Monday, February 1, 2016

What a difference a year makes.


This is where we were a year ago.  North Carolina with my cousin Lynn, her daughter Caron, Mo and John.  LOVE YOU GUYS!

This year we hang with our West Coast friends and family.

Jennifer (Bill's niece) and Greg with 2 of their kids and extended family.
                                    Friends Connie and Jerry with some of their family and friends.
A year ago, while we were stationed at Waccamaw National Wildlife Refuge (South Carolina), living in a 38 foot, 2006 Cedar Creek 5th wheel.

This year we are stationed at Joshua Tree NP (Southern California) living in a 40 foot, 2015, Montana, 5th wheel.

While bike riding in South Carolina (Low Country), it was all nice and flat.

The same cannot be said for riding my bike in the High Dessert of Southern California, where it is 

NEVER flat.

James was engaged to Sarah
 and set a destination wedding date of June 25, 2016 in Mexico.

  Kelly and Michael were also engaged  and are quite busy with wedding plans.

After a summer (2015) of one skin graft surgery after another, Bill's legs are finally healed and we look forward to another summer at Camp Zion.

But, for the here and now, we are in "recovery" mode after surviving a wild December and early January.  Tiring, Yes, but rife with new and unusual experiences and people.

As is traditional for me, right after Thanksgiving the Christmas decorations comet of hiding to grace our little home, much like they did (albeit on a different scale) when we lived in a "sticks and bricks" house.

the little snow people were a gift of Connie and Jerry

The new ceramic Christmas tree is a tribute to Mom 
The LED Christmas tree is still with us from 85 Linden
The BLUE Christmas lights a tribute to all Law Enforcement Officers

Shortly after the decorating was completed on December 1st, we headed east on one of our favorite roads across the dessert (62) to Parker, AZ and "Lilies", our fav Mexican Restaurant to have lunch with friends Dick and Debbie.  Now, Dick and Debbie live in Salome,  AZ and we would have driven all the way there to see them, but as fate sometimes intervenes in positive ways, on this 1st day of December Dick and Debbie were scheduled to be in Parker for an appointment that was ending just before lunchtime.  Except for Bill having to take an important phone call just as we were sitting down, we had a perfect lunch.  
On December 3rd we were able to host our boss, Cynthia, and her fiancee' Larry for dinner. It was an important meal, as we gathered together to rehash the final details for their upcoming wedding, for which Bill and I had been asked to provide 2 important components.  Cynthia had requested I make their wedding cake, and I had been creating "dry runs" for 2 months in the hope that my consistency would be solidified when the "real thing" had to be produced.  Bill had been asked to be their wedding photographer.  We were honored to fulfill both of these requests for our friends.
The happy couple with Pastor Les 
Jan's famous Carrot Cake

The bride seems to like the cake
The cake was a hit with everyone!
As evidenced by Doug's reaction........soon after the cake was served December 5th, I was seated at my table when Doug, Cynthia's brother, crossed the room and guided me out of my chair for a great big hug.  As his words spilled down on me from above (Doug is very tall) "thank you, I have been trying to get my wife to make a carrot cake like my grandmother's since we got married.  This is the closest I have had to my Grandmother's".  Now, Doug's wife doesn't need to know about this, but it meant a lot to me after 2 months of "practice cakes", this one compliment (and there were many others), made it all worthwhile.

Many of you think Bill and I are "living the dream", and we are!  But THAT dream only goes back to 1989, and it is OUR dream.  Before that, way before that, I, Jan, had a dream that dated back to 1956 (Careful).  THAT dream was to won my own horse.  As you probably know, dreams can change, or have to change, as mine did, but the desire does not go away.  So, Bill and I periodically head to a local stable and saddle up.   You can imagine my excitement to realize Black Rock Campground has facilities for equestrian campers.  It didn't take much for me to raid the refrigerator for carrots and head down to "horse camp".  There we have met many wonderful people (actually, in my humble opinion, all horse people are great people).  We have met people who connected us with, OH, just the Volunteer Coordinator for San Diego County Parks, and we have met stable owners who live so close to Joshua Tree that their trail rides follow the Black Rock Campground Trail system.

