Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Good Times in the Badlands

Badlands NP
Our drive to Wausau and King’s Camper was uneventful - until we got word from the service department that our routine wheel bearing grease job was anything but routine. Apparently, several seals had blown and coated the brake linings with grease. The labor to disassemble and clean the brakes was more than it would be to install new linings. Fortunately they had all the parts in hand and the work would be completed later in the afternoon. Since we had planned on spending the night at King’s anyway, at least it wouldn’t disrupt our travel plans.

Tom's sister Betsy and brother-in-law Bill
While the RV was being worked on we had plenty of time to drive to Plover and have lunch with Betsy and Bill. By late afternoon, the work had been finished (including installation of  new bathroom exhaust fan we’d ordered) and by Tuesday noon, we bid farewell to Wisconsin and crossed into Minnesota.

Corn Palace, Mitchell, SD
you remember coonskin hats? well...
An uninspiring overnight at a Petro truck stop in Albert Lea, then an overnight at Cabela’s in Mitchell, SD (with a stop at the Corn Palace which was under major reconstruction). We don't care much for quick one night stands, especially in truck stops. But the price is right even if the ambiance isn't. One place we did spend time in was Wall, SD. Realizing that most people stop for a few hours because of Wall's eccentric appeal, we stopped for a few nights at the Sleepy Hollow Campground in Wall, SD with other motives in mind.

Dave Jones, entrenched in Wall, SD
Our principle motive for stopping in Wall was to spend time visiting with long time former Appleton denizen, G. David Jones. Whenever we stop in Wall we’ve always found the town (forgive us) wall to wall with tourists. But given the time of year, many of these tourists were Harley riders since with the annual Sturgis motorcycle rally was still in high gear. Annoyingly loud but certainly colorful. Fortunately, most of the riders stayed downtown or were coming to and from the interstate from the opposite direction of the RV park.


We tempted Dave to our RV with the promise of a home cooked meal which included brats from Jacob’s Meat Market in Appleton. Dave was very excited at the prospect of some Jacob’s brats (although we'd hoped our company alone would have been enough of an attraction). Unfortunately, when Carol purchased the brats, instead of veal, pork or beef, she had purchased brats comprised of chicken. Chicken? Suffice to say, by definition, the words 'chicken' and 'brat' should never be used in the same sentence. No amount of condiment could cover the disappointment Dave and Tom felt. At least the brat wannabes were served on Manderfield buns. That little hiccup aside, it was an entertaining afternoon as Dave regaled us with Wall lore and history. It also didn’t hurt that during our stay in Wall, that we were able to to revisit some of the nicest scenery South Dakota has to offer in the form of an auto tour through the Badlands NP and the Buffalo Gap National Grassland. As an aside, if you get the chance and it happens to be ope, visit the Buffalo Gap National Grassland Visitor Center. Don't overlook the Wall Public Library. And, by all means, whatever you do, do not pass up the chance at savoring some of Wall Drug Cafe's epic homemade fresh donuts.


Big Pines Campground

Our South Dakota driver’s licenses were in need of renewing in 2014 so a few nights in the Big Pines Campground outside Custer, SD was in order. Not only did the park put us within an easy drive to the DMV in Rapid City, the location also allowed easy access to the wildlife auto tour in Custer State Park (and breakfast at the park’s Gamekeeper Lodge), a walking tour of the buffalo artwork in downtown Custer, a swing through Wind Cave NP, a revisit of Mount Rushmore, and a drive along the highway 16A loop which we couldn't have possibly accomplished towing the RV. We included a stop at our mail forwarding service in Box Elder to double check that our voter registrations were in order.
Next on our westward journey was an forgettable overnight at an RV park outside Cheyenne, WY as we headed to Colorado with a visit to a certain exclusive backyard RV campground in mind.



Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Wisconsin June-July 2014

Carol, Alrick, Jennie, Graham, Caitlin, Tom
May morphed into June then quickly into July…and our pace never slackened. More appointments, get-togethers with family and friends, and a couple of presentations. The later included a “Birding Across Wisconsin” program given to a group at the Kimberly-Little Chute Public Library where a former LU colleague, Beth Carpenter, is the library director. A good sized crowd of about 35 people. This was the first public speaking engagement since Tom had acquired his hearing aids. Interesting to note that he initially didn’t speak loudly enough because his hearing aids fooled him into thinking he was. Turning down the hearing aid volume enabled him to speak at a level everyone could understand…except for one woman who apparently also suffered from hearing loss. She was encouraged to move to the front row.

speaking at Kimberly-Little Chute Public Library
The second speaking engagement was a compilation of several Costa Rica trips which many members of the Northeast Wisconsin Birding Club had experienced, some more than once. Tom’s speaking volume/hearing aid issue was overcome by simply turning off the aids until the question/answer period then we were off to El Tequila in New London for lunch.
Lynn and Laurel and Jim and Vicki treated us to dinner at Basil’s Cafe (Thai food) in Appleton followed by cookies and coffee at Lynn and Laurel’s. Justification for this totally unexpected invitation was a “thank you” for our recent trip to the Ecuador Amazon where we managed to bring both Lynn and Viciki back alive. What a delightful bunch of people! Is it any wonder why we enjoy everyone’s company on our birding trips?
Stuart and Debs treated us to a home cooked meal at their new digs that included an official tour of their new home. Carol agreed to work with Stuart regarding some landscaping ideas - as long as she didn’t have to actually do the physical bits.

