Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Our Final Days of Summer 2010

After several great days in north Georgia, we pulled up stakes and headed south. We stopped for one night outside of Greenville, AL, at a small city park called Sherling Lake Park. We got lucky and were given the site with the most shade and a deck, too.

After we got set up, we walked down to the lake.

We decided to enjoy our breakfast on that cool deck before heading down the road again.

Then it was off to Foley, AL. Foley is about 15 miles north of Gulf Shores and the Gulf beaches. We’ve been wanting to go there for some time and this was a great opportunity to do so.

We were pleasantly surprised to hear our friends were going to stop there on their way west. As luck would have it, we arrived about ten minutes after they did. Our new home for five nights was Johnny’s Lakeside RV Resort. Here we are after we were all set up next to each other.

And here’s the view we had out the front window of our coach.

This area has OMG good food! Every meal was awesome. Our first was at Lambert’s. This is a small chain known for its “throwed rolls”. Yep, if you want a roll they’ll throw it at you. If you don’t catch it, they’ll throw another until you do. And these rolls are the size of softballs! HUGE! Have you ever had hog jowl? Julian ordered that and it’s much like really thick sliced bacon. I had meatloaf. We brought about two-thirds of our meals home with us. Another example of WAY too much food. But very yummy.

The next day we all headed to the beach. We stumbled onto “The Hangout” which sat right on the beach.

We all had the most amazing shrimp quesadillas – with TONS of shrimp in them.

After driving up the beach in both directions, we saw a restaurant called “Ribs and Reds”. Our burning question was “what are reds?” So we stopped to see if we could find out and get a dinner menu to look at as well. Well, reds are Royal Red Shrimp and the menu looked so good that we went there for dinner that night. Another wonderful meal. Reds are a very deep-water shrimp and are somewhat saltier than other shrimp. Julian and I split a meal for 2 of crab legs, reds, mussels and oysters. No shortage of food here either.

I’m afraid the highlights of our time in Foley are primarily the restaurants. We had lunch at Wintzell’s Oyster House and dinner at The Original Oyster House where we could watch the sun set. We had lunch the next day at Mikee’s Seafood, where we split a snapper dinner that was awesome.

We walked a couple times at the RV park, hoping to counteract some of the food we’d been enjoying. (Diets await us at home.) We drove further up the coast one day, all the way to Florida. We walked the beach a little – it was hard on Julian’s hip. We enjoyed late afternoon conversations on our friends’ patio – they had more shade. We really had a great time in south Alabama.

And then, after a day and a half of driving, we arrived home. It was a short(ish) trip this year. Only 51 days out. After that seriously rocky start, we had a really great time.

So, until next time: Happy Trails!

Friday, September 17, 2010

A Trip to the Hospital

We went to Cleveland, GA, to Babyland General Hospital, the home of all Cabbage Patch Kids.

When we planned our trip to the mountains of north Georgia, we didn’t even know that we would be so close to the birthplace of these famous dolls. A friend heard we were coming up here and told us to be sure to go see the Hospital. I’m so glad she did.

We drove up to the “Hospital” and were struck by the coolness of the building.

When you walk in the front door, it is as if you were actually walking into a hospital. The receptionists were in full nurse uniforms, including the hats. (That’s the one picture I wish I had taken and didn’t.) You sign in and then move through the nursery area to a larger room full of "Kids". You just can’t help but smile.

A school class appeared to be in session here:

And lunch was being served:

"Kids" were everywhere.

We even witnessed a “birth”. One of the nurses came to the tree to help deliver the new baby. They really played it up big. It was a very imaginative production. And then the little girl was “born”.

There were eight or so people present for all this. When the baby was presented, the nurse asked us to name her. Someone offered “Hannah” as the first name. When asked for the middle name, Julian chimed in with “Christina”. So we contributed to the naming of a new little baby. There will be a “Kid” added to the nursery named Hannah Christina. What a hoot!

After all this, it was time to pick out a “Kid” for our granddaughter, Sha’Micah. She will be five at the end of October. This will be her Christmas present from Grandma and Grandpa this year.

We wanted a toddler rather than a newborn, to be closer to Sha’Micah’s own age. She had to be dark skinned and have great black curly hair. We found her in the corner, resting with a friend on a small bed. She was perfect. We had a nearby nurse take our picture with her.