And then there's Fran and Steve.  Now Steve is a car aficionado and has given Bill information on the weekly, local car show.  But Fran, well, Fran invited us to her "Hoof Care Clinic".  Fran and Steve live just down the street,  so it was a short drive, and in that crowded room of friendly people, we learned a lot about 'natural' hoof care.  Thanks Fran, we intend to build on our horse care knowledge .

 December 14th: the eternal quest for real Mexican food took a surprising turn at Las Casuelas in Palm Springs with George and Kathy.

With "Lilies" to compete with, you would think Las Casuelas had no hope of winning this contest.  But, the 2 aforementioned restaurants could not be more different from each other in atmosphere and decor.  Lilies is a  "fast food" atmosphere and Las Casuelas is a sit, relax, have a margarita (extra large) and chat with friends atmosphere.  WE LOVED IT!  George and Kathy can make a recommendation to us anytime.

Not ones to let any grass grow under our feet, December 16th found us having Mexican food, once again, this time with friends Connie and Jerry at THEIR favorite (local), Kokopellis.  The food was good, the company even better!

December 23rd found me making Mexican food (I sense a theme here), as I brought a vegetarian, 7 layer dip to Janice and Wayne's for "game night".  The "vegetarian" aspect was for Ranger 


The event being held at Ranger Janices's house.

Our fellow Camp Hosts, Jim and Sue, gave us all a chuckle when, after several minutes of private self introspection, it was revealed that they had both come up with the same exact answer.  What are the chances?  Game nights will continue.

Christmas Eve, and we were not going "home" for Christmas.  It just seems fiscally irresponsible to go back EVERY year, so we have decided to celebrate Christs birth "on location" every other year. And Yes, we do miss family and friends back home, but then we have the chance to enjoy the company of new friends and family from, what is usually, far away.  

Our Christmas Eve festivities were at the invitation of Connie and Jerry.  An evening with their family, and a house decorated to the hilt, was a surefire way to get into the Christmas spirit.  We overdid it in the gastronomic department 

But it was worth it.  

Once again I had brought a Mexican dish.  This time the 7 layer bean dip WITH the meat layer.  It was hit!

I have always loved decorating for the holidays and I still put up as much decor as I can.  Not as much decor as I would have put up on Linden Road, but I make do.  Besides, NO ONE could give Connie any competition in the Christmas decor department:

And that is where spent Christmas Eve, with Connie, Jerry, their son Greg,

(seen here with the "wolf" puppy), his daughter, 

 her husband, and some fellow volunteers.

It was a wonderful evening!  Thanks Connie and Jerry!

Our own Christmas morning was simple, as it should be.

Christmas Day we were off to Irvine to spend the rest of the holiday with niece Jennifer and her husband Greg, 2 of their kids (with their spouses, 1 newly minted grandson, 1 mother-in-law) and Tessa.  Greg and Jennifer are long time Floridians.  Thanks to the Cheesecake Factory (who recently relocated them to Irvine, CA), we were able to have a wonderful Christmas Day in at their place.  The "kids" took Tessa for a nice walk, I wonder who enjoyed it more?  The meal was unsurpassed!!!  I don't know where anyone found room for the carrot cake I brought, on Jennifer's request, but they did.  The big "take home"....Jennifer bought me some soap and hand cream from her local farmer's market.  Bon Villian is now my absolute favorite.
Levi was smitten with Uncle Bill
Jennifer giving Uncle Bill  the honor of reading "the Christmas Story"
Greg and Levi
Spending the holiday with Family....Priceless

What a special day it was!  Thanks Jennifer and Greg!!

December 26th and call comes in from a "Warmshowers" guest.  Matt showed on his bicycle from 29Palms.  This bike ride would have looked like this:  approximately 25 miles uphill with a 20 MPH sustained wind.  I was glad to take Matt in for two days.  As it turned out, he would benefit from Andi's cooking as well.

