April, 2018 – Columbus, Mississippi

The trip north from Pickensville was just to the other side of Columbus and took just over an hour along the same highway we had used to travel to Columbus a couple of times already.  Consequently, the trip was one of the shortest and we were once again camping in a very nice Corps of Engineers campground along the Tenn-Tom Waterway.  As there are only a couple of pull-through sites, none of them with sewer hookups, I opted for a back-in site with sewer.  This put us into the upper loop off of the waterway, which meant there was only one other camper most of the week and even the weekend there was only 3 campers in the entire loop.  I really liked our campsite, especially since it was right across the road from the bathroom.

We did not have anything planned for the week, partially since we were in this same area last spring, although at a different COE campground, and had already explored most of the historical features of interest.  In addition, the weather did not cooperate since 3 of the 6 days were raining and Saturday night actually had temperatures below the freezing mark, which is VERY unusual for April.  On Tuesday, I set out to play a round of disc golf on a course I played last spring in Columbus at Propst Park. Like last year, however, there were a number of occupied cars in the parking lot which made me very uncomfortable, so I decided not to play and went to Lowes instead.  It was a good thing I did since Social Security called soon after I got back to the camper to finish up my application and needed to talk with Kal for the spousal benefits.  As expected there was a question about her citizenship since she was born in Germany while her father was stationed there.  So we got up early on Wednesday to drive to the Social Security Office in Columbus, which was now only 15 minutes away.  They were able to verify her status and we were good to go.  Of course, we had to wait until Thursday to complete the process over the phone as it took 24 hours for their system to update.  In any case, they were able to change our request to begin benefits in March, rather than April, which means we should see the first check this month.  This is sure going to make a difference in our budgets and take the pressure off my IRA.  In fact, we will be able to substantially increase our investments over the next few years.

Unless you want me to talk about the weather, which got interesting Wednesday night and supposedly had snow flurries on Saturday, there is not much else to talk about.  We did break out our bikes and rode around the campgrounds on the warmer days, but for the most part just relax in the RV.

KalOnBike

March, 2018 – Aliceville, Alabama

Located between Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and Columbus, Mississippi, Pickensville COE campground is a large campground on the Tenn-Tom Waterway.  We stayed here last spring and enjoyed watching the barges travel on the waterway so much, we decided to come again for two weeks this time as we waited for spring to arrive.  It is a remote location along the state line and is therefore perfect for us.  They have some sites with sewer hookups, which is necessary if we are going to stay for more than a week, and we reserved a nice pull-through site near the river.  While it would be nice to have a better view of the barges, we are satisfied with this site and set up for a long stay.  This time of year in the south is known for the weather fronts that blow through every 3-4 days, often with severe weather along the front.  We arrived during one of these events on Monday with predictions for severe weather in the evening and overnight.  We therefore arrived early and except for a few sprinkles got set up with no problem.  We watched the weather as closely as we could, but all the severe weather stayed to the north and east.  In fact, we got very little rain out of it.  Even so the view out of the RV is a wooded swamp in this bottomland environment.

The first week in the campground was very relaxed as there is little to do in the region.  Kal drove over to Columbus during the week to do laundry and shopping while I cleaned the RV.  On Wednesday, I took advantage of the nice cool weather to drive to Lake Lowndes State Park near Columbus to play a round of disc golf.  Our financial advisor called me while I was on the course with the good news that it made sense to file immediately for Social Security so long as we are able to invest the money.  Sure makes sense to me!!  I enjoyed the disc golf course, even though most of the fairways are right along the road that leads down to the lake.  There were some interesting water hazards with the lake that I had to careful with and one hole I refused to play as it went right out to a very narrow point with the lake on three sides.  Just to big of a risk for me, so I skipped it.  It was a great way to spend the afternoon.

On Monday we got an early start and drove into Columbus to the Social Security office to file for our benefits.  After waiting 45 minutes for our number to be called, we were informed that they were short of personnel and they could not assist us without an appointment, the earliest being the middle of April.  Thankfully, they also had a computer set up to do the filing on line, so we opted for this approach.  We had started the process the day before on our computer, only to find out that they were going to have to mail us the forms for my signature and who knows when we would be able to get the forms from our Kal’s parents in Birmingham.  Obviously, their computer system was different as it required only an e-signature.  We got the filling form completed with no problem only to find out that I have to accepted into the system before Kal could file for spousal benefits.  By the end of the second week we are still waiting for my acceptance at which point they are suppose to call me to set up a phone interview for Kal.  Not sure how this is going to work, but we will be close enough to Columbus for the next two weeks to travel there if we need to.

