Maximum Happiness

We are all still vibrating with the joy of Alexander’s Bar Mitzvah.  It was held under a tent in the orchard below the house.  The day started out cool (actually chilly) and we all dressed just a bit warmer then planned.  The glow under the tent kept many of us warm and others moved out through the open walls to sit in the warming sun.  Most of the family from Dan’s side were there and many from Malena’s as well.  All the grandparents were present and one couple surviving from the prior generation as well, that was my Aunt Gloria and Uncle Josh.  Dan had invited them to stand in for my parents for the tradition of handing the Torah down from “generation to generation” so it passed down through three generations to Alexander the forth generation of our family.  I must admit I could not stop sobbing through most of the service and here with my Aunt and Uncle I was moved beyond tears.  For them this was the beginning of yet another trip as they headed off to Paris the next day.  May I live to have the strength for that kind of travel in my late 80’s.

Alexander delivered the “Words of Torah’ or drosh, with aplomb and fervor.  After all he had found a way to talk about his favorite subject, chickens, and how they are mistreated in Concentrated Animal Feedlot Operations.  He had worked on this very hard and I was the “scribe” taking down his words and making the occasional amendment, which he mostly found and further revised into his own words.  This was a drosh that no one could say had been written for him.  He followed that with a chanting of the part of the Torah portion in his rich controlled voice with a minor error which he acknowledged with a smile and an “oops” and continued on as if it had not happened. If there is any doubt, I am a very proud grandfather.

Pictures?  We were so wrapped up in the event that we took very few – I took none – so I will share when I get them from others.

The party never did seem to end as we moved to a wonderful luncheon at the back of the tent and a continuation for the family from out of town that seemed to seamlessly emerge as a Memorial Day hots and hamburgers supper accompanied by a bottle of fine Scotch and much beer and wine.  Sunday we continued on to brunch at L’Etoile and some more goodbyes.  In the evening there was a meal of leftovers and a bonfire for the kids to make s’mores.  And then more farewells as people with early flights on Monday gathered their hugs in preparation for departure.  By Monday the only “out of towners” left were our niece Erica and grandson Josh (and of course us).  As I write, on Tuesday, Erica, Josh, and Carol and I are preparing to go our separate ways.  We will reconnect with Josh in Rochester within a week or so.  Our California family will rejoin us in Rochester in July and we will be back in Covesville in September.

Tomorrow, Pittsburgh, to have Gee Whiz get its first chassis service since we bought it a year ago.  Then on to Rochester.  We called Sarah at our summer home on St Paul St to arrange to bring the coach right to the loading area on Friday. She was very sweet and offered the help of staff to control traffic when we are ready to back out.  Looking forward to visiting with our Rochester friends over the next couple of months.  I will probably post less often as we will not be “On Board Gee Whiz.”

Waiting for THE Bar Mitzvah

We arrived in Charlottesville – actually Covesville, VA – after three nights on the road from Asheville.  We spent two nights in Boone, at the KOA – still haven’t found a really nice place to stay there.  We made a stop at AmRhein Winery (Harvest Host) just into Virginia and not too far off the Blue Ridge Parkway.  We had a bit of a hurry up wine tasting because our arrival was delayed by a motorcycle accident on the Parkway – our second that day.  We met Russ, the owner, on the way in, he commented on how well Carol had handled the coach coming through their very narrow gate.  We set up on a fairly out of level piece of ground.  When Carol put down the levelers they continued right into the ground, oops.  We bought 6 bottles of wine.

We had a beautiful and relatively uneventful drive the rest of the way to Malena and Dan’s. Setting up in the driveway we decided to have Carol at the wheel and me giving ground guidance as opposed to the usual order of things.  It worked out very well and we may make that a normal approach for tight circumstances.

Since arrival we have been very busy helping prepare for Alexander’s Bar Mitzvah.  There is much yard work to be done

Farmer Carol
Dan and Malena in the Garden
Even the bees got into the act

  swarming from one of the hives.  The next day they returned to the hive they had left while Malena was there to watch.