December 27th: Andi cooking?  Remember those 20 mph winds  I previously mentioned?  Did I say the night time temperatures had been running in the mid 20's?  I was in the Visitor Center when Andi and Dennis arrived to check in.  It was pretty quickly obvious the very nice Korean couple were new to camping (1st time for Andi).  As a question about the safety of the small, propane heater in their tent was asked, I quickly redirected Andi to our Montana, where she would find Bill with a great deal more knowledge on the topic.  Leaving Dennis (her husband) behind in the Visitor Center,  Andi and I headed for the 5th wheel.  Now, keep in mind, Andi was facing several nights  in a tent, gusty (20+MPH) winds and temps well below average (25 degrees).  We were all aware this was going to be a "survival" experience more than "fun camping" experience.  As I led Andi into our toasty warm home, she took one look around and said "Oh, I could cook in THIS kitchen".  We thanked her for the compliment.  Andi continued..."No really, I could cook you a great Korean meal here."  At this point Andi sounded quite serious.  Bill and I made eye contact.  He knows I am a picky eater, and was looking for me to take the lead. Andi continued her persuasive dialogue and I finally just thought 'Why not?', 'you only live once'.  We set a time for dinner while Andi and Dennis headed to their campsite to gather their stores up.  At the previously agreed upon hour, Dennis and Andi returned with a cooler full of previously prepared Korean food.  Andi took over our kitchen, and in 40  minutes we were sitting down to our 1st "real" Korean meal.  Let me just say this:  The food was absolutely fresh and delicious, and #2:  if I ate like that all the time, I wouldn't have a weight problem.  We have a standing invitation  to their place in Peter's Canyon for dinner on them.  Not necessary, but we look forward to their company again.

Dennis, Matt (Warmshowers) and Andi
Despite the cold, windy pre-Christmas weather, the week(s) before Christmas were quit busy around the campground.  Right after Christmas the aforementioned freezing cold and high winds continued, and we still remained full.  We had many families during this time, which made it more fun for us.  The MOST fun?????  Swearing in of new Junior Rangers:

January 1st arrives, and with it the dawn of a new style "Mexican Blowout".  This annual, 36 year long tradition for Bill (only 23 for me) involved Bill cooking Mexican food for an army and extending an open invitation...."if you know about it, you're invited".  Four years ago, when we went "on the road", the Mexican Blowout was abandoned, until we revived it this year, with a few adjustments.  Attendance had to be kept low (the weather outside didn't permit us the luxury of the use of the great outdoors), so just a few people were invited.  Bill and I also cooked smaller quantities (well, slightly smaller).  And, like Mexican Blowouts of the past, this one was an interesting mix of people:  Rangers, fellow volunteers, and one homeless guy we have befriended (Harvey).  Well, Harvey is not REALLY homeless, he lives in a small trailer, is very neat and clean AND he loves the Lord!

Jim is our Camp Host partner

Harvey and Jamie both adore Tessa

January 2nd was welcomed with excitement as Meghan, Kim and Audrey were coming to J. Tree.

 Meghan is the sister of our DIL Katie, Aunt Mimi to  our two, youngest Grands.  Kim is Meghan's friend and Audrey is Kim's daughter.  We have always loved Meghan and were very excited to see them.  They drove in from San Diego, arriving at lunchtime for some Mexican food (go figure).  The only down side was that it was a duty day for us, and I was compelled to spend most of the afternoon in the Visitor Center, relieving my Ranger for her lunchtime.  Bill directed the group to a few neat places in the park, and with sunset  looming, they took off to explore.  Looks like they had fun:

Before that week was out, we would have two more neat experiences:
#1- an 18 year old guy, recent high school grad, 6 months into a trip traveling by motorcycle around the country, woke up in one of our campsites on a very cold morning, to find his bike wouldn't start.  So, after some motorcycle maintenance training, Bill gave him a push start.

After 3 tries Bill got the kid to put the bike in 3rd gear and it finally started.  We hope this young man from rural Pennsylvania finds his dream of becoming a professional dancer.

#2:  A nice group of young people, camped out right next to us, stopped to chat early on a Sunday morning.  Their little guy "Kirby",

looked so much like our recently departed Granddog Max, that I had to forward a pix of him to Tami.  I wonder how long it will be before we have another Granddog Yorkie?