On Wednesday we made a trip to Birmingham to visit Kal’s mom and family.  We spent about an hour with her mom showing her all the videos we had of her great-grandson.  She really enjoyed the videos, although I am not sure she understood who it was in the videos.  In any case, we had a nice visit and then drove to her parents home to spend some time with her dad.  He took us out to lunch, however, the weather was once again turning nasty and supposedly Pickens County was already under a flood warning.  Especially since the heavy rain was not suppose to hit until later in the evening, we are camped right on the Tombigbee River so we left with enough time to move our RV if we needed to before dark.  As it turned out, I have no idea what the flood warning was all about and the volunteers working at the campground assured us that it never flooded in the eight years they have been here.  So we spent the evening once again watching the weather as strong storm cells died out before they reached us.  In fact, we got no more than a sprinkle over night with the heaviest rain the next day.  Certainly not enough to cause any flooding.

Finally, during the rain on Thursday we decided to check out the nearby Aliceville Museum, located in downtown Aliceville.  Today the very small town of Aliceville has certainly seen better days with nearly the entire downtown area closed up.  However, during the second World War it was a booming town in western Alabama.  Aliceville was the location of the largest German POW camp in Alabama with 6000 prisoners.  I was not aware that there were 24 camps in the state, most of them small with enlisted men to assist local farms and industries.  There were 4 major camps located outside Aliceville, Opelika, and within Fort McClellan and Fort Rucker.  Of these, Aliceville was the largest and was the home for 6000 officer and NCO German soldiers from 1943-1945.  Originally the camp was made up with a mix of soldiers, however, there was not sufficient work opportunities for the enlisted men so they were traded for officers from other camps since according to the Geneva Convention officers and NCOs could not be forced to work.  Also according to the Geneva Convention, the POWs had to be fed the same as our own soldiers, so they actually lived better than the local populations who were having to deal with food rationing.  Although the soldiers were responsible for all the daily needs of the camp including cooking, cleaning, landscaping, building construction and repair, laundry, etc, there was still a lot of time to devote to sports, music, drama, and other activities.  According to a detailed listing of the evening entertainment everyone in the camp was likely involved at least a couple of times a week.  The museum houses a number examples of their art work including sculptures, paintings, and carvings.  We also enjoyed the stories from the resident historian about life in the camps.  The museum also houses one of the last surviving Coca-Cola bottling lines since the building was the “bottling plant” during the war until 1978.  The entire operation employed about 6 people to operate the line.  I got some great pictures of the bottling line to give a comparison to the beer bottling line Chris is running at Hi-Wire!!

CokeBottlingLine1

On Saturday I talked Kal into driving the 45 minutes to Columbus for dinner at Buffalo Wild Wings.  While we were there we watched the only game left in the NCAA Final Four I was interested in seeing.  Although Loyola-Chicago gave Michigan a scare, Michigan managed to avoid the upset by scoring over 30 points in the final 5 minutes to win by over 10.  It was disappointing, but watching Michigan struggle most of the game was worth it.

March, 2018 – Eutaw, Alabama

I suspect most of you have no idea where Eutaw, Alabama is.  I sure didn’t.  It is about 45 minutes west on I-20 & I-59 out of Tuscaloosa and is the location of Jennings Ferry COE Campground on the Black Warrior River.  This is another very nice COE campground about 1.5 hours north of our previous location.  Another stop on our very slow travel north as we wait for spring.  We actually had another night of sub-freezing temperatures, although it was nothing like the northeast where the same system caused yet another nor’easter.  Since the weather was so cool, we once had very little planned for the week.