We asked for a different outfit to be put on her, which they were happy to do. We also picked out a second outfit and shoes so she would have something different to wear right away. (They tell us any clothes 3 to 6 months in size will fit these Kids. Cool!) Then it was off to the adoption station.

We filled out the paperwork, deciding on a name.

Meet Julonna Mijoy Cole, born October 31, 2008. She has a very official-looking birth certificate stating all this. (She’s wearing her new clothes, standing on the couch of our motor home.)

We named her after us, of course (Julian & Donna). Her middle name is the same as Sha’Micah’s. Amazingly, her birth date is the same, too, just three years later!

Can you tell that we really enjoyed the experience? We did – and more than either of us had anticipated. They really play up the fantasy and make it fun for everyone.

I plan to make a mini-album of these pictures and write the story along with the photos. We’ll give that to Sha’Micah along with Julonna at Christmas. I can’t wait!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

North Carolina and Beyond

Well, it seems to be well past time to update you on our activities of the past few weeks. I don’t have many photos to share, but I’ll give you the rundown on things we’ve done.

In general, we walked anywhere from a mile to 2.5 miles when we felt like it, or when we had time. We hung out and relaxed a lot. There was a lot of reading and napping in the month of August. Then there was happy hour most afternoons by the creek. We got to know several really great people by joining in with that group. And what’s not to like about having a drink and the occasional appetizer in the shade of tall trees right next to the creek? Trust me; it’s a great way to end a day.

We went to the casino several more times. Our luck was never as good as the first two trips up there, but we really did enjoy it all. And in the end, we didn’t spend all we had budgeted, so we can’t complain at all.

We went to the Farmers Market in Asheville a couple of times. There’s great fresh produce there plus lots of fun snack items you don’t find in your local grocery store.

We gathered all our expenses regarding the accident in July and sent the information off to Blue Ox to see how much they’ll pay us. Julian talked with them a week or so ago and learned that the paperwork has gone to the desk of the president for final decision. So we’re hoping to hear on that in the next few days.

I spent an afternoon with my friend Stacy helping her make some note cards. She had a number of photos that she wanted to put on the fronts, so I helped her choose paper colors and assemble them. She was SO happy with them when done. We had a great time and it’s about the only card making I’ve done since leaving home.

We had lots of lunches out and a few dinners out, too. We had some great and some not so great. We visited several small towns and enjoyed them all. Here’s the view we had while having dinner one night outside of Maggie Valley.

I went to a church “Christmas in July” sale and bought a couple of things. One of our friends from “happy hour” belongs to the church and suggested that next year I sell my cards at this same bazaar. So I left my contact info with the lady in charge and we’ll see what happens.

We went to a couple of other “fairs” in the area. Maggie Valley had a craft fair over Labor Day weekend. The same weekend was the “Apple Festival” in Hendersonville. There were several blocks of craft booths and vendors selling their apples in every form you can imagine. We bought a fried pie and a caramel apple. We had lunch in town and bought an apple dumpling (something I’d never had). All of it was totally delicious.

On September 8 we moved to Georgia. We spent four nights at R Ranch, about 10 miles north of Dahlonega. It’s a really beautiful campground. All of the sites in our section are huge with very level concrete pads. That always makes the set-up process go so much easier. Anyway, here we are at our site.

It’s a good thing that there is all this beauty around us as we were totally cut off from the rest of the world here. There was no AT&T cell coverage. There was no wi-fi except at the Lodge near the front of the park. There was no cable available at the site. We finally got the antenna and converter running, but the signals didn’t hold very well and popped out from time to time.

We spent a day walking through and enjoying the downtown area of Dahlonega. Their claim to fame is having the first gold rush in Georgia. There are still several mines where you can visit and maybe get some gems. We had a great lunch and a really good time.

The next day we went to the Cabbage Patch Kids Babyland General Hospital. What a fun time we had there. They really play up the whole birth and adoption process. I’ll be making a separate post on that cool trip.

Our last day was spent in Helen. It was like being transported to a mountain town in Bavaria.

After walking up and down Main Street, we positioned ourselves for the parade. It was part of the 40th Annual Oktoberfest. It is the longest anywhere, running from September 9 through October 31.