before
after
Our now annual birthday shopping trip with Alrick was followed by dinner at Jennie’s in Green Bay where, on Jennie small porch, one couldn’t help but notice the forlorn wooden “Wave Hill” chair Tom had built. After years of use, not only did it need a fresh coat of paint but some of the wood had rotted making the chair nearly unusable. The chair was loaded into our truck and taken back to Dale to be repaired. It took a few weeks but following reconstruction of some of the original parts, a few coats of primer and paint, the chair looked just like new, ready for many more years of service.

perfect fit
The Wave Hill chair Tom used as a model can be found at the Wave Hill Botanical Gardens in the Bronx, but it’s design harkens back to Gerrit Rietveld’s 1918 "red and blue chair", now in the collection of the New York Museum of Modern Art. The design of the Rietveld chair was modified slightly for use in the public gardens at Innisfree, in Millbrook, N.Y., in the 1960s. That design was picked up by the workshop at Wave Hill gardens. Rietveld's original chair, intended for use indoors, was made with a single bright red plank for a back, a blue seat and black supporting braces with sunny yellow spots on the ends. New chairs manufactured using Rietveld's design are sold by an Italian company for about $800 each. Plans to build your own Wave Hill chair (for a lot less than $800!) can be ordered here.

Betty and Dave
A weekend at Marge’s provided Carol with ample time for an extended visit with Melissa and an opportunity for Marge and Carol to take a shopping day in Madison. While at Marge’s, we had time to spend an evening with friends Sharon and Warren Gaskill at their hilltop home outside Black Earth, a much anticipated recharge of kinship as we swapped stories and got caught up with all things Gaskill.
More appointments in June and July with our financial advisers, the eye doctor, a followup with Tom’s audiologist, plus Carol’s periodontist, and then our annual wellness exams with Dr. McKee. Many of these appointments are booked months in advance which always takes a bit of juggling to make happen.

Warren, Sharon, Carol
Caitlin and Graham
On Father’s Day we celebrated with Jennie via a brunch at the RV and that evening, gathered at the Stone Cellar Brewpub with Penny and her old “kitchen cabinet”. Finally, by Saturday June 21, the Appleton Farmer’s Market was again in full swing. While buying fresh food is always welcome, the market is also an opportunity to serendipitously socialize with friends who happen to be cruising College Avenue. One such meeting was with Gretta Volk, a former colleague of Tom’s at Lawrence who, while currently living in Portland, OR, had come to Appleton with her husband Greg who had reconnected with Lawrence (now that LU has a new and progressive president!). Then we were off to Oshkosh to have dinner with Graham and Caitlin at their apartment. While it wasn’t “official”, we were told to expect a special announcement in the very near future - something to do with a wedding? (Update: since leaving Wisconsin we learned that Catlin and Graham are now engaged; a June 27th wedding is planned)

Jeff and Bill, Penny and Dale
And speaking of weddings, one of our highlights this year was being invited to a wedding celebration reception hosted by friends Bill and Jeff. They had been married during a recent trip to California but since many of their friends lived in the Fox Cities, they decided to host a reception at Riverview Gardens, site of the former Riverview Country Club. Catering was provided by the Stone Cellar Brewpub (excellent food!) and an opportunity to connect with folks we’ve not seen for along time. Bill and Jeff certainly know how to throw a party!

ferry crossing to Washington Island
miniature golf at Bay Beach
new friend at the NEW Zoo
Jess showing Arick various stages of Monarch butterfly development
Our fun weekly visits with Alrick continued that included: 1) an entire day in Door County that included a ferry ride out to Washington Island where we did a little birding, had some beach time and of course lunch on the go, 2) a miniature golf outing in Green Bay where he cleaned our clocks 3) a visit to the NEW Zoo with up close and personal contact with some of the zoo inhabitants, 4) a day at Hartman Creek State Park for a swim, and 5) dropping a rescued Monarch butterfly at Mosquito Hill Nature Center caterpillar and a personal tour of the critter lab at with Jess Miller, our favorite naturalist at the Hill, and Amber, a summer intern.

Dale parade
Saturday June 28. Dale held its annual city celebration complete with a parade and fireworks. Dale parades (mostly comprised of decorated local farm tractors) never last long - maybe twenty minutes tops. It takes more time to get ready than the actual parade but the town sure knows how to put on some fireworks. This year Penny marched in the parade as she is was running for Mike Ellis’s abandoned state Senate seat. Of course we pitched in and walked with her, handing out candy while she was busy handshaking. That’s Penny - lots of face to face time with constituents (and possible future constituents).