Since we are both approaching age 65 when we can start taking Medicare, Kal wanted to start figuring out how it would work.  This got me to thinking about Social Security as well and I decided to do some calculations to figure out when we should taking it as well.  We had decided when I retired to wait to take Social Security until age 65 or 66 which should maximize the total payout from the Federal Government assuming we would live until age 80.  I just wanted to see if this was true.  However, when I ran the numbers it looked to me that we should be taking Social Security as soon as possible.  Instead of trying to maximize what we get from the Feds it makes more sense to take the money IF you can bank the checks.  Social Security increases about 6% a year, but if you can invest the money and earn more than this 6% and can replace the loss in monthly income until age 80 with still a sizable investment left over.  There another major benefit.  You are building up an investment that is available for a major expenditure instead of leaving the money in Social Security where you can’t get at it.  We figured our best strategy would be to put Kal’s spousal benefit into savings, which offset the money we have needed to withdraw each year from our IRA to pay for major events like truck repairs.  This relieves the pressure on the IRA allowing us to be more aggressive with this investment.  My social security check would go into a new investment which can also be very aggressive as we would not need to access it for the next 10 years.  If the market cooperates then this should more than double our investments.  This strategy would not substantially change our current lifestyle, but should make more money available when we need it in the future.  With this analysis in hand I contacted our financial advisor, Rick Theobald with Waddell and Reed to get his opinion.  Although he wanted to run some scenarios himself, he essentially agreed with me.  He wanted some hard numbers if we were to pull the trigger immediately or waited until my or Kal’s next birthday.  So on Thursday we headed to Tuscaloosa to the Federal Office to gather this information.  Unfortunately on the way, Kal missed a red light and ran it and we got pulled over.  The fact that we got pulled over was actually a good thing, because the intersection had a camera system which would have sent us a traffic violation by mail.  It is quite possible we would not have known anything with the problems we have with Phil checking our mail in Birmingham until we got a summons for missing a court date!!  By being pulled over the officer ran our records and decided to let us off the traffic violation.  However, we had failed to keep a current record of our insurance in the truck and received a citation to present a valid insurance card within the next two weeks.  After this we found the Social Security office and got the information we needed with plenty of time to go to Buffalo Wild Wings for lunch and spent a couple of enjoyable hours watching the first round of the NCAA tournament.  Below is a picture I took outside the Buffalo Wild Wings that I title “World Famous Tucsaloosa Falls” to commemorate our experience.

TuscaloosaFalls

So on Friday, it was back to Tuscaloosa to present our valid insurance information with plans to once again catch more the NCAA tournament at Buffalo Wild Wings.   We went early since we did not know how long it would take at the courthouse and got there at 1:00.  It only took about a half hour to find out that the officer had yet to enter the information into the system.  They made a copy of our insurance card and stated they would try and remember to take care of it once it got entered!!  This did not make us feel very good about the situation so we got a phone number we could call in two weeks to check up on it.  Thankfully, we still won’t be too far from Tuscaloosa with our slow travels north that we can come back if we have to.  We also asked Phil to pay attention to our mail for the next couple of weeks.  Once completed we still had plenty of time to spend at Buffalo Wild Wings watching basketball, especially since Auburn did not play until 6:30.  We left after the Auburn game, where they barely managed to beat 13th seed College of Charleston.  After more than 8 hours of watching basketball non-stop we were both worn out and certainly had enough of bar stools!!

After the past two days, neither of us were interested in traveling back to Tuscaloosa for any more basketball.  This meant we were completely out of luck since we could not even receive CBS at our site, much less TBS or TNT that would have required cable.  We did try to stream the Auburn game on Sunday, but without any luck.  So we listened to the game on the radio until just after half time when Auburn fell over 30 points behind Clemson.  Frankly I was not surprised as Auburn has looked terrible since McLemore was injured three weeks ago.  Without hitting a high percentage of 3 pointers, they had no chance against any team that had an inside game.  Not only did Clemson have a good inside game, but they were hitting 3 pointers much better than Auburn.  It was still a successful season with winning the SEC conference and making it to the NCAA tournament with a 4 seed for the first time since 1999.

 

March 2018 – Camden, Alabama

On Monday we continued our slow travel to the north going only 1.5 hours to another Corps of Engineers Campground at Miller’s Ferry near Camden, Alabama.  This was our first time to this campground and we found it to be terrific.  We had another pull through site that looked out over a slough on the Alabama River.  We both agreed it was one of our most favorite sites since it had a wooden deck with picnic table right at the water.  It even had it’s own fishing dock!  We both decided that when we get tired of traveling this is the type of location we would like to have!!  We even had good TV reception and the WiFi was not too bad most of the time.  For most of the week the weather was quite nice, although a bit cool with winter coming back for another couple of weeks.  We had sunny weather for most of the week, with rain all day on Sunday.

