Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Enterprise(ing) addiction is hard to break

I told my wife this past week that she needs to help me  break what some would consider  an addiction.

It’s really been drawing me in for the past six weeks, and I find it hard to break, although things have got to change.

My new habit is going to Enterprise (only about a mile from our home) and renting one of their cars.

We’ve had five car rentals in the past two months.

And I have enjoyed the habit.

There’s noting like driving an almost new car each week or so that has very little mileage on it.

Most vehicles are current year models and offer all the amenities, most of which I don’t care for.

There’s the video screen for the radio and a bunch of other stuff that I haven’t fully understood.

And there’s the rearview camera. Its OK, but I still look to the rear, craning my neck right and left, then checking the mirrors and then taking a look at the camera when all other things appear to be clear.

The mileage on the vehicles is pretty good, with one getting as little as about 25 miles per gallon while another indicated it was getting in the 40 mph range.  Or at least, that’s what I thought the readout on the dash said.

There’s the thermometer reading that tells how hot or cold it is outside, and then the compass reading that tells what direction in which the car is headed.

My current vehicle, a 2000 Chevy high-rise, long-wheel-base van has served our family well over the course of its 284,000 miles.

But's it is showing its age. The van’s transmission sounds like its best days are in the rear mirror.

We still tool around town with it, but when it comes time to hit the road, we’re more likely to go to Enterprise. 

In two months, its been a four-day rental, a week-long excursion and three weekend specials where we get the vehicle on Friday and return in on Monday. And they offer a pretty good deal for that special.

Right now, our plans don’t call for going out of town real soon, but we know where to go when its time.

Next post: January 3, 2017

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Have a very Merry Christmas

With Santa time quickly approaching, our thoughts turn to Christmas present while our minds turn to Christmas pass, especially to some of the places that we have experienced during the holiday season.

My wife prefers the decorations at Bellingrath Gardens near Mobile, AL better than those anywhere else.

Perhaps that is not saying much, since we have only gone to three or four other places that major in great Christmas decorations.

But so far, Bellingrath is the location that sets the bar, and a high one at that.

We’ll be hitting the road next week and on our trip to Georgia, we’re looking at seeing the Christmas Lights Festival at the zoo in  Montgomery, AL which is supposed to have a nice display.

And we also found, on the Internet, The Rock Ranch in The Rock, Georgia goes all out with decorations.  The ranch was founded by the late S. Truett Cathy of Chick-fil-A.

I know it is going to be a nice addition to our experiences.

Enjoy the photos I’ve included which, mostly, are from Bellingrath Gardens.

And, by the way, have a very Merry Christmas!

Next post: Dec. 27, 2016

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Fires put damper on December plans

Sometimes Mother Nature has a way of deciding things for us.

Among a few options we had in mind for travel in December is now a no-go.


Well, a goodly portion of the area we had planned on visiting is suffering from one of the worst fires in years.

For those who keep up with happenings in the Great Smoky Mountains, the past week or two has brought news about wildfires and destruction around the towns of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, TN.

Each year we visit this area, sometimes more than once.

And it is somewhat distressing to hear about all the damage that fires in the area have caused.

Relatives of ours were there during the Thanksgiving week. Their schedule got them out of the area before the worst hit.

They said they went into Gatlinburg during Thanksgiving and found the town, at that time, crowded with more holiday-goers than they have ever seen, who were enjoying the visit.

But that changed over the weekend. Numerous fires, I  believe, are still burning and there have been fatalities reported.

We will now bypass the area this December as they recuperate and begin building back.  

Gatlinburg’s Friday night Christmas Parade has  also been cancelled.

Our thoughts  and prayers have been with those who live and work in the area including national park personnel.

We are members of the Great Smoky Mountains Association, an organization that helps provide funding to the national park through operation of visitor centers and the sale of merchandise.

They are also requesting donations to assist park personnel in rebuilding burned out residences.

Those desiring to make a donation may do so at GSMA.