This band was huge! They seemed to just keep coming. And they could really play, too!

It wasn’t a particularly long parade, but it was a lot of fun.

After the parade was finished, we headed off to find lunch. We’d seen a great looking restaurant right on the river and went there. By the time we got there, a line had formed, but it moved quickly and we got in without any wait time. We shared a Weiner Schnitzel platter and enjoyed every bite.

We stopped at the Lodge at the campground to get some photos from there. It sits on top of the hill and we knew we’d get some great views. These mountains are beautiful!

We thoroughly enjoyed our time in north Georgia and at this campground. It’s beautiful country and the surrounding towns have a lot to offer.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Things Are Lookin' Up

Sorry it's taken so long for an update. Yes, things have been looking up for us. We can't complain.

As for updates on our "issues", here's what's new. The old monitor and new camera were mistakenly shipped to our home address. A kind neighbor noticed the package and called us, then shipped it to us here in NC. Julian got both pieces installed and now the rear camera is working great. It looks like the new camera has a wider angle to the lens than the old one, a great feature!

We've been in contact with Blue Ox about the towing equipment. Their guy who will make the final determination for them has been away and is expected back to work this week. In the mean time, we've put together all our receipts for money spent because of the accident. This information was shipped off at the end of the weak and should be arriving at Blue Ox today or tomorrow. It's possible we'll have some real answers from them by the end of the week.

Additional good fortune has come from our visits to the casino. Julian hit a very nice jackpot on our first trip and we've come home with more money than we left with every time we've been except once. We know one can't go to the casino when they need to make money, but we're very grateful for the good luck we've had so far.

A tradition with our friends (Kenny & Stacy) is "cocktails on the creek". This is a two-hour "happy hour" in the shade by the creek behind someone's RV. Whoever is available comes for all or part of it. We've met some really great people by attending portions of this gathering fairly frequently.

We went to the Blackberry Festival at Mars Hill, north of Asheville. It took longer to drive there than it took to walk around once we arrived. It was a small little church event, just as it was a couple years ago when we went. We enjoyed seeing the different local stuff and bought some blackberry jam (of course).

On the way back home, we stopped at the Latin restaurant that we had not been able to find earlier in our trip. Their new digs are really nice and the food is just as good as we remembered. It capped off a really nice outing.

We've also gone into Asheville to the NC Farmers Market. We always love going to those kind of places. We bought some fig jam (now that we know how good figs are) and several snacks items, like fried peas. Our friends went with us. We did some other shopping and then we went to the Thai restaurant that we like in downtown Asheville. This was our second visit there and we all sure enjoyed it.

We had an entertainer in the campground on Thursday evening. Since we've been here, we've had rain every Saturday and the scheduled entertainment gets canceled. So Timmy Ray Hawks sang that night. He's been here every year that we've been coming to Creekwood Farm. I think this is the first time we've heard him, though.

He opens up the back of his trailer and has this great stage set up. We really did enjoy him. At one point he enlisted several folks from the audience to help him sing a song. They guy in the middle with the raccoon cap is one of the people we have happy hour with most evenings... a really nice guy named Gary.

They all had a lot of fun. And they didn't sound too bad either.

Yesterday (Sunday) was a beautiful sunny day, so we drove down to Franklin, NC, for an outing. There were a couple RV parks that we looked at, but neither compared to where we are right now. We had lunch at the Motor Co. Grill, which is a 50's place. It was lots of fun and the 8 oz. burger we split was really great. The drive was beautiful, as it always is in these parts. They say they need rain, but everything is very green and healthy-looking.

We seem to keep busy, even if I don't have lots of stories or pictures to share. Today was laundry and some house cleaning. And now that I've caught you up on our time here, I think I'll go do some reading.

Happy Trails!

Saturday, August 07, 2010

On the Road - Finally

I am writing this from the coach parked in our favorite campground outside Maggie Valley, NC. We made it - finally. But it was no small task.

We have been in communication with Blue Ox. At first they told us we'd have to pay for all the new towing equipment plus the shipping of the broken pieces back to them for evaluation. Then they would decide about reimbursement. But after our local "expert", John, talked to them, they softened and paid for everything except the new brake system we had to put on the new car. We think they'll pay for that in the end, but won't know for a couple more weeks - until they can do their own assessment. John took one look at the pieces and stated that it was a bad weld. Definitely a Blue Ox issue, not ours.