Once again we did not do anything during the week except to break out our bicycles and ride around the campground.  There was a state park fairly close, but Kal decided she would rather ride the bikes then go for a hike and I could not complain as the weather was still a bit cool to be ideal.  The only drawback to the campground was the lack of a decent grocery store or sports bar in Camden.  The only option was a small Piggly Wiggly and we could not find a sports bar anywhere in town.  This meant we had to try and stream the Auburn basketball game during the SEC tournament.  We had good reception for the first half while Auburn was playing well scoring 41 points and leading by 10 at half time.  However, we gave up on the terrible reception in the second half and had to listen to the remainder of the game on the radio.  Unlike the first half, Auburn went totally cold in the second half and ended up losing to Alabama by over 10 points.  It was a disaster, especially since it open the door to another Kentucky championship.  UGH!!  Thankfully, Auburn still qualified for the NCAA tournament with a 4th seed, so we are planning on catching that game next week.  They will get another chance to get their act together.

March, 2018 – Monroeville, Alabama

With my teeth finally taken care of by the end of February, it was time to once again start our journey north.  This year our goal is the Upper Peninsula of Michigan with plans for the family to join us at St. Ignace which is a boat ride to MacKinac Island that we visited last summer.  Especially since this year our journey will be due north of our location in Alabama on the Gulf Coast, it will be our shortest year in terms of miles.  So even though we are not getting started until March, the journey will be slow, especially as we await the arrival of spring.  With 70 degree days in Alabama, it feels like spring has already come, but I expect we will still find some colder weather as we move north.  Our first destination was the Corps of Engineer Campground outside of Monroeville, Alabama, Isaac Creek Campground.  We stayed there two years ago and as it turned out I happened to reserve exactly the same pull through site this year without realizing it.  Two years ago we had to move mid-week to another site due to high water on the Alabama River which caused the backside of the campground to flood.  No problem this year as the weather continued to be mild and no rain all week.  This time of year is very quiet in the campground and we only had a single neighbor all week until a few more campers came in over the weekend for spring break.

Except going one last time to Wind Creek Casino near Atmore, which was now an hour south of our location, we did not do anything all week.  There are no hiking trails in the campground and all the state parks are over an hour away.  There was not even a disc golf course closer than 50 miles.  So we just relaxed in the campground listening to Kal complain about the lousy TV reception.  We only got one station, CBS, and then only after dark.  Even then it was often so terrible that we just turned it off.  I was in good shape since I had new games to play on the Playstation and old TV shows (Stargate and Quantum Leep) I got for Christmas.  Thankfully, internet reception was good so we were able to stream the last two games of Auburn basketball and watched them win the SEC Conference for the first time since 1999.  I am so thankful that we now have unlimited data so we can watch these games and we are looking forward to the SEC and NCAA tournaments.  WAR EAGLE!!

December-February, 2018 – Summersdale, Alabama

Those of you that are following this blog will noticed that I have not posted anything since November.  This is mostly because we traveled from Wind Creek State Park all the way south to Summersdale, Alabama to the same Rainbow Plantation that we have spent the last three years.  While there we did not do very much to write about, so I decided to just wait until we left the area before posting for the three months we stayed there.  Our original plans were to stay for the months of December and January, but as you can see this was changed.  First we decided to drive straight to Summersdale from Alexander City, a 4.5 hour drive, rather than stop somewhere in between for less than a week.  This got us there on Monday, November 27 instead of December 1.  Since we were much later in making this reservation, we had to stay on a different site for 4 nights before we could move to our site for the two month stay.  Over the next few weeks I got a lot done on the RV and truck, including minor repairs and cleaning, both inside and out.  It is nice to stay an extended period over the winter to wash and treat the roof, clean the outside of the RV and truck, and treat the woodwork and wash the windows.  With two months to work with this meant only a couple of hours every few days as all the chores could be done easily in a week.  We did handle a minor repair of the water connection where the outside hose attaches to the RV, which had started to leak at the connection.

Campsite1

In comparison with the past years along the coast, this winter proved to be much colder.  We even had the joy of waking up one morning in December with a dusting of snow on the ground, which is very rare.  We had another chance in January, however, all we got was a thin coating of sleet.  There was a two week period when the temperatures did not get out of the 40s which included a few days when it did not get out of the 30s.  For the gulf coast, this is cold.  Except for burning a lot more propane and having to keep fresh water in the holding tank for when we disconnected the hose, it meant spending more time inside then is normal for us.  We did get the bikes out and spent a little time riding around the paved roads in the campground, however, the cold weather limited this as well.