Any help will be appreciated.

Next post: Dec. 6, 2016

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Happy Thanksgiving! Here's to Clint

Happy Thanksgiving!

With Turkey Day on the horizon, a lot of folks will be in the traveling mode.

As far as me and my wife, the kids and grands are coming over for the holiday.

We won’t be having a formal Thanksgiving dinner. We usually save that kind of affair for Christmas.


Well, there’s going to be a lot of eating going on and my offspring will be getting their full at their inlaws. We’re also having our annual family holiday get-together and there will be even more eating.

Over the past couple of years we just enjoy being together and having a regular meal at our house during this time.

One is homemade pizza, and the other is becoming fettacini alfredo along with some buttered French bread and a salad.

No, the kids don’t like salads but the adults do.

But on another note. 

I don’t remember the details of many Thanksgiving days. It all runs together when traveling here and there, eating too much and wanting to get some rest.

But there’s one Turkey Day that stands out.

I can remember my wife and I in our seventh year of marriage back in 1974. For the midday meal we were invited to eat with friends of her parents in a town 30 or so miles away from her hometown.

The memory, unfortunately, has to do with a football game — one between the Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins, a traditional matchup on that particular day.

I liked the Cowboys back then (and since Dak Prescott is quarterback now and played at Mississippi State) l like them once again.

One name stands out, and I hear the Skins still get depressed when they speak his name.

And that name is Clint Longley.

He was a rookie quarterback, playing as a backup behind the famed Roger Staubach. I read where Roger the Dodger had a $200  bounty on him for that game. The Redskins figured if they took him out, they could easily handle a rookie.

Well, Staubauch went out, and with no one else on the sidelines to play quarterback, Longley was sent in.

In a back and forth second half, Longley managed to make history and the Cowboys won the game.

But, according to the story, he wasn’t long for the Cowboys because of not getting along with Stauback and reportedly hitting him in the face.

He went to several other teams and then to Canada and finally faded into the sunset.

But this time every year, Cowboy fans, and yes, even the Redskins, resurrect his name.

He’s gone, but apparently never forgotten.

Once again, Happy Thanksgiving!

Next post: Nov. 29, 2016

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Vacation experience relived at home

My wife enjoys tea and bagels at the Microtel Inn overlooking Gatlinburg, TN
I like to call it our "Microtel Morning" when we are at home.

Why that?

Well, it has to do with our making a reservation about 10 years ago with the Microtel motel in Gatlinburg, TN.

My wife enjoys breakfast on the window seat at home
 overlooking the wooded area behind our house
We happened to get room 322.

And ever since that first time, whenever we make reservations there (at least five more times), we ask for the same room, and we have been lucky enough to ask far enough in advance to secure that room.

The receptionist a couple years ago told me that we barely beat out another party that was also interested in that same room.

What’s so great about the room? 

Well, it is on the third level. It is on the west side of the facility and overlooks the downtown while giving a nice look at the mountains .

The Space Needle is just a block or so away.

But what it seems we like most is the fact that they have a window seat.

I know, that sounds kind of trite. But my wife and I love the view and being able to sit there to see what’s going on.

We especially like eating our breakfast of bagels, cereal, coffee, tea and some sweets while sitting there.  The room downstairs where they serve their continental breakfast is not that big. And my wife doesn’t always get up early enough.

So I take the room tray downstairs and load it up with our food and beverages and take it back to the room.

OK! What’s that got to do with our own “Microtel Morning.”

Well, we had a new house custom built for us in our hometown.

And guess what? In the design we incorporated a set of window seats.

We are surrounded by woods and it gives us the mountain feel.

So when we get up, this is usually for a Sunday morning, wifey meanders over to the window seat and I fix bagels; tea for her, coffee for me, and maybe some cereal!

And we enjoy the morning looking out over the expanse of woods.

It's not Gatlinburg, but somehow, there is that feeling of being in the Smokeys.

Just another Microtel Morning.

