from the idea that the workers were going to “punch these things out,” but that doesn’t make any more sense than the original phrase.  The other day Linda made some final selections for artwork for the small bedroom, so today I hung those up.  That was one of the items on my punch list.

One of the things that came with the new house was built in speakers, two in the main floor hallway ceiling and two in the Florida room (library) ceiling.  The speaker wires for these all run to a basement wall opening where the previous owners had their audio entertainment equipment.  We have enough else to do without completely re-wiring the house, so we put some of our audio equipment in the same spot.  Linda had asked that I try to wire up the audio system so we could have music on Sunday; another item on my punch list.  With the house mostly ready, I decided to see if I could get the built-in speakers wired up, along with a pair of our freestanding ones.  I used my volt-ohm meter (VOM) to check for continuity and resistance to figure out which wires did what.  As part of the harness wiring harness, there were also two pairs of wires with both ends free that I could use to wire up the local freestanding speakers.

Measuring DC resistance through a speaker does not tell you what its rated impedance is as impedance is a characteristic of a device when AC (alternating current, from an applied alternating voltage) flows back and forth through it.  It does, however, give you some idea of what’s at the other end of the wire pair.  The amplifier in our receiver is designed to drive two sets of speakers (A and B) and prefers not to see less than 8 ohms impedance at the connection terminals.  There is a switch on the back, however, that allows you to select 4 ohm or 8 ohm speakers.

Connecting impedances in parallel results in lower total impedance and connecting them in series adds the impedances.  The pair of speakers in the hall has a volume control, and the pair in the library also has one, and it appeared that turning them from one extreme position to the other increased the DC resistance slightly, but not that much.  So, just to be safe, I decided to wire one speaker from the hall in series with and one from the library (think “left speakers”) and then repeated that for the other pair (think “right speakers”).  I connected the CD changer to the receiver, started a CD, and voila, the sound of music…everywhere!

The main (basement) speakers were too loud relative to the ones upstairs, so I connected the built-ins in parallel, which resulted in more power going to them relative to the main speakers.  It also allowed the volume control in the hall to control both of the hall speakers, and only those.  Ditto for the volume control in the library.  I also switched the amplifier to work with 4 ohm speakers instead of 8 ohm.  The name of the game is impedance matching, and if you can’t match impedances choosing a higher impedance load rather than a lower impedance one is generally better for the amplifier (up to a point).

Tom and Tom from TOMTEK HVAC showed up as scheduled around 3 PM to finish the work on the hydronic heating system.  This time they had all of the parts they needed: new burner cone, igniter, expansion tank, expansion / quick fill value, shutoff value, fittings, and copper pipe to re-plumb the pressure relief discharge pipe from the domestic hot water tank.  I tried to check in on the progress of the work periodically without getting in their way and slowing them down.  I always do this when anyone works on anything in our house as I want to know as much as possible about the system.  They finished up around 6 PM.  While we did not anticipate the furnace / hot water system needing this much work, or this soon, it was fortunate that we had TOMTEK come out for a “routine maintenance” visit and discover/fix all of the other problems as a result.

When Linda got home we were both too tired to even go out, so we had the left over “sloppy Joes” from yesterday’s dinner along with fresh fruit.  This particular recipe used textured vegetable protein, known as TVP, instead of the soy crumbles she normally uses.  The two products are very similar in taste (nothing strong or characteristic) and texture (kind of like ground beef) and work well in “mock” dishes like chili, sloppy Joes, or anything else that would normally call for ground beef as an ingredient.  These products do not work well, however, to make mock “hamburger” patties; there are other products made to directly satisfy that market.


2013_10_02 (W) Decks, Maps, & TV

Linda and I both worked around the house today and by dinner time we finally felt confident that the house would be presentable for the open house / house warming on Sunday.  Another half day and my office will be ready for visitors.  While Linda vacuumed, I installed new flappers in the two upstairs toilets and a new handle mechanism in one of them.  They now flush and shut off correctly without having to do anything special with the handles or take the top off the tanks to seat the flappers by hand.  Although we figured company would appreciate that, the real motivation was to make sure they did not draw water continuously through our water softening and purification system.

Jim Pipoly was back to finish the deck and had Adam to help him.  A much younger guy by comparison to us, it was nice to watch the two of them work.  Experience and attitude count for a lot, and quality paint work requires a careful yet efficient approach; you have to keep moving without ever rushing or letting your attention drift.  They started around 9:30 AM in order to let the dew evaporate and worked until about 7 PM, but they got all of the painting done, and it looks very nice.

By late morning it was sunny but not hot.  We opened all of the awnings on the motorcoach to let them dry.  A couple of weeks ago at the RV rally in Goshen we had to roll them up wet and had not had a chance to unroll them since then.  Not good, but not much we could do about it until today.

Linda needed some things from the grocery store, so I decided to try updating the maps in our Rand-McNally GPS again.  The last time I tried this it said it was going to take 14+ hours to download the updates.  It did, in fact, take that long and it hung up before it finished.  Today, however, things went much better.  The map and device update combined took about 2 hours and completed successfully.  Yea!  She brought home two Sam Adams seasonal variety 12-packs and I put them in the bus fridge to chill them down and add some mass to the refrigerator compartment.  Refrigerators and freezers work much better when they are full, as long as they are overstuffed to the point where air cannot circulate.