 

We once again traveled to Birmingham for Christmas, although this year we delayed the trip until December 28 so Mark could join us from Texas and William from Maryland.  Kristin’s parents invited us for Christmas dinner on our way to Birmingham which gave us a great opportunity to spend time with their family, that included William, Kristen, and our new grandson, Liam.  As with Thanksgiving, they put on a great meal and William surprised me with making my favorite homemade macaroni and cheese.  Unfortunately, this dish was too much for my bottom dentures, which managed to pull up my bottom denture, that then got twisted around and broke!  I spent the rest of the meal trying to figure out how to eat without them.  Fortunately, I still have 4 teeth on the bottom, so I can still chew, although a lot slower than anyone else.  You can bet, this problem did not detract from enjoying our time with our grandson, who can now hold his head up and is beginning to pay attention to movement around him.  They certainly get to be a lot more fun when they begin to interact with their surroundings.  After a long meal we traveled on to Birmingham to our motel only to be denied access due to a police involved shooting at the motel.  We were told they were finishing up, so we went to Kal’s parents house for a couple of hours to wait.  However, once we got back to the motel they still had it taped off with police cars all over the place, so we decided to find another motel.  The motel Mark was staying at had a room, so we headed over there.  In the future, we are going to stay at this motel.  Even though it is more expensive, by only $15 a night, the rooms are much nicer and it is away from the highway.  The only problem was that we had already paid for the other hotel using a non-refundable reservation.  We lodged a complaint with Expedia and eventually were reimbursed due to the circumstances!!  Out “Christmas” the next day was a grand affair with a great dinner, opening of gifts, and our normal game of throwing wrapping paper at everyone.  We also spent time visiting grandma in the Assisted Living Center where she got to meet her new great-grandson.  While not certain that she was ever really clear just who the baby was, she certainly enjoyed holding and talking with him.  It is one of the happiest visits we have had with her and I am thankful for it.

The weather in January continued the cold temperatures from December with multiple freezing temperatures and even another chance for snow, although all we got was a dusting of sleet.  When it wasn’t colder then normal for this area, it was raining just about the entire month.  Consequently, we did not do anything during the month except to watch the football playoffs, play video games, and read.  I do have a complaint about the playoffs, since they were all shown on ESPN which we don’t get in the RV.  We did go to Applebees to watch Auburn lose their bowl game against South Florida, but could not justify spending the entire day at the restaurant to watch the Alabama and Georgia games.  We tried to stream the games at the RV, however, the bandwidth over the air was not enough to watch them.  We did, however, go back to Applebees the following week to watch the Alabama and Georgia game for the national championship.  It was a great game, especially with Applebees full of Alabama and a few Georgia fans to catch the game.   There was just a few of us routing for Georgia giving the Bama fans fits throughout the game.  It was a great time and we even scored a conciliatory drink from some Bama fans when they finally won after thinking they had lost!!

When the weather was relatively nice I also completed all the chores around the RV which included treating the slide gaskets, checking tire pressure, greasing the slide rails, and painting the rust spots on the hitch and RV steps.  We also took the truck into the dealership in Foley to change the oil and filters.   We had them check the AC system to see if they could find a leak, but all they could do was insert some dye as there was nothing obvious.  We drove the truck with the AC on (BRRR) for the next couple of days and then returned to let them look at it again.  Once again they could not find anything, however, there was one a water test on a valve that would bubble if it was leaking.  While they checked for any dye marks, Kal kept watch on the valve and sure enough saw a few bubbles escaping.  This turned out to be a $30 part and 5 minutes of effort to change, so hopefully we have finally fixed our air conditioning problem.  While we were fine last summer without AC, it would be nice to have it.