Next post: Nov., 22, 2016

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

There are many roads, but which one

It appears that a lot of people will be  traveling out of the country soon, depending on which candidate wins the  presidential vote.

They said so. If Donald Trump wins there will be a lot who say they’ll move their citizenship. Likewise, if Hillary Clinton wins.

The government will still get them if they leave because of the regulations enacted that will caused them to be heavily taxed on their exit.

As for me and my family, we’ll just stay here and ride it out no matter the outcome.

I’ve read and heard stories about how bad things may have been socially and economically over the past 40 years or so, and all I can say is that I survived and will continue to do so.

It is unfortunate that so many people still want the government to be their savior. That can never truly happen. Those who think so will just become enslaved by their so-called masters.

There are a number of roads which we can travel down. Writer Robert Frost put it succinctly; “I took the one less traveled by.”

That particular road for some, is the straight and narrow. That is the one that leads to life’s true enjoyment and thriving regardless of whom is president.

But it is the road less traveled.

Next post: Nov. 15, 2016

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

2017 offers a few more challenges

2016 is quickly coming to an end.

This time next week a little more than half the country will be jubilant for their candidate in the presidential race and the others will be looking toward 2020 (or either filing court suits to have the results overturned).

2020, that has a good ring to it. Let’s hope that we’re still around  for at least another four years and hopefully a whole lot more.

There is still a lot of traveling to do, and for those of us getting older, it will probably be to places that we are comfortable with and that are easy to get to.

My wife and I, once upon a time, use to travel to the West Coast each year. And we did that for 10 to 12 years. But that has fallen by the wayside.

The writing on a wall in the movie “Kuffs” is so true: “Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.” I read on Wikipedia that  the saying should be attributed to American writer Allen Saunders.

I still yearn for the enjoyable times that we once experienced in San Francisco those many years ago, but things are changing.

I yearn for more long road trips, but I don’t believe my wife and I can handle 30 days into the unknown.

The mind fantasizes, but the body is reality. We may be a step slower, the airplane seats seem to be smaller and just getting ready for a trip now seems to be such a challenge.

But travel, we must. We must persevere and continue to meet the goals set years ago.

I still have three more states (as does my wife, but not the same) to visit to wrap up setting foot in all of them. Maybe that will happen next year.

We have already started making plans.

I am beginning to believe that cruising may fulfill a lot of our travel needs. It is a one-stop option where one can unpack once until the trip is over. There’s no beds to make, food got cook or dishes to wash.

And we only have to drive 70 miles to New Orleans to get on a ship.

That truly sounds good.

But, the problem is, we are campers and love to be out in nature, such as in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

It will really be hard to not be able to experience the landscape and wildlife in those mountains.

Next post: Nov. 8, 2016

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Sometimes we just have to adapt

Campfire does the job providing heat to cook our breakfast
 My wife and I like the out of doors, and especially camping in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

But it does not come without a few negative aspects that are sometimes unexpected.

And such was the case on our last visit back in late September, early October.

Our oldest son and his family joined us for a few days.  It was great and I was well prepared in that, basically I did most of the cooking and had two Coleman stoves along with the stove that came with our Viking camper.

For two mornings it was easy to fix bacon and eggs, pancakes and toast along with having the requisite amount of coffee.

We brought two extra folding tables on which to do the cooking.

But it wasn’t until after our son and his family left that we ran into a problem.

I was cooking breakfast one morning and discovered that something had gone wrong with the gizmo that connects the propane tank to the stove. It had sprung a leak and upon trying to light it, an unexpected flame burst forth.

I blew out the flame, but then unexpectedly encountered a problem with the second Coleman stove.

What to do?

Well, we were  camping and we had a fire and a fire ring had a grate that would hold our pots and pans for cooking.

So we went back to the old-fashioned way of cooking over a wood fire and it turned out rather good.

I’ve already gone to Walmart and bought two replacement parts in preparation for our next outing. Cooking over wood is OK when needed.