Much of my time has been spent with Alexander as my assignment has been to help him prepare his drosh (speech based on the Torah portion he will be reading).  The most difficult part for me is to get him to write it in his words so when he presents it it sounds like him not me.  Of course, I have a lot of help from his parents so we are doing most of our work on the motorhome out of earshot.  They have plenty to do without taking on this added work. It has certainly been fun for me as I have not had an opportunity to spend serious intellectual time with Alex before this and we are getting to know each other even better.

Every time I look at the “to do” list that Malena keeps on a spreadsheet it seems to get longer.  Mixed in with the preparations are baseball games, rehearsals for a play and the usual demands of life.

Two days later:

The list does not appear to be any shorter, but a lot has been done.  It seems my role has been “helper” in the yard.  I have helped move the chickens out of the way and helped build an animal pen in the woods to move some four legged critters out of the way and helped put together a new grill and helped myself to the occasional beer and glass of wine.

The drosh is written and has been rehearsed.  I have been learning my Torah reading and Carol has been busy assembling the siddurim (prayer books) which needed amendments for this service, they are in three ring binders.  As soon as I post this I will get to working on that task, unless I am “assigned” some other job that is deemed of higher priority.  Carol continues to prepare meals while everyone else is off on errands and running her own errands as well. Family starts arriving tonight and continues to arrive until late Friday night.

Tiffin Travelers Rally in Asheville

and it continued to rain, all the way to Asheville and while we got set up in Bear Creek RV Park in Asheville.  Then, miraculously the rain stopped.  We rejoined Anna Lee and Jerry Braunstein, whom we last saw in Austin, for dinner at Nine Mile in Asheville.  They are not Tiffin owners, but they found their way into Bear Creek as an ideal place to tour Asheville and surroundings.  That was Sunday night, our rally was set to start on Monday although there certainly were plenty Tiffin coaches already in the park.

The rally consisted of daily happy hour(s) with food variants from pizza, to pot luck to catered Italian as well as “on your own” a couple of nights.  On Tuesday we participated in the White Trolley Tour, something we often avoid, and learned how much of Asheville we had been missing.  Wednesday the group went to the Biltmore Estate, a wonderful thing to do, which we have done several times, including last year, so we skipped.  We learned that Jerry and Anna Lee’s coach had developed a malady requiring parts and service which would not happen until later in the day so we picked them up and went to the River Art District.  In the first building we stopped in we met and spoke with a wood turner, some potters

 and a woman painting with encaustic.  We got excited as our friend and neighbor in Rochester, Jack Wolsky, is the only artist we know who works in that old medium.  Lets just say that there is encasutic and there is Wolsky.  We delivered the Braunsteins back to their coach in time for the service man to arrive and install the new inverter.  After lunch on board, we returned to the River Art District and continued to visit with craftspeople for most of the afternoon.  By 5 we were in the Rally Room with the survivors of Biltmore and the wine tasting.

We got to renew acquaintance with Tiffin Travelers we met in Bath NY last summer and we made friends with members who were not there.  It is a wonder to me how a group of people drawn together merely by the ownership of a brand of motorhome can have so much else in common. It approaches being a granfalloon (see We are blessed with many retired teachers and nurses not to mention retired lawmen and military.

On the left Bill Murton, group photographer and incoming president, on the right Lee and Richard Beers

Along the way we had a mishap with a wonderful recovery.  On Monday Carol lost her rig keys, this includes a remote for the door.  This is uncharacteristic, somehow she failed to stash them in the glove compartment of the Jeep and they must have fallen out of her purse.  We were appalled at the likely cost of replacing the remote, not to mention the aggravation.  At the suggestion of one of the rally participants I emailed the Tiffin customer service department with a plea to direct the email to the appropriate person to sell me a new remote.  The next morning, Tuesday, as we rode the Trolley, I determined to follow up with a phone call when we got back.  Mid morning, my phone rings and it is Ray Tiffin (!) on the phone confirming my email and telling me they would send a replacement out overnight delivery.  I was stunned.  Later in the day Anthony, from parts called to get the VIN number of the coach so he could send out the right part and the complete shipping address.  He said he was sending us a couple of remotes.  I objected saying I only needed one.  End of story, at noon on Wednesday a box was delivered to us, free of charge, with two brand new remotes and coding instructions.  Thank you Tiffin.