With regards to my dentures, I went into the dentist in Robertsdale as soon as I could in January, which gave them a month to replace them.  After the initial examination, where they found a massive cavity in one tooth and decided another one needed to be extracted.  This loosening of this tooth is likely the reason the partial would not stay in place causing the problem in the first place.  I came back two days later for them to fix the cavity and take the impressions for the new partial.  They assured me they would be able to get the new partial in 3 weeks and since it was basically a replacement I would not have to deal with wearing a temporary partial made out of wax for a week before making the permanent one.  So I was scheduled to get my new partial on January 30, which was cutting it very close.  This was not going to allow for any followup visits for possible adjustments, so we extended our stay at Rainbow Plantation for the first two weeks in February.  Of course, there was nothing available until February 3, so we would have to stay two days in dry camp without any hookups.  Not ideal, but we have done it before.  When the dentist called the day before my appointment they told me my insurance had declined to pay anything for my new partial due to a “missing tooth clause” in the policy.  Since I already had missing teeth they would not cover any future partials.  I called the insurance company to check and sure enough this is a fancy way to say they only pay for the first partial.  Any subsequent partials are not covered.  While disappointing, I had expected I would have to pay for the replacement since I broke the partial, but I had assumed that since I was having another tooth extracted that it would be covered.  When I got to the dentist on January 30, I got another surprise.  The company making the partial refused to simply make the permanent version and sent the temporary instead.  It would have been nice if they had let me know this before I showed up for my appointment as now it would be February 15th before I got the permanent partial.  As this was once again a day before we had planned to leave, I had to extend our stay to the end of February which meant moving again.  Thankfully, the new partial came in on schedule and I have a new partial that fits like a glove.  It also has a reinforced connection which should mean it will be less likely to break.  When I went in a week later to make any minor adjustments, nothing was needed to be done.  I am once again able to eat my meals on both sides of my mouth with more than 2 teeth!!!  Also as it turned out when we went in on February 1 before moving we found out they had a site open for the entire month, so I simple move from one end of our row to the other was all it was going to take.  In addition, the new site had 50 amp hookups, so we no longer had to worry about running the heater and microwave at the same time.

While February started out a bit warmer than December and January, it was also a lot wetter.  The month started out raining every second or third day which played havoc on all the Mardi Gras parades in the area.  Although there were parades in every small town in the area starting the first of February, we waited until the Foley parade on February 9, partly due to the weather.  It was again a wet Saturday, however, there was a break in the weather during the morning just long enough to hold the parade.  Kal planned on parking in the Foley Middle School parking lot, but at the last minute decided to follow a pickup truck into a grassy lot across from the School.  This turned out to be a mistake, as we sunk into the mud in the field even though the truck ahead of us had no problem  I guess an F350 is just a lot heavier than an F150!  The tires immediately slicked up with clay and there was no way we, along with some nice guys, were going to push it out of the mud.  Kal called our Roadside Assistance who scheduled a tow truck for us to get it out.  Unfortunately, the truck was not going arrive before the parade started, which was just fine as we planned on watching it anyway before we left.  In fact, we saw the tow truck pull up on the other side of the street just as the parade reached our location so he got to watch the parade along with his son who happened to be with him.  Therefore, they got to enjoy the parade was well.  If you have never seen one of these small town Mardi Gras parades before, they are a hoot.  While there are some old “floats” from local businesses that have seen far too many parades over the years, most of the “floats” are old farm wagons filled with kids and cheap decorations.  The kids are having a great time throwing plastic beads, moon pies, and other candies to the crowd.  Since the weather was questionable and we were near the end of the parade, there were not many people watching the parade.  Consequently we caught a LOT of colorful beads, which we were happy to recycle at the RV park.  After the parade the tow truck came over and within 10 minutes had us pulled out of the mud.  Especially, since they got to enjoy the parade as well and it did not cost us anything, it turned out well.

By Fat Tuesday, the weather had finally improved so we decided to check out the Mardi Gras parade in Gulf Shores.  We drove down there in time to be 45 minutes before the parade and after following the traffic jam into town found a parking space within a few blocks of where we thought the parade route was based on our experience two years ago when we saw this same parade.  However, a combination of road construction and an accident that had occurred along the route last year, they greatly compressed the route to be just along the beach from the center of town to the state park.  This meant we had a 1.5 mile hike to get to the parade.  It also meant that the parade had already started before we could get there.  The crowds were much larger than they were in Foley and this was a much larger parade with fancy floats, music, and costumes.  It was a lot of fun, but of course being in the back of the crowds meant we came away with only a couple of strands of beads.  This was fine since our haul a couple of days before more than made up for it!!  Thank goodness the weather was pleasant as we had another long walk back to the truck.  We also noted that it was either far enough or the parade route was short enough, that many of the floats were going to beat us home as they passed us on our way back.