Next post: Nov. 1, 2016

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Great trail for physically challenged

With all the rugged trails criss-crossing the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, it was nice to find a short one that was well-suited for the physically challenged.

On vacation to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park recently, we discovered a walking trail which I assume has been there a number of years.

It is just about a mile or so south of the Sugarlands Visitor’s Center. We have passed the location numerous times, but this is the first time we paid more attention.

We noticed that most of the parking spaces were designated for the handicapped so we returned the next day to find out what was going on.

We found the Sugarlands Valley Trail, a path that was suitable for people who are wheelchair-bound or have trouble walking.

Although my wife survived a stoke five years ago, she doesn't need a wheelchair, but she does like walking on smooth, level ground. 

And this trail was ideal as it was paved the whole half-mile distance and did not change in elevation.

The loop nature trail makes its way through the verdant forest and past old homesteads with just the fireplaces remaining.

Just a few feet from the path is a slowly moving stream.

It takes about 45 or so minutes to meander along the forest floor and cover the distance.

For the physically challenge, it can be a great place to enjoy a quiet piece of the national park.

Next post: Oct. 25, 2016

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

It was cold; and there was a bear, too

Skupien family enjoying Elkmont campfire
Our fall visit to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park this year had us shivering in our sleeping bags.

It was sort of frigid!!! But for only a few nights.

Every other year we go from a full group (both sons and their families) visit in the summer, to a trip with only one son with his family, in the fall.

This year the trip was a week later than normal, and therefore colder as a front moved in while Hurricane Matthew was picking up strength down in the Caribbean with plans to go up the East Coast.

We know about hurricanes, having lived on the Mississippi Gulf Coast since 1970 while experiencing Katrina, Elena and Frederic among others. We felt the effects of Camille in 1969 although not living on the coast at the time.

But anyway, back to the trip.

Our Viking popup camper did good, being able to contain heat from our Coleman catalytic heater both in the morning and night.

We warmed the camper up getting ready for bed, and then I got up in the morning and turned in on so we would be more comfortable getting ready for the day.

After three nights of temperatures somewhere in the high 40s, the lows started moving a little higher and it was more comfortable.

My wife and I go a few days earlier than the others. And stay a few days later.

Because my son has a vehicle barely big enough for his wife and four kids, we go by their house early and throw their six sleeping bags, six chairs and two tents into our high-rise, long-wheel base van.

The pop-up is already loaded with everything else.

As my wife said, there wasn’t much color during our visit, although there were a lot of leaves on the ground.

We camped eight nights and then decided to make it a one-day trip (600 miles) back home.  We got in late and took a couple days to recuperate.

I love the mountains, and even though it got cold, it didn’t curb my enthusiasm for the area.

And, by the way, we also managed to see a bear.

Next post: Oct. 18, 2016

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Year's jaunt broken up into three parts

(Continued from previous week)

Our year off work didn’t mean that we were on the road each week for 52 weeks.

We sort of broke it down into three separate trips.

The first was a nine-week jaunt as described earlier that took us from home up to Illinois, over to Maine, through Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, Maryland and into West Virginia and down the Blue Ridge Parkway, to where else, but the Great Smoky Mountains National Park for a day or two.

It was then to home from just before Thanksgiving until the latter part of January.

The second leg was a three-month haul that gave us a taste of the Southwest and a good taste of California, especially Yosemite National Park, before heading back home in early May.

The third jaunt was just at three weeks. 

It was the beginning of summer and we made it as far as Rapid City, SD. Some say it was the hottest summer in 30 or more years for the Plains states.

We felt their pain, especially since our vehicle didn’t have an air conditioner and we weren’t budgeted to stay each night in a motel.

But we did succumb. On the way back home there was a good motel stop and a bad one. The first was somewhere in either Nebraska or Kansas or thereabouts.

It was hot and the people running the motel knew how to please anticipated guests. When we went into our room, the air conditioner was running and the room was at a very cool temperature.

