Nick Russell

We Got Geeked!

 Posted by at 12:05 am  Nick's Blog
Jun 202021
 

Just as we and many of the working RVers we knew during our years as fulltimers, our good friends Jim and Chris Guld from Geeks on Tour have taken a new course in life. While we hung up the keys completely, Jim and Chris downsized to a Roadtrek B van, and are still traveling part time to RV rallies and shows when they are not hanging out at their townhouse down in the Fort Lauderdale area.

Chris contacted us the other day and said they would be passing through our area on their way to the Escapees RV Club Escapade Rally and an FMCA rally in Wyoming in July, and said they were thinking of stopping by. Of course! Anytime!

They arrived about 6 o’clock on Friday afternoon, and we had a lot of hugs to make up for lost time. It’s been about three years since we last saw them and we were long overdue! We chatted for a while, and eventually went to Dustin’s Bar-B-Q for dinner. While we ate we talked about our mutual adventures on the road, seminar instructors and vendors we knew from those days, and shared a lot of laughs. Back at home, they were plugged into electricity and spent the night in our driveway.

Yesterday morning they had a couple of Zoom meetings they had to attend to before they came in and visited for a few more hours. Jim and Chris teach classes on Google Photos, computers, smartphones, and all kinds of technology at RV rallies and events around the country, and we always learn something from them. Chis is also the author of Learn Google Photos, an excellent, easy to understand guide to all that this powerful workhourse can do. This time around, she taught us how to find any place we have been by using the Google app on our smartphones, and then any pictures we took while we were at that location, even if it was years ago on a different phone.

A while back I purchased a Zoom H4nPro digital recorder/microphone, and it has quite a learning curve to it that I have not been able to master. Jim spent some time with me, showing me how to set it up properly and get the most out of, which I really appreciated.

All too soon our friends had to hit the road again in search of new adventures. I will admit that Terry and I both were a tad bit jealous as they were headed out, but we’re quite comfortable here at home. And once I get my next Big Lake book out, which I’m aiming for sometime in late July, we plan to do some traveling, too. There are still a lot of places we haven’t been to, and others we want to return to again. Life is too short to spend all of it sitting at home.

Today is your last chance to enter our latest Free Drawing. This week’s prize is an autographed copy of Big Lake Hoarder, the most recent book in my Big Lake mystery series. To enter, click on this Free Drawing link or the tab at the top of this page and enter your name (first and last) in the comments section at the bottom of that page (not this one). Only one entry per person per drawing please, and you must enter with your real name. To prevent spam or multiple entries, the names of cartoon or movie characters are not allowed. The winner will be drawn this evening. Note: Due to the high shipping cost of printed books and Amazon restrictions on e-books to foreign countries, only entries with U.S. addresses and e-mail addresses are allowed.

Thought For The Day – A person who dances with you in the rain will walk with you in the storm.

Are You Serious?

 Posted by at 12:04 am  Nick's Blog
Jun 192021
 

I get a lot of e-mails every day from people asking questions about my books, RVing, or life in general. Many times I share those questions here in the blog if I think they would be of interest to other readers. But sometimes I get an e-mail asking me something and I have to scratch my head and wonder if these people are really serious. Here are two real examples from the recent mailbag.

Someone wrote to say that they are considering becoming fulltime RVers and asked me what was the best RV to buy. I get this question a lot, and I always reply that there is no one size fits all RV. What works for one person might not be a good choice for somebody else. Some people like to go to state parks and travel back roads that might not be appropriate for a large RV, and they should go with something smaller and easier to maneuver in tight places. Other people want all of the creature comforts they can get, as well as a lot of cargo capacity and the smoothest ride possible. A large Class A diesel pusher might be the best for them. Others have hobbies or interests that could make a toy hauler their best choice.

The woman wrote back and replied that I wasn’t really answering her question, she didn’t care what was right for other people, she wanted me to tell her what RV her and her husband should buy. I replied once more that I could not tell her what was right for them because I didn’t know what their needs were and it would be impossible for me to advise her. I suggested that they visit several RV dealerships and look at the options available. She immediately wrote back saying I was wasting her time and to at “least give me something to start with!” I replied that they should start with something with wheels under it. Yes, I know that was snarky, but it seemed to work, because except for replying with a one word response describing a certain body orifice, I haven’t heard any more from her.

