Monday, March 28, 2011

What are the Chances?!?

Well, we’re on our third and final“shake-out” trip. We’ve just pulled into the space at the Pechanga RV Resort in Temecula, California, about 2 hours from our home. Joe’s out hooking up the electrical and water systems.  Before I undo my seatbelt, I see a woman walking towards us with a big smile on her face.  I open the window, and she asks, “Are you Bonnie Price?”  All I could think of is that I may have left something at the registration desk when we checked in, but that wasn’t it. 
“I’m Ann Walker, Sue’s daughter in law!” she beams. “Sue’s been telling me about your planned tour, as we love the RV life, and she thought we might be interested. She’d sent me the website address, and I’d seen the picture of the decal on the side of your RV, and recognized it!”  Ann lived in Monterey, and was just about to return home after two weeks of a great vacation.

Sue Walker is the General Manager of the Rio Hondo Symphony Association, on whose Board I served for five years, and we’d shared our contact information with the board through her. Her enthusiasm for the project was spreading the word not only through the community, but to her family hundreds of miles away. 
In the planning stages for this tour of the country for Joe to sing the national anthem at minor league ball parks, we realized that we’d want to publicize because the adventure was too much fun to keep to ourselves. Joe developed a logo and had business cards and postcards printed up, and created his website (www.anthemtour.com), which coordinates with the Whittier College website (www.whittier.edu). Then he set up his blog, I set up mine, and we linked those to the website. Finally, he sent out email and postcards.
We have been happily flooded with responses cheering us on, and it’s been very motivating for us as we prepare for a lot of writing. Some friends in town are actually planning to visit a game as they vacation this summer.  Friends who have moved away write with invitations for getting together when we’re near their town.  Friends from other places we have lived mark their calendars to attend a game, and let us know.  
I had been a little concerned about feeling isolated for the four months we’d be on the road.  I had consoled myself with the notion that I still had email contact with friends, and had calendared a few visits around the country.  I had not imagined that we’d make new friends before we ever left, but that’s what’s happening!  Alumni we’ve never met have written to say they’ll attend the game near them.
But who would have imagined seeing a relative of a friend who recognized the vehicle on our first trip out of town after getting the signs up. Ann, thank you for greeting me!  What a wonderful way to start the adventure- with all the warmth of connection to others who enjoy adventure, baseball games and the RV lifestyle.  
Really, what are the chances? 

The Mendocino Trip- More than just testing the RV!

We’ve taken Arby out for three trips now in preparation for our long journey to all the ball parks.  Our Mendocino trip was particularly special because it is the location for a family pilgrimage to my paternal grandparents’ home in the Mendocino woods. 
The Mendocino trip was also great at resolving for us whether it was reasonable to take the dogs on the trip.  Clearly, the answer is NO when the schedule is so very tightly packed.  Dogs deserve lots of play time, and the stress levels between meeting the appointments and the dogs’ needs would mean that we wouldn’t be caring deeply enough for our own levels of energy.  Both Winston and Tucker really were on best behavior on the long drives, napping on the sofa, tethered to the seat belts, but to no avail.  They really aren’t going to be included in the cross-country tour. Luckily for the dogs, our son’s presence in our home will make it fairly easy on them.  Both Jared and the dogs show up in the pictures in this post, though they will be staying behind during the big adventure to all the ball parks. 
Will and Mildred George, my paternal grandparents, had a large property in the woods off Comptche Road in Mendocino, and all 13 grandchildren (3 families) would take turns visiting for a week or two in the summer in the magical wonderland that was their Mendocino wood.  
My grandfather created a little park from one side of the yard, in which he created paths,  put up signs, and built a playhouse- The Tom Thumb house - around a very large redwood stump.  This playhouse, with its vividly colored walls, is the only recognizable landmark on the property; the main house, guest house, and garage burned at least 35 years ago, soon after my grandparents sold it and my grandmother went to the Sequoias retirement home, in Portola Valley, closer to family members. 
We always found this little house to be our family’s private joy, but in 2000, The Treehouse Book, by Peter and Judy Nelson, published a photo of our Tom Thumb House (named on the sign by my grandfather), though it was not IN a tree- it was around it.   I love the author’s reaction to reading the inscription on the plaque. 
Our family tradition is to write on an inside wall and date the inscription, so that each of us who visits realizes that this is extremely special for all of us, though the property is no longer in the family. I took some photos, but the writing is starting to fade, and not many of the pictures were readable. Nonetheless, I crouched down to add my own message to the inscriptions. 
Bonnie adds a message to the family message board inside the Tom Thumb House, in the woods near Mendocino. 