Our next motel stop was in Little Rock, AR. It’s funny how we forget where the good spot was and know exactly where the unpleasant point was.

We went into our room, and the air conditioner was not running. The room was hot. The curtains on the window on the front of the room had been pulled back allowing the evening sun to blast in and heat up the brick interior wall.

There was no way those bricks were going to cool down. There’s always the good, the bad and the ugly.

Well, that room was  the bad and the ugly compared to our previous motel stop.

Anyway, we made it home on the evening of the next day.

The journey was over, but the remembrances remain these many years later.

Other experiences will be shared later.

Next post: Oct. 11, 2016 

(Note: We are going on vacation, that is, camping in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, where there will be no wifi for posting during that time.)

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Heading into unknown a challenge

This is continued from last week and concerns the year my wife and I took off from work to travel around the US.

The decision to take such action wasn’t made over night. The process took a year or two with a look forward to the fact that our only son at the time would be going to school the following year.

Nowadays we could just have claimed to home school him. After all, my wife was a top graduate in her college class and had already taught for two years.  She would have been well qualified.

But that would seem more like work to her during that year than a break.

We had purchased our Chevy van a number of years earlier and had already taken a 21-day, 7,000 mile trip with it.

We felt prepared. But there are always those ifs, ands and buts to think about.

Quitting jobs meant losing income for a year. What would we do upon return?

What about expenses during the year, etc?

Well, we saved some money and we knew how to live frugally. Planning to be out of work for a year, we decided that our budget would be $100 a week on the road.

Now, back in the 1970s that wasn’t too bad, although it wasn’t a lot either.

The weekly budget allowed for just one fillup for our 20-gallon van. If we ran out of gas before we ran out of week, we would just stay put. That worked pretty good.

Spending time with relatives helped and campground fees were pretty reasonable. On occasion, we pulled off and camped in the woods beside a stream.

We budgeted about $25-$30 per week for food, eating up what would  be the most spoilable things first and then at the end of the week eating meatless spaghetti or some can goods.

We enjoyed our coffee, tea and hot chocolate and also ended up eating out (in a restaurant)  usually once a week.

Steak was also on the menu at times. We enjoyed lobster in a Bar Harbor, ME restaurant. But we like Mississippi Blue Crab better, especially boiled in Zatarain’s.

Heading into the unknown is a challenge. But we were up to the challenge and survived, and after some 39 years, the trip marks one of the high points of our lives. (Continued next week)

Next post: Sept. 20, 2016

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Today marks milestone anniversary

My wife and I experienced a milestone on this day, 39 years ago.

Our only son, at 5 and a half at the time, was also a part of that event.

The day after Labor Day in 1977 was when we embarked on the adventure of a lifetime.

Some wished us well and others wished that they could also go. And both sets of our parents wondered if we were crazy.

I guess we were, but we did it anyway.

We quit our full-time jobs on the area newspaper, where I had been working for seven years and my wife about three, and decided to devote a year to see as much of the US as we could.

Our transportation was a long-wheel-based Chevy van in which we traveled and lived.

We camped and we visited relatives whether they wanted us to or not.

It was first up to Kentucky visiting relatives and then to Chicago and more of my father's kinsmen.

In-between we spent nights at campgrounds.

The it was east traveling through Indiana, Ohio, a part of Michigan, up into Canada, over to Niagara Falls and New York and Lake Placid followed by a few days spent in Vermont and New Hampshire before hitting the coast and staying a few days at Acadia National Park near Bar Harbor, ME.

The days and nights became colder with the leaves exhibiting their fall foliage.

We learned a lot during that first segment.

In Kentucky, tobacco was still a big thing back in 1977. Our relatives grew the crop and were harvesting it as we arrived.

We joined in.  The tobacco was already cut in the fields and I helped load it onto wagons which carried it to the barn.