This morning, Saturday, we set out to drive the Blue Ridge Parkway yet again.  We made it as far as Boon, about 65 miles.  We had an extended stop at the Folk Art Center where we saw a sheep being sheared and we avoided spending any money because we have no space and no desire to recreate the collection of wonderful things we have chosen to part with.  We will probably stay here two nights and wander the territory in the Jeep.

Next post will most likely be from Covesville unless I decide to write sooner.

Interesting Finds Along the Road

As is our norm, as we left Golden Acres Ranch we set out toward Macon using US highways and state roads.  We wanted to see more of Georgia than the interstates and we wanted to avoid going through Atlanta at any time of day.  Along the way we elected, sometimes by choice and sometimes by inadvertence, to go directly through Main Street rather than take the bypass.  We saw many beautiful towns and came across one Landmark House tour that was right along the route.  We also passed by a large group reenacting a Civil War battle.  That was in the appropriately named town of Gray.

Yesterday as we looked at the FMCA atlas we always have open to our route, we noted that we were going to be passing by Andersonville Historic Park and the National Prisoner of War Museum.  They were directly on route 49 which we were traveling along.

A bit of a refresher, in 1864 the South was looking for a place to hold Union prisoners away from battle in a place where there were building materials and a food supply.  They selected Andersonville and began construction of “Camp Sumpter” a 16 acre stockaded area with a stream, Stockade Branch, flowing through it to provide water.  They later expanded the stockade to 22 acres.  The original plan was for 6,000 prisoners then 10,000. Eventually they housed over 20,000 prisoners in a bare stockade forced to build whatever housing they could from material they had with them or could salvage.  The death rate was terrible and through a novel written in the 1950’s it has become known as the most horrible of Civil War POW camps.  There were northern camps that had death rates in the same order of magnitude, some believe to have been as high as 25% of all imprisoned.  Here is a picture taken from the south.  This is a view from a gun emplacement at the southwest corner intended to be able to sweep the entire northern end of the stockade as well as to turn and defend against the Union Army.  The white posts indicate the location of the stockade and the “deadline.”

After a couple of hours touring the Prisoner of War Museum and then taking the CD guided driving tour of the grounds (in the coach with the car in tow) we headed on down the road, crossing to I 75 to get to our intended Passport America campground, Al Sihah Shrine Park, just outside Macon.  We had been told there was an event on and we would have to camp “up the hill” with 30 amp and no sewer.  No big deal until we turned onto the Mecca Rd.  Cars were backed up a quarter of a mile waiting to get into the park.  The road was lined with “Rally for Life” American Cancer Society signs.  This is a Masonic Temple with very large grounds.  I called the camp manager to ask if we were in the right place and he said he could see us and to just follow the flow.  We did and eventually we were situated up the hill with water and electric and a large empty hay field in front of us.  As time passed the field continued to fill until they were almost up to where we were camping.
I really needed to get up on the roof of the coach to get a picture of the place, but it was drizzling, as it had all day, and It was warm and dry inside.  In the morning all the cars, save one, were gone.  Their coming and going did not disturb us and did provide some additional entertainment.
Continuing up the road we eventually picked up US 441 headed for the Georgia-North Carolina border. But we stopped short at Tallulah Falls State Park in Tallulah Falls GA.  We are making a note of this place for a revisit, maybe with some grandsons.  There is a large gorge with several waterfalls,
 a suspension bridge 
and hiking and a very good visitor center.  In warm weather there is a beach and water play in the lake formed by the dam above the park.  The campground is very nicely laid out and maintained by Georgia Power!! the turns are such that a coach any bigger than ours might have an issue with at least one of the them.  We arrived and Carol announced she had to get on her computer and I desperately needed a walk in the rain.  We compromised, she stayed in the coach and did her work and I went for a walk. I was greeted with this sign declaring that there are 620 steps to the suspension bridge. 
I will not argue that count.  I went down every one of them and then climbed back up.  I will discuss the condition of my legs the next day in my next post. 
Did I mention is has been raining?  It has been on and off for the past four days and does not seem to be ending for us for another 5 days.  The rain gear is in use.