So on Thursday of last week, we had John install all the new equipment onto the new Escape and adjust the parts that remained on the coach. Then we towed the car back home (about 30 miles) pretty much with our fingers crossed the whole way. We had no problems, of course. But after what we'd been through...

On Friday, we began the process of loading up the coach all over again. It really seemed to go pretty smoothly. We've since found things we'd forgotten this second time. But it's nothing we can't live without, or replace if it were really necessary.

Saturday morning, we hooked up the car again. In the process, one of the cables fell of the coach in my hands. I wanted to scream! It was minor, however. A screw had come loose and we just had to put it all back in place and tighten it up. No big deal.

We made it to our usual stop in north-eastern South Carolina, without further incident. What a treat this little RV park is! The little old man who runs the place came out to meet us and get us settled into our favorite spot. Before we did much more than pay him (a whopping $17) he was dragging me off to his fig tree to share fresh figs with us. I don't think I've ever had figs (except in Fig Newtons), let alone some picked right off the bush. They were SO good. Very sweet and I loved them. I took a handful back with me to the coach and got to work getting things set up.

He was back in a bit, this time with garlic from his garden. He gave us several cloves, plus one to put in our own garden when we got home. He told Julian how to do it and we'd always have garlic now. We love garlic, so how cool is that!

But he wasn't finished! A little later he came knocking on our door. He had a pan full of figs plus two apples from his tree. I think we got 17 dollars worth of produce from this fellow, so we really made out.

So Sunday we packed up and got back on the road. About half way here, Julian noticed that the monitor to the rear camera wasn't displaying any picture! This is not something anyone who has lost their tow car wants to have happen. We pulled into a truck stop and checked the camera in every way we could think of short of pulling it off the coach. There was nothing to be done, so we just kept on going.

We had some rainy and foggy weather, but otherwise no further issues. We arrived at Creekwood Farm RV Park at around 2pm, pretty much right on schedule. What a relief! We were so glad to be somewhere safe where the weather would be cooler.

We got everything set up and were down by the creek for happy hour around 5pm. We went out to dinner with our friends and had such a nice time. Life is good!

We've since sent the monitor into the manufacturer only to have them tell us that it is working fine and must be the camera. So they are sending the monitor and a new camera back to us - should be here this coming week. We really don't want to travel without that rear-view camera!

We spent a couple days just hanging around. It just seemed like the right thing to do after all the hassles and craziness we'd been through over the past few weeks. And it DID feel good!

We went to the casino on Wednesday. That has really changed in the two years since we've been there. I think the gaming floor has at least doubled in size. We had fun and broke even at the end of the day. That's a win in my book.

On Thursday we went into Waynesville. It's a great town and their downtown area is so fun to walk around. The shops have all kinds of fun and interesting things. We bought over a pound of candies from the Mast General Store. They have all the old-time stuff you can't get just anywhere. We had a great time.

Friday found us in Asheville. Julian's good sandals  needed to be replaced. We found exactly what he wanted at a store at a mall. Then we went looking for the great Latin restaurant we'd eaten at a couple times before. We drove right to it, but it was closed. We were SO bummed! We went looking for other places to eat and, not knowing were to go exactly, we wound up eating at a Bojangles (which was good) just because it was getting late and we were starved.

When we got home, Julian noticed the reviews on the Latin restaurant were still up on the computer screen. When I started reading them (all good), I realized that some were posted within the last couple of weeks. So I called them. They've moved. They have a new and different website from what I'd found. So now I've got the new location and a meal out to look forward to later in our stay!

Today is Saturday and we spent part of the morning at the Mountain Mater Fest in Canton, NC. This is a pretty small festival, so it only took us about a half hour to walk all the booths and buy a few tomatoes. It's a lot of fun, though.

From there, we drove up to the Blue Ridge Parkway and had lunch at the Pisgah Inn. The drive to the Parkway was through lots of hairpin turns and gorgeous scenery. The trees were so dense in places that the satellite radio skipped occasionally.