Hamish
An unexpected crisis arose when Tom’s ex-wife, Carol, contacted us to say, “it was now our turn again” to take care of Hamish, our former pet cat. Faithful readers will recall that when we made the decision to go full-time RVing, that Hamish didn’t much care for the idea. Instead, Tom’s ex-wife, had taken Hamish into her home where he's lived ever since. However, Carol was soon be putting her house on the market, buy a house in Door County and remarry. Unfortunately, her husband to be is allergic to cats so what to do with Hamish? Clearly our lifestyle had not changed and we couldn’t take him. And she couldn't keep him. The hunt for a new home for Hamish began.
Ideally Hamish, now a 13 year old cat and in excellent health, would be happiest in a home with no children or other pets. After much angst and soliciting friends far and wide if they would take Hamish into their home, alas, there were no takers. To top it off, the “no kill” pet shelters had a year waiting list just to get him in the door. We didn't have that window of time and honestly, given Hamish's skittish nature, to put Hamish in a shelter with little hope of adoption would not be fair. A hard decision was made that on the day Carol’s house went on the market, Hamish would have to be put down if he wasn’t adopted by then. Not a happy decision, plus the sad task of taking Hamish to a vet to be put down fell to Tom’s shoulders.
One more plea via Facebook the day before “D” day and then, at the 11th hour, a miracle! Alvina Tan, who worked in the recording studio at Lawrence, communicated via Facebook that she was in tears thinking of Hamish’s fate and while she’d never had a pet before (let alone any experiences with cats) she said she’d like to try.
After a little coaxing, and with the promise of full support from us and from her boss, Larry Darling, Alvina took Hamish home with her the next day, the day Hamish was scheduled to take his last trip to the vet. And what a great cat owner she’s turned out to be. Both she and Hamish couldn’t be happier - and we couldn’t be happier that Hamish was able to settle into a good home. Whew! What a relief!
Early in July, Carol had contracted a mild UT infection. Nothing new and nothing that she hadn’t experienced before. However, this time, there was an unexpected twist. She developed an allergic reaction to the treatment medication which evidenced itself in the form of a serious outbreak of head to toe hives. It got to the point where we were making daily trips to the pharmacy to try something different plus a trip to the ER when her breathing became difficult. Things eventually were brought under control - but it did put a damper on some of our socializing.

Idhe reunion
Carol, Antoinette, Julia (from Boise!), Julie, Tom, Keith
Matt and Mato
July found us attending the Idhe family reunion in Lake Delton with another overnight visit at Marge’s, a long overdue get together with Scott and Betty Seaborne, more trips to the Appleton Farmers Market, and lunch with Lt. Steve Elliott where we got caught up on all things Appleton K9 (including news of a new dog and handler - welcome Jico and Officer Haney. Sadly, since our lunch with Lt. Elliott, we learned that Mato, the first K9 hired by the APD, had passed away. Mato, during his career, was used in more than a 1,000 cases. He was 11-years old.

lunch with high school classmate 'girl friends'
A lunch date with several of Tom’s high school classmate (all girls, Carol noted) who regularly meet each month and then another luncheon date with Lawrence University friends at SAP, a new restaurant in Appleton (killer cupcakes!).

 
Jico (pronounced 'gecko') and officer Haney
Caitlin and Graham at Salsa's
Dinner with Graham and Caitlin at Salsa’s Mexican Restaurant in Menasha, then coffee with Harold and Ann Ginke to discuss our upcoming trip to South Africa in October 2015 (Harold will be in our group). Immediately after coffee Carol and I walked across the street to meet Jess Miller and her beau Jim for drinks and dinner at Zacatecas in Neenah (killer margaritas!).

Carol, Jim and Jess
Warren, Sharon and Carol at the Blue Spoon
Tom, Nick, Paul, Carol at SAP
And what else? Goodness, the list of get togethers was like the EverReady bunny - they kept going and going and going. Dinner at Stone Cellar with Dave and Betty, yet another visit to Marge’s (when we totally rearranged Marge’s living room furniture), lunch with Sharon and Warren Gaskill at the Blue Spoon Cafe in Sauk Prairie, and breakfast with sisters Maryann and Janet at their home in Madison. Oh, and dinner with Nick and Paul at SAP and a long overdue family get together with Jennie, Alrick, Graham and Caitlin at our RV with pizza from Vinny’s in Medina.

Birding by Beer potluck
last morning at the Ward's before heading west
It seemed like we had just turned the calendar page to July when suddenly it was August. We had originally planned on departing Wisconsin by the end of July but we needed to have some work done on the RV in Wausau, work that couldn’t start until August 4. We did the only sensible thing: extended our stay in Dale. Fortunately that allowed us time to attend the Northeast Wisconsin Birding Club's “Birding by Beer” annual potluck, one last dinner with Dave and Betty, and breakfast at Wally’s Still with the Wards before we had to pack up to head west for the winter.
We do so much enjoy our Wisconsin sojourns with much missed family and friends and while it always feels like we're in a whirlwind while we’re there, we wouldn’t miss it for the world.