Bike riding here at Black Rock has been kinda challenging.  It is either downhill 5.5 miles (or more), or uphill, with the steepest part of the incline the final mile.  This has not been fun, so, with a new plan we headed into Palm Springs, for a nice flat, 15 mile ride.  Not only is Palm Springs flat, but it is very bicycle friendly.  Flat roads and new things to look at made for a fun ride.  Plan to ride down there once a week.  That said, shortly after my Palm Springs ride, I took to a new route closer to home.  This route was on Wayne's suggestion.  I found it a balanced ride and much more enjoyable.

A few days later I began to experience extreme pain in my feet, making it difficult to even walk, much less ride.  I have a February 5th doctor appointment scheduled, but it will be the ER for me if things don't improve quickly.  (Note: this prediction came true on January 26th, where the ER doc diagnosed a flair up of my MS).

January 7th, Bill's son's birthday made the day special, but snow, YES SNOW!  Made it memorable.  Doesn't happen around here very often.  Beautiful!!!!

  January 12th, 2016:  a duty day, but not so busy we couldn't sneak away for a bit.  We took advantage of the quiet and drove the 1.5 hour drive to Cottonwood Campground (on the south end of the park) where or new friends
 George and Kathy

are volunteering.  In our defense (since we were supposed to be working), we did explore the visitor center there, but to be honest, we sent way more time with our buds.

Oscar Quest 2016 has begun.  Many years ago now, our friend Beth told us that she and a group of her friends wait for the Oscar nominations to come out every year.  Then, in the next 6 weeks, they go to see every film nominated in these 5 categories:  Best Picture, Actor in a Leading Role, Actress in a Leading Role, Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress.
That sounded like fun to us, and for the last 10 or so years it has been.  As it was in the first year, it is now.....we get to know what theatre has the BEST popcorn, and try to see as many of the films there as we can.  This game is fun in many ways:  #1- creates stimulating conversation/debate and #2- we end up seeing movies we would NEVER have voluntarily chosen to go see, which end up being lifelong favorites.  For example:  "A Single Man" comes to mind.  And this year....."Trumbo".  We both think Trumbo should take Best Actor (he won't).  And how on God's green earth was Trumbo not nominated for Best Picture.  And speaking of Best Picture.....this year there is a call for a boycott of the Oscars by black actors.  If Will Smith didn't deserve a nomination for Best Actor in a Leading Role, I'll eat my hat.  Now, one could argue that there were no "black" actors/movies that performed well enough to be nominated.  That would be a valid aurgument,  if it were true.  But, even on the most basic scale, Will Smith got robbed, as did his movie "Confession".  Both were FABULOUS, Oscar worthy material, in this humble amateurs opinion.

This year our theater of choice, for the most part, has been the Mary Pickford in Palm Dessert.  You oldsters will know who she is.  During our visit last week, the Palm Springs Film Festival was in full swing, as you can see.

Not all is fun and games in our world, as we fight a major battle for warranty coverage on our new, 2015 Montana.  I feel very strongly the fault lies at the feet of Camping  World-Valencia, CA, but the manufacturer may also be to blame.  This, now 4 month long saga continues .  I will reveal the long and painful story when it is resolved.


It is with a heavy heart that I announce the passing of my beloved big brother, Tim.

THIS is the single most difficult aspect of being gypsy's I have encountered....the inability to be somewhere in a hurry when I want to be.  I could not be there for Tim's last 2 weeks, as his health took a sudden and quickly spiraling downturn.  I comfort myself with the  knowledge that he didn't want a fuss being made.  Please join me in prayer for peace for his wife, Laura, kids Paul and Brenda and Grandkids Ali and Alex.

At the end of April we will leave southern California to head back to northern Illinois, visit with family and friends for a few weeks, before returning to Ellison Bay,WI to serve the summer at Camp Zion.  Yes, our stay here this winter has been longer than is usual for us, but, in the interest of seeing a dessert in bloom, we decided to hang around.  I am sure pictures will be forthcoming in March.

As for heading"home".......we have not yet decided whether to take the "northern" or "southern" route "home".  If you end up being on or near our route, you will most certainly hear from us.

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