This picture was taken from the "back porch" of the restaurant where we had lunch. It's not bad, considering the low-hanging clouds that were there most of the time we were eating.

Now I remember why we love coming here so much!

We'll be getting out more and taking more photos as we do. But for now, this is all I've got to share with you. Hopefully, we'll get more into tourist mode and a whole lot less into chasing problems! I think we've had a good week, all in all. I'm starting to feel like I'm on a vacation.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Vacation Update

If you read my previous post, you know all about how our car separated from the RV while being towed down the road. We've learned much since that post was written.

On Wednesday, the insurance adjuster declared the car to be "totalled". (The check is in the mail.) So the next day we drove out on the same route that we had gone on the day of the accident. It was a little spooky driving by the scene and still seeing the spots where the two vehicles were stuck.

We got to the storage lot and began pulling out all stuff. So many things in so many places. Don't forget the license plate. Don't overlook the mailbox key. Look under all the seats. And then there was all the big stuff. Julian had packed a lot of our supplies in the Vue for the drive to North Carolina. There were folding chairs, fishing equipment, a cooler, a small smoker/grill, and so much stuff.

Once we were finished with everything we wanted, we asked if they could remove the parts of the towing apparatus that were still attached to the car frame. We wanted them to help determine the cause of the accident. In fact, that faceplate and its attaching arms are what failed, not the car. Anyway, they said they could do it, but the guys had already left for lunch. So we went to lunch also.

When they did start working on removal, it was VERY difficult. The three bolts on each side are designed to never come off. They had to use all kinds of power equipment, including a saw, to finally get the first piece off. It had taken at least a half an hour and we knew that this was the side that failed. We decided not to have the second piece removed.

This picture shows the towing faceplate (the long square pole-like part) and the connecting section that had broken in two. The guys at the impound lot said that it was obviously weakened for some time as there was already corrosion/rust on it.

On Friday, we went car shopping. As it happens, Julian had started looking at cars, thinking that we would possibly want something different within the next year or so. That meant that he had a bit of a start on the narrowing-it-down process. We left the house planning to take a look at the Ford Edge, Ford Escape, and Chevy Equinox. We did look at them all before the day was done, but the Escape won us over. It had all the things we were wanting and a lot more. Here's our new 2010 Ford Escape:

The car in the background is the rental car we picked up on Tuesday. It's tough to be a one-car family and lose your one car!

On Saturday morning we listened to our voice-mails from Friday evening, when we had gone to a friend's for dinner. The first was from our friend who also has a Vue and a Blue Ox towing system just like ours was. He's in a campground with several others who tow a Vue with Blue Ox. Everyone has serious concerns, so Larry called Blue Ox and explained our "adventure" and his concerns. They were VERY receptive and wanted our phone number, which he gave to them.

The second voice mail was from Blue Ox. They told us they were very concerned and wanted to get as much information as possible regarding the breakage so they could do what was necessary to help us out. So we expect a call back from them on Monday. We'll have to wait and see what happens, but it looks like we may have some recourse with them.

Later, we took the new car and the broken tow bar to a local RV shop. The plan was to see if and when they could get our new car fitted with the required hardware to allow it to be towed. Jim, who said he'd worked with metal forever, stated the problem was caused by "metal fatigue" in his opinion. We all decided to wait until Blue Ox has their say on Monday and then go from there.

So, again, the weekend has us "on hold". The new car has SYNC, so I've been getting that set up for hands free telephone calls and getting that and the MP3 player voice activated. It's WAY cool!

We intend to go to NC as soon as we can get the towing part handled. If we can leave by next Saturday, that will be super - and get us back on track. Like everything right now, though, that's all up in the air.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

A Six-Hour Vacation

We brought the RV over to the house on Thursday morning and got busy cleaning and packing it up. Everything went very smoothly. We started talking Friday morning about leaving in the afternoon instead of waiting until Saturday morning. We could leave after lunch and get about 100 miles into the drive towards North Carolina. So that’s what we did… or tried to do.

We pulled away from the house at about 1:45pm. We were finally on our way after a delay of nearly two months. Life was good.