And then we have the person who told me that they have been fulltiming for three years now and have decided it’s not for them and would like to find a home somewhere in coastal Florida. He said they have visited Florida twice now and like it and asked me for any recommendations.

Again, a lot of that depends on their needs and interests, as well as their budget. I told him the reasons we settled where we did, halfway between Daytona Beach and Cape Canaveral, were because we can be at the beach in a matter of minutes, we like the small town atmosphere yet we are close to Orlando and Daytona Beach if there’s anything we need we can’t find locally, as well as for medical care. He asked several questions about the area and I told him about several local Facebook groups he might find interesting and where he might get answers for other questions he had.

His response was that he thought he and his wife would like to come and check out the area, and rather than bringing their RV, could they stay with us for a few days to a week or so. He said that would make it much more convenient for them, and they sure would not say no to any of Miss Terry’s home cooking.

Now keep in mind, this is not somebody we know personally, or even somebody I have an extended online relationship with. It’s just somebody who follows me on Facebook and reads my blog. I replied that we’re not in the habit of having people we know stay with us, kind of let alone strangers, but suggested several local hotels and said that maybe we could get together for lunch or dinner while they were in the area. He wrote back and said he didn’t understand why staying with us would be a problem, it wasn’t like they were ax murderers or serial killers or anything like that. I’m not sure ax murderers and serial killers tell you what they do to people they cross paths with, but I still didn’t extend an invitation to stay with us.

And finally, here’s a chuckle to start your day from the collection of funny signs we see in our travels and that our readers share with us.

Be sure to enter our latest Free Drawing. This week’s prize is an autographed copy of Big Lake Hoarder, the most recent book in my Big Lake mystery series. To enter, click on this Free Drawing link or the tab at the top of this page and enter your name (first and last) in the comments section at the bottom of that page (not this one). Only one entry per person per drawing please, and you must enter with your real name. To prevent spam or multiple entries, the names of cartoon or movie characters are not allowed. The winner will be drawn Sunday evening. Note: Due to the high shipping cost of printed books and Amazon restrictions on e-books to foreign countries, only entries with U.S. addresses and e-mail addresses are allowed.

Thought For The Day – I hug the people I hate so I know how big to dig the hole in my backyard.

Back At It

 Posted by at 12:18 am  Nick's Blog
Jun 182021
 

In yesterday’s blog I told you that I got about 4,000 words written in my new Big Lake book on Monday, but by the end of the day my right wrist and hand were aching so much that I couldn’t get anything done on Tuesday. However, thanks to healthy doses of ibuprofen and arthritis strength acetaminophen along with liberal applications of Voltaren gel, by yesterday morning things were feeling much better and I was able to get back at it.

I got a bit of a late start because I had a ton of e-mails to answer first thing in the morning, as well as deleting several fake entries in the current free drawing. Then I had to make some phone calls back and forth with the dealership where I’m ordering my new pickup to get a couple of things finalized. But I still managed to knock out about 5,500 more words by the end of the day.

I have missed the crew in Big Lake and it’s nice to get back there and see what’s going on. And if you have read any of the books in the series about that little mountain town in Northern Arizona, you know there’s always something happening. Sheriff Weber and his deputies are investigating a shooting on Main Street that took place in front of a crowd of people but isn’t at all what it appears on the surface. And, of course, former mayor Chet Wingate is sticking his nose in where it doesn’t belong and doing his best to spread chaos wherever he goes. I’m not sure how this one is going to wind up yet, but it’s got me hooked already!

I’m not sure how much writing I’ll get done today or tomorrow because we have friends passing through who are going to stop for a visit. I’ll tell you all about that in another blog post real soon.

Several people have asked me how the non-slip stair tape that Terry put on my office stairs after my fall a few days ago is working out so far. It’s doing an excellent job, and you don’t really notice it, so it doesn’t detract from the oak wood on the stairs. It was definitely a good investment, and I would recommend it to anybody who wants to avoid a nasty fall like I experienced.