While I was working with the GPS, Linda decided to play with the TV sets in our bus.  We had never tried tuning in any local, over-the-air (OTA) stations.  When Ed and Betty Burns were here in their RV in late August, they were only able to tune in one station, and that was FOX, so we figured we were out of luck.  To our surprise, the front TV set found 27 digital channels, including sub-channels of the main channels.  She even picked up PBS from two different sources!  Yippee.  And this was without aiming the antenna.  Once we have a better idea of which direction to point it for each station, or cluster of stations, we may be able to pick up even more signals.

I decided to try the rear TV, which is the one with the defective rotor mechanism.  It did not find as many channels on the first try, so I rotated it to the right (I think) about five positions (maybe) and tried again.  This time we got 25 channels.  Not bad.  So much for needing satellite TV at our house!  I am sufficiently impressed with the performance of these antennas that I may get two more for the house.  Ideally I will mount them on the tower (existing or new).  The problem will be running the co-ax and control cables (it always is).

So why the sudden interest in TV?  Well…the open house is Sunday, and Sunday is professional sports day, and some of our guests are making a huge sacrifice coming to visit instead of watching their favorite sports, so….we thought making some sports broadcasts available would be a nice gesture.  Of course, that means we will have to make popcorn too.

After dinner we loaded some leftover wood from the ham shack/office remodeling project into the back of the Element and got it off the lower walkout deck.  We also moved the leftover suspended ceiling tiles and the shop vac back to the garage.  The only projects I have left in the basement are hanging a wine glass rack over the bar and reassembling the corner of the room where I removed the knotty pine wall boards to facilitate the installation of the 240V, 100A cable to the subpanel that powers the RV outlet, ham shack, and office computer outlets.  But those are tasks for another day.

Having had a reasonably productive day, I made the classic mistake of thinking I could get one more thing accomplished starting at 9 PM.  I wanted to update our Garmin nuvi 465T GPS unit that we use in the Honda Element.  The last time I tried to do this the Garmin Express client couldn’t connect to the Garmin servers.  And so it was again tonight.  Fiddle with USB cables and ports, but no success.  I finally Googled Garmin Express server problems and got a lot of hits.  After reading through a few knowledge base Q&As and trying to update some drivers (I had the Gamin website instead of the Garmin website and they wanted $$) I decided to just reinstall Garmin Express.  I downloaded it, saved, ran the installation .exe file, and voila! it finally worked again.  And my maps and other date were still there and it even recognized our specific device.  It updated the device software successfully and 10:30 told me it was “Safe to Walk Away”.  Really; that’s the message it gave me.  Apparently the map update was going to take approximately 3 hours.  The software must have known what time it was and figured I wanted to go to bed.  And so I did; right after I uploaded and edited this post.  Night, night.


2013_10_01 (T) Nets, Decks, & Weeds

Today was deck day 1 of 2.  Jim Pipoly has done a lot of painting for us over the last few years.  He painted our old house, inside and out, including the garage and the addition over it.  He painted the main floor of our new house a couple of weeks after we closed, and six weeks before we moved in.  He repainted some walls in the old house after we moved out to make it look better when we listed it for sale.  He was here on the 21st and 22nd of September cleaning and stripping the deck along the back side of our new house and now he’s back staining and painting it.  Today he stained the deck boards using Benjamin Moore TWP116 transparent stain in a “rustic” color.  It gave the boards a reddish-brown patina while allowing all of the grain to show through, preserving the look of the wood.  Tomorrow he will do the railings using Benjamin Moore ArborCoat, a solid stain (more like a paint) in Marine White, which is very close to the color of the paint used on the Hardy Board house siding.

Meghan (our daughter) came over mid-morning to help Linda weed the planting beds around the house and spread around the remaining bags of red rubber mulch that the previous owners left us.  The house didn’t look bad, but it looks better now.

In the ham shack/office I relocated a computer and printer.  I also relocated the Netgear 8-port Network Switch (8pNS) and the Linksys Wireless Access Point (WAP).  I then brought another printer and Network Attached Storage (NAS) device down from Linda’s desk.  I how had everything in the office along one wall except the WAP, and I had the new 100’ Cat 6 network cable running to same wall.  This allowed me to reconnect all of the hardwired equipment without any network cables running across the floor, eliminating a potential trip hazard or major equipment catastrophe.  I put the WAP on top of a cabinet and used the old 50’ Cat 6 network cable to connect it back to the AT&T Gateway by Linda’s desk.  Everything checked out, and the only things left on Linda’s desk are her laptop computer and adding machine (it’s an accounting thing).  That will give her more room to work at her desk.

Linda made an ad hoc dish for dinner with beans, rice, and tomatoes and the usual assortment of seasonings.  She used the Italian Seasoning she bought some time ago from Milford Spices at the Howell Farmers Market.  This blend includes just the right amount of red pepper flakes to add slight bit of “heat” to a dish.  She used this seasoning last week when she made the marinara sauce that I liked so much.

Jim finished up as it was getting dark.  We took Linda’s laptop to the basement and connected it to the TV/monitor using an HDMI cable.  We selected that port as the input and voila, her computer screen was now on the TV.  She navigated to her photo directory, started a slide show, and we sat and watched pictures of our summer trip at the rate of 20 per minute (3 seconds each).  It sounds fast, but it’s actually a pretty good speed.  We are going to set this up for the open house.  Linda may try to edit the pictures down to 200 – 300 as that would allow visitors to see all of them in 10 – 15 minutes.