By the end of the month the weather continued to improve until we had nearly two weeks of above average temperatures setting multiple records with low 80 degree temperatures.  While the weather was certainly nice, we did not take advantage of it, since this was also the time for the winter Olympics in South Korea, which we intended to watch from start to finish.  There were a number of notable events from figure skating to alpine skiing, but the highlight for us was the gold medal for the USA men Curling team.  Over the past couple of Olympics we have fallen in love with curling, which is a fascinating game.  To most people it is boring, since there is very little action, however, the strategies involved are wonderful.  With a good announcer explaining what they intend to do and why over the years, we have got it figured out.  Unfortunately, NBC would not show any of the curling, opting instead for all the crazy teens showing off how they can spin and twist in the air.  We really got sick of this since at least half of the evening coverage during the Olympics was devoted to this.  I realize these are the events the US does so well in, but I am still a fan of the more traditional events, which I guess is a sign of getting old!  In any case, the only way we could watch Curling was to stream it over the internet, which was dependent on the band width we could get.  During the day it was not too bad, but the evening were impossible.  We tried to watch some of Auburn’s basketball games which was doing GREAT this year, but generally had to listen to them on the radio as stop action streaming was just too painful.  However, to watch curling meant staying up until 2 or 3 in the morning, although the band width should be good at that time.  Once the US made the gold medal game, we just had to watch it.  So we stayed up until 12:30 to catch the beginning of the game.  Watching it this way also meant there were no commercials and you got to see every shot.  It was an AMAZING game!! Not just because the USA won the game over Sweden, but because of the amazing shots being made.  Time after time you would see them slide the rock barely missing other rocks or slamming them into rocks to knock out two or even three stones!!  When Shuster made a double takeout with the hammer in the 8th end to score 5 points and essentially win the game I only hope we did not wake anyone in the park at 2:30 in the morning!!  Totally worth it!

November, 2017 – Auburn, Alabama

The trip to Wind Creek State Park on Lake Martin was uneventful along roads we were well familiar with.  The only thing out of the ordinary about the trip was that we moved on Sunday, instead of the usual Monday.  This was to make Monday easier as we had a retirement reception to attend.  I had reserved the site next to the one we stayed in last year, so we even knew how to get to it.  We did have an unexpected pleasure as Jenny’s friends, Janna and Jep still live on the property and she along with two of their sons joined us to set up the campsite.  After watching us back in the RV into the site, they “helped” us set up the RV and stayed to visit for a couple of hours.

We spent most of the day on Monday just relaxing in the campsite until the Jeannie’s retirement reception at the School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences building on Auburn’s campus.  Due to a misunderstanding about the time it would take to travel from Alexander City to Auburn, we arrived just after the reception began.  Therefore, we did not get to visit with anyone prior to the reception.  After the formal presentation from the Dean everyone who worked with her got to say a few words.  Along with everyone else I got the opportunity to talk about the pleasure it was to work with Jeannie over the years and some of the many accomplishments she brought to the School.  When I started at Auburn, the faculty in the School was relatively young and for years pushed the technology envelope at the University.  We were often the test case for new technology, partly because we were a small unit, but mostly because we were often already using much of the technology.  We were the first unit to create our own student database for advising and one of the first student computer labs on campus.  We were also pushing the envelope on early use of the internet and publishing webpages.  Jeannie had a lot to do with these many of these early development and continued to introduce new technology, sometimes pushing the faculty faster then they wanted to move.  She was the first to get a second monitor, which eventually became the norm in the School and by the time of retirement she has three large monitors on her desk.  As the faculty generally aged this became more of an issue as learning new technology was not a top priority any more.  I have to admit I began to feel the same by the time I retired and struggle now with the latest gadgets.  I am probably one of the few people who still has a simple phone, although this is mostly a function of cost since we are dependent on a large data plan for internet access with a hotspot.  Like last year, we will be spending time with Verizon with the hope that they have a reasonable unlimited data plan for someone in our situation.  We need an unlimited plan for the hotspot, not smart phones.

Following the retirement reception we went to dinner at our favorite mexican restaurant in Auburn, Cancuns, and then went to check out Jeannie’s brand new home out near Gold Hill.  They were still in the process of moving in, but this is obviously her “dream” home.  It has a spacious and open living room with a vaulted ceiling and the largest kitchen I have ever seen in a house this size.  The master bedroom and large bathroom are downstairs with a guest bedroom and bathroom upstairs.  There is room for a second bedroom, however, they have chosen to leave the side open to crate a balcony overlooking the living room at the top of the stairs.  We spent a couple of enjoyable hours with Jeannie and Rodney before heading back to our RV.

Tuesday should have been open, however, we had afternoon doctor appointments we had made last Friday.  We easily found his new offices on Dean Road and since we had appointments were quickly in to the see Dr. Roach.  Primarily this was our annual checkup up for insurance purposes, however, both of our blood pressures were too high.  We had been flirting with this for the past couple of years, but we decided it was time to start taking medication to try and lower it.  We dropped by Walgreens to turn in our prescriptions and headed back to eat left overs from the day before.