And finally, here’s a chuckle to start your day from the collection of funny signs we see in our travels and that our readers share with us.

We had over 60 entries in our latest Free Drawing in less than 24 hours, but you still have time to enter. This week’s prize is an autographed copy of Big Lake Hoarder, the most recent book in my Big Lake mystery series. To enter, click on this Free Drawing link or the tab at the top of this page and enter your name (first and last) in the comments section at the bottom of that page (not this one). Only one entry per person per drawing please, and you must enter with your real name. To prevent spam or multiple entries, the names of cartoon or movie characters are not allowed. The winner will be drawn Sunday evening. Note: Due to the high shipping cost of printed books and Amazon restrictions on e-books to foreign countries, only entries with U.S. addresses and e-mail addresses are allowed.

Thought For The Day – When a cougar gets so old that she needs a hearing aid, does she becomes a Def Leppard?

They’re Back

 Posted by at 12:31 am  Nick's Blog
Jun 172021
 

In a blog post less than two weeks ago I told you that my son Travis and his wife Geli removed the banana palms at the edge of our driveway, which didn’t produce edible bananas but did make a mess all the time. Here’s a picture of what it looked like when they were done.

Apparently the soil here is very fertile because even though we haven’t had much rain lately, look what is growing back already! I guess they missed a couple of roots or something, and here we go again.

To give you an idea of the size of these, as you can see in this picture, one of them comes up to Terry’s knees. And again, this is in under two weeks! (Yes, I know I cropped her head off. I never said I was a great photographer.) I need to get out there with a shovel and dig the whole area up because those roots are like cancer and if you miss one cell, it comes back.

I knocked out close to 4,000 words in my next Big Lake book on Monday, but even though I narrate everything into a Sony digital recorder rather than typing, there is still a lot of work to be done with a mouse and keyboard, correcting errors and formatting things. I’m not sure what I did in the process of all that, but by Monday night my right hand and wrist were aching so bad I couldn’t sleep well, and they continued that way all through yesterday so I didn’t get any more work done on the book. I’m assuming that’s what is causing the problem, although I also came down hard on that wrist when I took my fall last week. It hurt quite a bit at the time, but that was seven days ago and I don’t think it would just now start flaring up. Hopefully today is a better day and I can get some more work done.

What do you get the man who has everything? My wonderful daughter-in-law Geli was all over that and sent me this beautiful pen with a quote by Ernest Hemingway for Father’s Day. I love this lady and am so glad she is a part of our lives. Thanks, Geli, I love it.

It’s Thursday, and after a several-week hiatus from our Free Drawings because we had company from out of town, it’s time for a new one. This week’s prize is an autographed copy of Big Lake Hoarder, the most recent book in my Big Lake mystery series. To enter, click on this Free Drawing link or the tab at the top of this page and enter your name (first and last) in the comments section at the bottom of that page (not this one). Only one entry per person per drawing please, and you must enter with your real name. To prevent spam or multiple entries, the names of cartoon or movie characters are not allowed. The winner will be drawn Sunday evening. Note: Due to the high shipping cost of printed books and Amazon restrictions on e-books to foreign countries, only entries with U.S. addresses and e-mail addresses are allowed.

Thought For The Day – I accidentally swallowed a bunch of Scrabble tiles. My next trip to the bathroom could spell disaster.

Two Historic Forts

 Posted by at 12:08 am  Nick's Blog
Jun 162021
 

Note: This is a repost of a blog from our travels on the Oregon coast, one of our favorite places in the country. 

We had made arrangements to tour Fort Clatsop, where the Lewis and Clark Expedition spent a cold, wet winter after arriving on the Oregon coast at the end of their epic journey across the country, so yesterday we took a break from the mailing chores to drive back across the Columbia River to the fort.

Fort Clatsop sign

The fort is a part of Lewis and Clark National Historical Park, one of America’s newest national parks, and includes hiking trails, a very nice Visitor Center, and a replica of the crude log fort where the explorers lived from December, 1804 to March, 1805.    