The tobacco was hung in the barn to dry. There were different levels of rafters.  As the tobacco was taken off the wagons, it was handed to a worker and passed on up to the one at the top level. The top of the barn was filled up first and then other levels were filled in.

Being around the tobacco is not for everyone. 

A thunderstorm had moved in and it started to rain. The barn took on a smell of its own with so much product hanging.

It got the best of my wife. On the ride back to our relatives’ house, whether it was the tobacco smell, the curvy road or a combination of both, she ended up throwing up.

Not the best of experiences, but memorable none-the-less.

More about our milestone experience next week.

Next post: Sept. 13, 2016

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

It is hard to throw memories away

The Treasury at Jordan's Petra ruins (A UNESCO photo)

I had occasion twice this week to think about a place my wife and I visited some 31 years ago.

And that was the Nabatean enclave of Petra located in the country of Jordan in the Middle East.

The first time we were at an electronics store looking for an item. The store always runs these beautiful pictures of scenic and historic places in the world on their large TVs, and one of them happened to be Petra.

The second occasion was back at our new home when I was cleaning out some old travel material.

We’re trying to eliminate items because we have downsized.

And its hard to get rid of items linked to good memories. I still had a folder full of material on our trip that took us to Jordan, Israel and Egypt.

We traveled to the Holy Land in 1985.It was the coldest weather in the Southeast in years with temperatures in our part of the woods staying below freezing for a week or so. But we missed most of that because of the trip.

It was Mississippi to Atlanta to catch the KLM airline which stopped in Amsterdam where we changed planes and then it was on to Amman, Jordan to begin our just-after-Christmas excursion.

We arrived in Jordan late in the afternoon as the sun was going down.  Before leaving the airport we heard the call to prayer that is traditional in that area of the world.

Visiting a foreign country is great. The sights, the sounds, the traditions. Some lap it up. Others are so absorbed in their own world, they can’t appreciate people from other areas.

I tried to absorb as much as possible. 

With just one full day in the Hashemite Kingdom, Petra was our main goal, although we experienced what we would consider a roadside market, some historical sites and then the horse ride into the wonder of wonders.

As I worked my way through my collection of information on the Middle East, I can remember my wife and I talking about the possibility of returning.

That never happened. And probably won’t.

But I remember those towering walls, the hewn out Treasury and the souvenir stand.

I guess I will keep those memories and my collection of papers just a little bit longer,

Next post: Sept. 6, 2016

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Maybe it will be Nashville this holiday season

Summer is seemingly coming to a quick end.

It all went by so fast, even though we didn’t seem to do as much as in past years.

Whether it was “climate change” or just “getting older,” the heat kept me inside in the cool air conditioning more this year.

Or maybe it was  because we have moved into a new home and felt like getting ourselves wrapped up into enjoying it.

Years ago, summer was considered over when Labor Day came around. School usually started the next day.

Now, school for some starts around the first day of August. Other jurisdictions wait a few days later.

But summer doesn’t officially end until around Sept. 22nd or 23rd. That takes into consideration the time of the autumnal equinox which is the day that has equal amounts of daylight and darkness.

And after that, it is a quick run through autumn and the arrival of the  winter solstice just a few days before Christmas. That is the day with the longest nighttime hours.

Gosh, only August and we’re talking about Christmas for the second time.

Just the other day, my wife and I wondered what we would do as far as seeing new decorations and experiencing new events this year.

We decided to maybe try our luck at visiting a relative and on the way there or back, during the first week of December, enjoying the lights and sounds of Nashville, TN.

I’ve already gone to the Nashville area’s website that spells out what is going to be happening and it sounds pretty good.

Nashville has a Christmas parade on Dec. 3 which begins at 9:30 a.m.

Numerous other towns within an hour’s drive or so also have parades planned.

And then there is the Opryland Christmas holiday event that will light up the night from Nov. 20th to Jan 2.

All in all, with our really early look into what’s going on, it seems that this will be another great holiday season.

Next post: Aug. 30, 2016