We had an early start on Wednesday to head to Auburn again to the Medical lab to get our bloodwork done.  Surprisingly this took less than an hour as we got there soon after they opened.  This was great since we had to skip breakfast for these tests and were not too hungry when we dropped into IHop for breakfast.  This still left us a lot of time before we needed to be in Tuskegee for Thanksgiving dinner.  Therefore, we drove south to Tuskegee with enough time to spend a couple of hours revisiting the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site.  Since we had been there three years ago, they had opened the second hanger at the airfield, so there was a lot of new things to see.  Whereas the first hanger focuses on the creation of the airfield and formation of the Airmen leading up and the early years of World War II, the second hanger gives the full story of their accomplishments during the war and the legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen.  They have added an excellent film from which we learned a lot.  Only part of their story is about their accomplishments in Italy during the war providing support to the bombers.  The other part was the continuing problems of segregation at home.  The most telling incident occurred when the 477th Bombardment Group, which was never deployed, was assigned to Godman Field, Kentucky in 1945.  They were the only unit training there at a field with a deteriorating runway that was too short for their B-52s.  In March, they were transferred to Freeman Field in Indiana, which was a better facility, but they faced severe discrimination.  Segregated Officers Clubs became the focal point of contention.  In small groups they would enter the “white’s only” club until they were ordered to leave.  Eventually, over 100 officers were arrested for their peaceful resistance and most refused to sign an order that essentially stated they would abide by the segregation practices which were in direct violation of standing orders from the Army.  They were transferred back to Godman Field where they were incarcerated in a makeshift POW camp surrounded by barb wire.  Eventually, all but three were released, but this experience convinced many of them that changes needed to be made and how to go about it.  After the war, many of the Tuskegee Airmen remained active in the Civil Rights Movement, especially in the south.

After spending a couple of hours at the airfield we went to William’s in-laws, Doug and Lynn Hileman for Thanksgiving dinner.  Along with their family and friends we had a very enjoyable time chowing down on turkey and all the fixings.  I even got the opportunity to see the progress Doug has made on his model train setup.  While he has still not laid a lot of track, he has began the long process of constructing buildings that will eventually become the town in his setup.  He has been spending time on the latest technology to control model trains and got a kick showing off all its capabilities.

Thursday was the formal Thanksgiving Day, but since we had celebrated on Wednesday, we enjoyed just spending a quiet day in the campgrounds.  We had plenty of left overs from our feast the day before to keep us satisfied.

Friday was another busy day as we drove up to Birmingham to visit with Kal’s parents and brother.  Since her brother, Phil, was on holiday, it was a rare treat to spend a long period of time visiting with him and Kal’s dad in a relaxed setting with nothing else going on.  Once again we were treated to Thanksgiving leftovers, which were very good.  After we left their house, we dropped in for some quality time with Kal’s mom in the Assisted Living Facility.  While she is doing about as well as we could expect, her memory is certainly suffering.  While she did still recognize both of us, she spent most of her time trying to figure out where her husband was.  She did enjoy the video of her new great-grandson that Kal had downloaded onto her Kindle.  It was with a heavy heart that we left her to make the trip back to the campground.

KalAndMom

The only interesting part of the weekend was the Iron Bowl on Saturday.  TV reception in the park had been spotty all week and we were concerned that we would grow frustrated with CBS coming in and out.  Thankfully, we were now in an area where radio reception of the game was easy to find, so we used that as a backup.  It was also obvious that most of the weekend campers over the long weekend were also there to watch the game, so it was a festive atmosphere.  Not quite to the level of a tailgate party, however.  The reception was good enough for most of the game that we did not miss very much, especially since the TV coverage was delayed.  This made it very difficult to listen to the radio instead of the TV since we would know the outcome of the play before we saw it on the TV.  In any case, it was a great game and not just because Auburn won.  Both teams were very good, especially the defenses.  I was a bit surprised to see Alabama self destruct in the fourth quarter as they desperately tried to score twice in the final five minutes.  Two bad snaps before the quarterback was ready was not the way to end the game.  In any case, Auburn won the Iron Bowl and now faces Georgia again for the SEC Championship and a chance to become National Champion.  Not bad for a two lost team during a year when the “fans” were calling for firing the coach!!