We watched two videos in the Visitor Center, one on the Voyage of Discovery, and another from the local Indians’ point of view, about these strange new arrivals to their traditional homelands. Then we toured the small museum, which had displays of beads and other goods the explorers brought along to trade with the Indians, as well as the many items the Indians made from cedar trees – everything from clothing, woven hats, baskets, and canoes.

trading beads

Trading hatchet

Woven Indian hat

It has been raining  for a couple of days now, but we popped open umbrellas and walked a couple of hundred yards down a trail to the log fort, where a costumed interpreter named Tom told us about the extensive planning that went into the expedition, the hardships the explorers faced on their journey, and how Meriwether Lewis and William Clark had the perfect combination of skills and experience to lead the adventure.

Fort Clatsop 3

Cabin inside

Cabin inside 3

Then Tom demonstrated loading and firing a flintlock musket like the ones the explorers used during their trip. Though slow to load and fire, the muskets served the adventurers well on their journey.

Loading gun 2

Shooting gun

We have been to a lot of historic sites in our travels, and listened to a lot of docents and interpreters in our time, but I don’t think we’ve encountered many people who could compare to Tom when it comes to having such a broad knowledge of his subject, and the ability to share it so well. And no wonder, Tom spent part of his working life as a school teacher! I bet he was a favorite with his students!

Tom at fort

When we left Fort Clatsop, we drove out to the beach at Fort Stevens State Park, and braved the cold wind and light rain to see the rusted hulk of the Peter Iredale, a four-masted steel sailing ship that wrecked in a squall on Clatsop Spit on October 25, 1906. Fortunately, the crew of 25, and two stowaways, survived, and today the rusted bow of the ship is all that remains, as a popular tourist attraction.

Peter Iredale

Fort Stevens served the United States from the Civil War until after World War II, protecting the coast and the Columbia River from enemy invasion. On June 21, 1942, a Japanese submarine shelled the fort’s Battery Russell, in what would be the only attack on a mainland American military installation during World War II. Nobody was injured in the attack, and only minor damage was done to the fort. Today, the fort has a few gun emplacements left, and a handful of concrete buildings, as well as a small museum.

Gun position 2

Fort Stevens building  

By the time we left Fort Stevens, it was late in the afternoon and we were tired and hungry. We drove back to Astoria and had dinner at the Golden Luck, an excellent Chinese restaurant with a great view of the bridge over the Columbia River. Another great day spent making memories in a beautiful place

Thought For The Day – I’ll try being nicer if you’ll try being smarter.

Jun 152021
 

I’ve been accused of being a lot of things in my life, from a jerk to a misogynist to a gun-toting conservative, as well as a bleeding heart liberal, and most of those have probably been true to some extent at different times. But the one thing I have always been able to lay claim to since I was a toddler is being clumsy. My dad used to say the only safe place for me to work would be in a mattress factory, but a buddy of his pointed out that I would probably suffocate under a pile of feather mattresses in the first week. He may have been right, and just to be on the safe side, I’ve always avoided working in the sleep industry.

I have certainly not gotten any better as I have aged. Not that I’m getting feeble, I don’t crash and burn any more than I always did. It just takes me longer to recover when I do. But an incident last week really scared Miss Terry and my daughter Tiffany.

It happened Wednesday evening, Tiffany’s last day here before she flew back to Arizona. Our home is a split-level design, with the living room, kitchen, and two guest bedrooms on the upper half, and my office, the master bedroom and bath, laundry room, and Terry’s office/loom room on the lower level. Three wide oak stairs lead from my office to the upper level at one end of the house, and tiled stairs in the utility room do the same thing at the other end. The wooden stairs have always been slick, and several times we have talked about installing a rail on one side, but we never got around to doing it.

I seldom wear shoes around the house, just a pair of socks if we’re not going to be going out, and on the evening in question, I started to go upstairs from my office and my foot slid out from me on the first step. When I came down, my jaw slammed into the top step and my ribs hit the middle one. I had never been punched out by stairs before, and I don’t recommend it. I wound up with some nasty bruises and was pretty sore for a couple of days, but it could have been worse.