Passing through Florida, slowly

We entered Florida on US 90 through Pensacola.  We determined to avoid I 10 for the most part, since we were in no hurry.  Drifting along US 90 we made our way to Mexico Beach and Rustic Sands RV Park where we had stayed several years ago.  Rustic is an appropriate description.  We arrived late, for us, and left early, for us.  We had a couple of nights before we were scheduled to arrive at Lazy Days to complete the service work that had begun there in early December and been carried on to their dealership in Tucson.

Looking through our choices in Days End, an Escapee listing of free and cheap overnight camping spots, we spotted a National Forest Service (NFS) campground next to an abandoned fire tower north of Lake City FL.  Following the directions with which our GPS concurred, was an act of faith since we entered a network of unpaved back roads in the heart of Florida that we did not know existed.  Upon arrival we saw the fire tower and plenty of space to park as well as a tent camper who looked scruffier than he was.  His head was covered with insect netting that made him look quite disheveled.  Soon we were outside with our netting as well.  The gnats were ferocious and the only thing worse came later when the mosquitoes came out.  They were far worse than anything we encountered in Alaska.  After chatting with our neighbor, we retreated to the relatively insect free interior of the coach and left him to feed the insects.  He was 3 days from using up his two week permit.

In the morning we pulled out, sliding under the low hanging power line with greater ease than seemed apparent and rolled south to eventually stop at Keel and Curley Winery, a Harvest Host winery, that was  just 17 miles east of Lazy Days where we were due the next morning.  There we met AJ and Linda, fellow members of Harvest Host, in the parking field.  After chatting a while, Carol and I went into the wine tasting room to sample some wine and make ourselves known as Harvest Host members.  If you think blueberries are an appropriate base for wine, do not miss this.  If on the other hand you actually like wine made from grapes . . .  I tried their Merlot, and bought a bottle of blueberry wine.  It was very nice, for blueberry wine.  The intersection where we were parked seemed to be blessed (cursed?)  with the passage of every car in Florida that was lacking a sound deadening muffler.  We became convinced that we needed to poke holes in our mufflers to be legal as we passed through that intersection, how else to explain the number of very noisy cars passing through there all day and all night.

The next day, Thursday, we arrived at Lazy Days.  Friday they took Gee Whiz into a bay and by Friday evening the only job left was a detail wash.  The shower door opens and closes nicely, the shade in the bedroom does not require brute force to raise and lower and the cameras for the rear and side view are stable and clear.  Oh yes, even the rock guard with the Phaeton name on it is brand new.  Thank you Tiffin and thank you Lazy Days.  We were treated like royalty with admission to the Crown Club and the Crown Club service area which are reserved for those who buy from LD and everyone was very nice to us and worked hard to keep us informed.  James Busch, the Tiffin Representative was especially helpful.

After a Saturday night dinner at Anthony’s Coal Fired Pizza with the Topfs, we took our time getting out on Sunday and drove 50 miles to Fort Desoto County Park and after setting up we began our visit with Art and Natalie, Carol’s brother and Sister-in-law.  For the record, if you contemplate going to that park with a 36 foot or greater coach, avoid site 173.  The entrance was very narrow and required several minutes of very close maneuvering with Carol driving and me as spotter to get in without hitting a tree or a stake.  We did it, but I was sweating by the time we got set up.  Also this site had a very narrow camping area as well.  Other sites we have stayed on there are more roomy.

We had to leave today, Thursday and begin our trip north.  We are spending tonight at Golden Acres Ranch outside Monticello, FL, fours miles south of the GA border.  This is a Harvest Host stop and their specialty is Mayhaw jelly.  They also raise sheep, goats, chickens and they have a flock of guinea fowl as well.  The Mayhaw season is not going well.  Three years ago they had 700 pounds. Last year with the drought they had 50 pounds.  This year, with plenty of water, but two frosts, Fred showed us a half dozen berries he had found.  The Mayhaw berry, ripens in May and the tree is in the Hawthorn family, thus the name.  Bobbie and Fred are delightful hosts and in the morning we look forward to buying, eggs, ground lamb and some jellies that Bobbie has put up.  Their Mayhaw festival starts tomorrow afternoon and we will be long gone, across the border into Georgia and possibly somewhere near Macon by dinner time.