We were about 45 miles into the drive to Flagler Beach when things took a bad turn. We had just pulled onto SR 40 from CR 465A. In less than a half mile, Julian says to me: “the car is gone”. Panic! I looked at the monitor pointed at the rear of the RV and saw the tow bar with almost nothing on it. Super panic! He had looked out the side view mirror to see the car rolling across the other lane and into a ditch.

He was able to pull the RV off the highway fairly quickly. We got out of the coach and went to the back to see what was left. The tow bar was intact. The bumper and grill of the car were still attached – but that was all. We looked back down the road and could see the car in the ditch up against a tree.

Already a car had stopped at the crash site to see if anyone was hurt. (Restores my faith in humanity some.) We carefully cross the busy two-lane highway and made our way to the car. It was up to the frame in mud. No glass was broken. The airbags had not deployed. The radiator looked tilted back but not seriously bowed. We could see no scratches or dents anywhere on the car.

We went back to the RV and unhooked the front end from the tow bar and put all that equipment away. I wish I’d taken a photo of that before we dismantled it, but I wasn’t thinking that clearly at the time. I did grab the camera then and we went back over to the car.

By this time the police showed up as passers-by had called in the accident. We couldn’t do it because our cell phones didn’t have any signal there. We felt pretty helpless. The officer let us use his phone to call AAA to get them to pull the car out of the ditch. Once we knew a tow truck was on the way, the officer asked us to pull the coach around in front of the car to shield the view so no one else would call in the accident. We complied.

The officer left and we waited a short time for the tow truck to arrive. Once he got there and we surveyed everything, Julian planned to move the RV forward to give a better angle to the driver. That’s when we discovered that the RV was now stuck in the grass-covered mud!

We borrowed the driver’s phone and called the RV insurance company in order to get a larger tow truck out to get us freed from the mud. This became a difficult process, but eventually we were assured that someone was on their way. The same policeman returned to tell us that he had talked with his boss (who just happened to be at the towing company) and they would be out in 30 to 45 minutes. Then he left again because his shift was just about over.

In the mean time, the car was successfully pulled out and put on the truck bed. The car had actually been high-centered on a huge log. We gave him the bumper and grill parts and he took the car away.

Now we just had to wait for the second tow truck. It seemed like forever, but they finally arrived. The pulled in behind us and set the chains in place on the front end of the RV. I stayed inside with the dog, so I didn’t know why they just stood around after that. It turned out that they had to wait for a police car to arrive and stop the traffic on our side so that the wrecker could position itself on the road and be stable enough to pull us out. Once he got there, I got out of the coach. Julian got behind the wheel and steered it directly at the road. The truck was able to pull us out without mishap.

What a relief to be on the dry road and moving again. We stopped at a pre-determined spot to finish up the business with the towing company. The policeman even followed us and apologized for how long it had taken to get someone there to hold the traffic back.

All we could do now was to drive back home. What a long drive that was. We arrived in our own driveway at about 7:45, six hours after leaving home in the first place. Five of those hours were the most surreal I think I’ve ever been through. Who would ever imagine having your call fall apart while pulling it down the road?

On Saturday morning, a friend called to say that he had been telling our story at coffee that morning and someone told him of a possible front-end defect with ’06 Saturn Vues. This, of course, is what our tow vehicle is/was. So we will follow up on that and let the insurance people know, too. But with Saturn out of business, who knows if there is anything we can do, even if the issue is or was known to them.

This is the second time this summer that our vacation plans have been derailed. The first time was in May, when Julian required a hip replacement. That delayed us by almost two months. His recovery has been nothing short of miraculous and he was SO ready for this trip. It’s too early to tell if there will be any vacation for us this year at all.

In spite of all that happened, we are incredibly thankful of the way it happened. We had driven through several towns before getting to this particular highway, but the car held. We were not in any town when we got to this point. State Road 40 is a very busy, two-lane road. Miraculously, not one car was anywhere near us when the Vue broke loose. It could have been tragic if anyone had been coming in that other lane. Besides that, our original plans took us up Interstate 75 on Saturday. If the car had broken away on the interstate…   *shiver*   I don’t want to go there.

I know this has been a long and detailed narrative. I’ve done that partly so that I have a clear memory of what took place, should that become necessary down the road. Besides, if you’ve read my posts in the past, you know I can be a bit wordy! J

So, thanks for following me this far. I’ll try to post some updates here as we get them.