I talked to my neighbor Jesse Bolton, who helps us out a lot around here, and he’s going to install a rail on the stairs sometime in the next few days when his work schedule allows it. In the meantime, I mentioned that I might need to get some type of non-slip tread tape to put on the stairs, but the wood is really pretty and I didn’t look forward to having some kind of black tape on them. My son-in-law Kenny told me that they make a clear anti-slip tape for just that purpose, and Terry ordered some from Amazon.

It didn’t take her long to lay out six strips, two on each step, and get them placed where she wanted. Then she peeled off the backing, and they don’t show much at all. They definitely make the stairs much safer to navigate.

Terry also ordered me some anti-slip socks that have a special tread pattern on the bottom that also prevent slipping. They are very comfortable, and between them and the tape she put on the stairs, I may get halfway up some time and be stuck there forever. Hopefully, Terry will come by and throw me a sandwich now and then. She’s a good woman about things like that.

Thought For The Day – What does it mean when the holy water sizzles when it hits your skin?

The Florida Desert

 Posted by at 12:09 am  Nick's Blog
Jun 142021
 

I spent many years living in the desert in Arizona, and while it may look stark and ugly to some people, it has its own beauty. But that being said, I’m really not a desert person. I much prefer the mountains of Arizona’s Mogollon Rim, where we lived before we became fulltime RVers, or anywhere near the ocean. So it is a little disappointing at times to realize that even though I live in Florida, I live in a desert.

What, you didn’t know Florida has a desert? Neither did I until we moved here. People tell me that Florida is subtropical, but our area here on the Central Coast has a narrow slice of land that seems to get much less rain than anywhere else in the state. And wouldn’t you know it? We live right smack dab in that small area.

As I have said before, it can be raining hard two miles north or south of us, and all we get is cloudy skies and a few isolated raindrops. Even when we do get rain, it’s usually not nearly as much as other areas a short distance away. Many times we watch storms making their way across the state or rolling in from the ocean, and it looks like we’re going to get hit hard, but at the last minute they split, going north and south of us and leaving us high and dry. Well, low and dry, actually, since we’re at about sea level.

Like much of the country, the entire state has been in a drought, and our rainfall levels are considerably lower than they should be. Even though we have our lawn sprinklers timed to come on every other night for half an hour, the grass is starting to turn brown and our citrus trees are not liking what’s happening.

We did have a big storm come in yesterday and we got some rain during the afternoon while I was working on my new Big Lake book, but not nearly enough. If you look at this screenshot of the weather map, we are the blue dot.

As you can see, there was a lot of action going on just north of us as the storm moved eastward and out to sea, but it was also moving north at the same time, giving us just enough rain to tease us, but that’s about it. The weatherman says we’re going to get more overnight and again today, but I’m not holding my breath. When you live in the Florida desert, you learn to be skeptical about what that guy says.

At least the rain we did get dropped the temperature for a while, from up in the mid-80s down to the mid-70s. Even with the humidity at 88%, I wasn’t complaining about that.

And finally, here’s a chuckle to start your day from the collection of funny signs we see in our travels and that our readers share with us.

Thought For The Day – The worst part about being arrested by a motorcycle cop is having to hug him from behind all the way back to the police station.

Sunday Q&A

 Posted by at 12:13 am  Nick's Blog
Jun 132021
 

I’m back with more questions from blog readers about RVing, what’s happening in our lives since we hung up the keys, and all kinds of other things. While I try to answer all questions individually, I also share some here occasionally.

Q. At one time you wrote about your genealogy research and visiting the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, but I have not seen anything about that in a long time. Are you still into genealogy, and do you have to be a member of the Mormon church to use the Family History Library? I am new to family research and have a lot to learn.

A. Yes, I am still interested in genealogy, though I let my Ancestry membership lapse because I tend to get lost in researching and lose a lot of time I could spend writing instead. Anyone can use the Family History Library in Salt Lake City or any of the Family History Centers the LDS church has around the country. You don’t have to be a church member and there is no fee.

Q. All things being equal, if you had to do it over again starting out as a fulltime RVer, would you still go with a motorhome over a fifth wheeler, and would you go gas or diesel?