Jared and Joe; the dogs are lucky to have Jared caring for them while we travel! 
At MacKerricher State Park, north of Fort Bragg.  Tucker is the white cockapoo, and Winston is the black Havanese. 


Bonnie and the dogs at Morro Bay, CA (Southern California!)- their first visit to a beach! 

A lovely rest stop just north of Santa Barbara, CA 

The Tom Thumb House plaque is now so faded as to no longer be readable. 

Though crumbling, the Tom Thumb house is still bright enough to spot in the woods from the road. 

This picture of the plaque was taken over 12 years ago. 

Peter and Judy Nelson, authors of "the treehouse book" were charmed by the inscription on the plaque. 

My sisters' and uncle's families visited and left messages inside the Tom Thumb House. 

The Tom Thumb House, as pictured in "the treehouse book" in 2000. 
Alas, the years have not been kind to the little house; though the lead based paints are still bright, boards are rotting, and the plaque on the front of the house is fading, and not completely readable at this point.  Compare the photo in the book taken about 12 years ago to the faded state just now.  Kind of sad. 
We also loved Mendocino for its loveliness.  As inland dwellers, we don’t often get to the beach, but in this trip, we got to enjoy Morro Bay (that big rock is the major landmark!) The Mendocino Headlands State Park, composed of undeveloped bluffs above the crashing ocean waves and just north, in Fort Bragg, MacKerricher State Park.  We are so lucky to have such natural wonders. 
I will miss California when we are traveling across the United States.  Though I’m sure I’ll be captivated by the many wonders of the country, I do like my home state quite well, and will be glad to return.  

Monday, March 14, 2011

Whew! I get tired just READING the schedule!

My husband Joe is an ambitious man.  Lucky for him, he's also a determined man, as you have to work hard if you dream big. He wanted to sing the national anthem at as many minor league ball parks as possible in one season.  That's AS MANY AS POSSIBLE IN THE WHOLE COUNTRY. That struck me as a little large, as dreams go. But it seems that he's managed to make the project real.

 I just posted the schedule on this blog (it will also be on his website, anthemtour.com) for all the games, and it still overwhelms me just to read it. As long as it will take him  to get to each of the games, a lot more time has gone into organizing all that has had to happen for this big adventure to become a reality. Actually, that goes for both of us, most of the time--I won't be there for every game, but I do get credit for being there MOST of the time.

First, he had to convince himself this was a project that could be done.  As an optimist and big thinker, he didn't have trouble with this part.  Next, he had to break the news to me.  Now, I'm not exactly a pessimist, but I do panic faster than he does about the scale of his ideas.  "Why can't we just go to Paris for your sabbatical, where you can research in libraries while I sip coffee in outdoor caf├ęs?"  He didn't really have to explain to me that his interest in American baseball and the national anthem didn't properly intersect with European travel.  One wry look did the trick.

So my response was somewhat curt: "Send me postcards!"  Patiently, he continued to make his plans, contacting teams, asking for advice on how to make the project work from anyone who might have ideas.  I could not believe how supportive people were in wanting to help make this project come true.

Eventually, I came around to wanting to be helpful too.  The biggest factor in that decision was the purchase of an RV.  Because a friend offered us a lovely motorhome at a very reasonable price, the project now took on aspects of an extended vacation, of sorts. Slowly, I started seeing all this as a nesting project: a second home! There's decorating to be done, stuff to be bought, side trips to enjoy!

So now, finally sharing all this with you readers, it's becoming very real. VERY real. In a good way, but also with open eyes about all the times that we'll have mechanical problems with Arby, the RV. We've been warned that daily maintenance is the price for all that freedom on the road, and we're getting as prepared as we can.