A. No question about it, I would go with a diesel motorhome, given the number of miles we traveled in any year. The ride and the storage capacity are so much better than a gas motorhome. And while we’ve seen some wonderful fifth-wheels, a motorhome would still be my preference.

Q. In a blog the other day you wrote about going to the VA for a shingles shot, but the next day you wrote about going to a civilian doctor. Do you use both, and why?

A. To remain enrolled in the VA medical system I have to see my primary care provider there twice a year. I also get most of my prescriptions from the VA. But now that I have Medicare I see a civilian doctor for most things because it’s easier to get in and out and frees time at the VA for other vets who don’t have that option. However, having the VA as a backup comes is handy now and then.

Q. You have mentioned going to lunch or dinner several times now. I know that you and Terry have been vaccinated, but doesn’t it still worry you doing so?

A. If it worried us we wouldn’t be doing it. We go to restaurants in off-peak hours when they are not as crowded, and we only go to places where we are comfortable with table spacing and such.

Q. My hubby and I are in a debate about which membership is best, Thousand Trails or Passport America? What is your opinion

A. Any campground membership is good if you use it enough. We had both and spent many winters bouncing around from Thousand Trails to another in Florida and summers doing the same thing on the Oregon and Washington coasts, saving a ton of money. At just $44 a year, every RVer should have a Passport America membership. You will probably get your membership fee back on your first trip.

Q. Why order and wait on a truck when you can buy a new one off the lot without the wait?

A. I ordered a truck because I want certain options that I have not found available on any truck on a dealer’s lot. My feeling has always been that if I’m going to buy something with my hard-earned money, I’ll get what I want and not compromise.

Q. I devour your Tinder Street books as fast as they come out, Nick. When can we expect another one?

A. I released Boom And Bust, the third book in the Tinder Street series, a few weeks ago. Now I’m working on another of my Big Lake small town mystery books, which will be followed by a John Lee Quarles mystery, and then I will start on The Hard Years, the fourth book in the Tinder Street series. I would like to have it out sometime in December, but I make no guarantees, and it could be after the first of the year.

And finally, here’s a chuckle to start your day from the collection of funny signs we see in our travels and that our readers share with us. When did hunting pedestrians become a sport? Is a special license required?

Thought For The Day – Storm season is here. If a news van pulls into your driveway remember; teeth and bras, people. Teeth and bras.

What Else Is Going On?

 Posted by at 12:06 am  Nick's Blog
Jun 122021
 

Besides our kids visiting from out of state, what else is going on in our world? Well, let me bring you up to date.

In yesterday’s blog I told you that I got my second shingles vaccine at the VA clinic in Daytona Beach on Thursday. Except for some redness and a bit of a sore arm at the injection site, everything seemed okay. But just as after my second Moderna vaccine for COVID-19, about 3:30 in the morning I woke up with chills and my teeth chattering and felt like I was freezing to death. There was no fever or anything like that, and after piling more blankets on me it finally let up after a couple of hours. I had no reaction at all with both the first COVID and shingles shots, but the second time around kicked my butt with both of them.

A while back I told you that I had ordered a new Ford F-150 Lariat. At first I was told I could possibly expect it in late June, then the salesman, who is a very good guy, said we were probably looking at a July or August delivery date. But the news has had a lot of stories about shortages of computer chips and Ford having thousands of trucks sitting waiting to be shipped because they can’t get the chips for them. Apparently the chips were made at one place, which had a fire just before the pandemic set in, and they’re not back to full operation yet and nobody seems to know when they will be. I talked to the salesman again and he said I was looking at late October at the earliest, and possibly after the first of the year. I’m not going to wait that long for a 2021 model truck, so I canceled the order.

Years ago I had several Dodge Power Wagons and I always liked them. Jesse Bolton, our neighbor across the street, has a very nice Dodge Ram Laramie. I took a ride in it with him and was impressed with everything about the truck, so I went to the local Dodge dealership in New Smyrna Beach. According to them, they are not as affected by the chip shortage as Ford is. I don’t know why not, maybe they use a different chip. Terry was a little hesitant because she had a bad experience with a couple of Dodge trucks back in the 70s or 80s, but once she drove the new Laramie, she was sold.

So I placed an order for a 2022 Laramie outfitted just the way I want it. Production doesn’t start with the 2022 models until mid-July, but they tell me I can expect a delivery date in September. I’m all right with waiting that long for a 2022 model, but not longer than that for a previous year’s model.

For a while now Terry has talked about getting Fitbits for the two of us but we didn’t really know what models we needed or anything like that. As it turned out, both of our kids and our daughter-in-law wear Fitbits, and after picking their brains, Terry ordered each of us a Fitbit Charge 4 from Amazon. They came the other day and we’re getting used to them.

Let’s be honest, I don’t think I’m ever actually going to get fit, but they do come in handy to monitor our sleep. I never seem to sleep well and it’s interesting to see how much is deep sleep, how much is REM sleep, light sleep, and awake time. It also monitors my heart rate, so I guess if I look down and don’t have a pulse I will stick my finger in a light socket and shock myself back to life.

Speaking of fitness and all that, I had a routine check-up with my civilian doctor yesterday, and for an old fat guy I’m not doing too bad. My sugar, cholesterol and all those other levels that they check are all in good ranges, and some have come down since my last visit.

I felt so good about being so healthy that when we left there, we went to Dairy Queen and I got us both a Blizzard. Then we drove to the beach and spent some time watching the surf and the people playing in the water. And I admit that I may have accidentally noticed two or three, or a couple of dozen, young ladies in skimpy swimsuits. But it really was by accident, I swear. Who says old guys don’t know how to live?

And finally, here’s a chuckle to start your day from the collection of funny signs we see in our travels and that our readers share with us. Is this on World Naked Gardening Day or all the time?

Thought For The Day – Your thoughts are suggestions, not orders. You decide which ones to follow.

It’s Just Us Again

 Posted by at 12:32 am  Nick's Blog
Jun 112021
 

We had to get up early yesterday morning, something I never like doing. And especially not for the reason we were up. We had to take our daughter Tiffany to the airport in Daytona Beach so she could catch a flight home to Arizona.

When we were fulltime RVers and would come to visit, I used to tell Tiffany that leaving was always the hardest part. She understands that now because it was hard for her to leave, too. But she’s got a family at home, a loving husband and four kids who really missed their mom. There were a lot of hugs and kisses at the airport and a few tears were shed before she left us to go through the gate for the TSA inspection.

Tiffany says she can’t wait to come back again but she plans to do it in the winter the next time around. Though she lives in Arizona, her home is in Show Low, in the White Mountains, where they have four seasons and a lot of snow some winters. She said the hot, humid weather here in Florida made her feel like she was melting. That’s okay, kid, you come back anytime you want and we’ll be welcoming you with open arms.

But for now it’s just the two of us again, and that’s fine. We love being together.

It was great to have son Travis and daughter Tiffany here, along with daughter-in-law Geli. We talked about a lot of things and had a lot of laughs. Travis recalled one incident from his childhood that he said scarred him for life. I have had a beard all of my adult life except for one time when I shaved it off on a whim. I was a single dad at the time, and my son was only 9 years old. He got up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, saw me, and totally freaked out, screaming, “Dad, there’s some guy in the house!” I tried to comfort him but all he saw was a stranger coming after him. It took a while to get him calmed down. I started growing the beard back the next day. Not only because I didn’t want to traumatize my kid anymore, but also because when you’ve got a face like this, you owe it to society to keep as much of it covered up as you possibly can. It’s the same reason I never go around shirtless. Nobody needs to be subjected to that much pasty white flesh.

After we left the airport, we went to the VA clinic in Daytona Beach so I could get my second shingles shot. Terry and I got our first ones a month ago at Walgreens and they cost $198 apiece. On a visit to the VA for my routine checkup a week or so later, I was asked if I wanted a shingles shot and I told them I already had gotten the first of the two doses required. The nurse told me they are free for veterans and to come back there for the second one. I sure wish I would have known that to start with!