And I am glad that he dreams big.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Getting Started on the Grand Adventure


The passing of the torch - Helen's last day of RV ownership and Joe's first!

As I prepared to retire from 35 years of teaching last June, my husband Joe was preparing for a grand adventure. Finally we could have time together for extended travel!  For his 2011 sabbatical from Whittier College where he teaches Religious Studies, he planned a national tour of minor league baseball parks, where he would sing the national anthem.  This ambitious plan supports his goal of completing the research for his next book, "Perfect Pitch: The National Anthem for the National Pastime".

What I thought would be a quiet year of resting and reading, gardening and gabbing, instead became a year of planning and discovering and great new learning. Once we realized that the only way this could work would be to travel in an RV, we were surprised to find that sharing our dream paved the way for the dreams to come true.  Helen Kelly, a dear friend, was ready to sell her beloved 1994 Fleetwood Flair, as  she realized that this adventure was something special.  Her motorhome had been kept up beautifully, and was ready to go when we bought it in January.

We had to learn how to use it, of course, and took her excellent advice to get lessons right away.  With an initial two day training under our belts, we were brave enough to head out on a five night trip that would combine a family vacation and a "shakeout" trip-- discovering what sorts of things needed attention.  As it turned out, what was most needed was our ability to grasp just what we needed to learn to manage the complex systems of a motorhome.

The trip was a complete success-- which is to say that a five hour delay as we began our return showed us that very small electrical problems-- corrosion on light bulbs and such, can throw off a schedule that's too tightly tweaked.  Luckily, we'd allowed some wiggle room, and the wallet took more of a beating than the schedule.

Driving Lessons for an RV- A Great Thing!

We had been advised by the seller that RV lessons would be a great boon to us, saving us untold anxiety and countless mistakes, so we signed up and really had a great time.  Disclaimer: we're still pretty good at making mistakes anyway, but now have the benefit of knowing exactly who will be licensed to tell us "I told you so!"  There are just so many things to deal with.

Dick Reed's RV School (rvschool@wizwire.com) was recommended and we not only gained great confidence, we had a great time.  A truism of the RV life is that you meet the most wonderful people, and so far that's held quite true.  Jerry Caldera, a former truck driver, is on the staff of the RV School, and got this assignment as we are in his vicinity.  Dennis Hill, current owner of the school, has trainers all over the United States.

We traveled to Yucca Valley in late January for the lessons.  It is COLD there at night, and one of the things that we hadn't mastered was how to turn on the heater.  Apparently I'm catching on to Joe's enthusiasm, which squashes all little frustration, as we just piled blankets on the bed and dealt with it.

The lessons were thorough, putting us through paces about when to start a turn and what to look out for.  The basics are just two things:  don't hurry things, and stay between the lane lines. Mostly.  Sometimes we were instructed to straddle a lane in order to make a wide turn in a tight spot.  Handy tips for how to manage all the details came streaming out, and I tried to make note of most, but overall I began to identify with those kids in the slow reading groups in my classrooms who tried and tried to understand, but slowly went a little cross-eyed.  Luckily for me, Joe was overwhelmed too, so I didn't feel so bad.

Besides the terrific instructor, two other people were memorable.  Jonathan Martin, the park manager, was not only incredibly helpful in getting all our connections hooked up, but he also had a little piece of moon rock; his mother had worked at the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena and in one of the missions, some samples of the rock were contaminated by earth's atmosphere and were handed out as souvenirs to people who had worked on the mission.  He was so proud of this rock that he offered to let me stand on it; in the posted photo I stood next to it so you could see it.  That's him in the photo with Joe.



Customizing "Arby" the RV



How cool is this?  Joe is helping the signmaker by reattaching the ladder after putting up the signage on the RV, transforming it from a standard-issue decor to a unique, stated purpose for its service. He put three of these logo posters up, on the sides and back of  "Arby", our fond name for the RV, also known as  R.B., or more familiarly, Rattley Bang.  So far "Toad", the 1995 Saturn that will be towed will stay in civilian status, allowing us to be a bit more anonymous when separated from Arby.