There’s a sandwich shop called Big Joe’s Subs on Canal Street in New Smyrna Beach that we have talked about stopping at for a long time. A lot of people have said it’s very good but we never got around to it, so we decided to have lunch there on the way home. Now we’re both kicking our butts because we waited so long. The sandwiches were delicious and they don’t skimp on the meat, cheese, and fixings. We will definitely be going back.

From there, we stopped at Walgreens so Terry could get her second shingles shot, then we came home and didn’t do much the rest of the day. Well, at least I didn’t. I don’t know what Terry did because I parked my portly posterior in my recliner and took an hour-long nap. I needed it.

Today I need to get back to work. Except for a couple of blog posts, I haven’t written anything in over two weeks and I miss it. I’ve already started my next book, Big Lake Shootout, and since it’s too hot outside to do much of anything, that will keep me occupied for the foreseeable future.

Thought For The Day – Remember recess? We old folks still need it.

Douglas The Camel

 Posted by at 12:01 am  Nick's Blog
Jun 102021
 

Note: We find some of our best stories wandering around in old cemeteries. This one began with a visit to the Cedar Hill Cemetery in Vicksburg, Mississippi.

Animal mascots have been an important part of military life for centuries. Mascots became symbols of loyalty and courage and provided lonesome soldiers far from home something to care about. During the Civil War it was not uncommon for both Union and Confederate units to take their mascots with them as they marched into battle. Dogs and horses were the most common mascots, but there were others, including birds, goats, and even a bear!

Company C of the 8th Regiment Wisconsin Volunteers had Old Abe, a beloved bald eagle that somebody had raised by hand. During battle, Abe would fly over the Confederate lines, screeching at the enemy. More than one Rebel ball was fired in his direction, but the eagle managed to dodge them all and come home from the war unscathed.

Not so fortunate was a Staffordshire Bull Terrier named Sallie, who was the mascot for the 11th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry. Sallie was killed at the Battle of Hatcher’s Run in Virginia, and is memorialized on the unit’s monument at Gettysburg.

But the Union forces weren’t the only ones with mascots. The Confederate 3rd Louisiana CSA had a donkey that would occasionally sneak into their commander’s tent and try to sleep with him, providing lots of entertainment to the troops under his command.

And then there was Douglas, the camel who was the mascot of Company A, of the 43rd Mississippi Infantry. Douglas was introduced to military life as part of an experiment by Jefferson Davis, who served as the United States Secretary of War before the South seceded. As American interests expanded in the Southwest, it was found that horses and mules were unsuited to the harsh climate of the desert, and Davis decided that camels would make excellent pack animals.

Camel headstone

In 1855, Davis acquired a number of camels which were shipped to Galveston, Texas and then transported overland to Arizona. Camels may have been better capable of handling life in the desert, but it turned out that American soldiers weren’t capable of handling camels, and the experiment failed. Most of the camels were simply turned loose to fend for themselves and eventually died off. But a few somehow ended up on farms in the South, where Davis thought they might replace mules and oxen.

It is unclear exactly how the 43rd Mississippi acquired Douglas, but once they did, he quickly made his mark in the unit, his appearance spooking the regimental horses and causing a stampede. Camels are by nature cantankerous animals, and Douglas was no exception, but still the men of the 43rd came to love their odd mascot. Possibly simply because he was so odd. The unit quickly earned the nickname of the “Camel Regiment.”

Douglas was assigned to the regimental band, carrying musical equipment and supplies, and was with the unit at the Battle of Corinth in Mississippi. When they were assigned to Vicksburg, the camel made quite a sight walking down the city’s streets, where most people had never seen such a creature.

Unfortunately, during the long siege that eventually resulted in Vicksburg falling to Union forces under General Ulysses S. Grant, Douglas was killed by an enemy sharpshooter. And to add insult to injury, the starving men of the 43rd ate him! Of course, by that time both soldiers and civilians inside the beleaguered city were already eating dogs, cats, and rats, just to survive.

Camel headstone 2

But the 43rd Mississippi never forgot their unique mascot, and today a tombstone at Cedar Hill Cemetery in Vicksburg honors Douglas in a section reserved for fallen Confederate soldiers, just one more reminder that war is hell for men and animals alike.

Thought For The Day – There is a reason the rearview mirror is so small and the windshield is so big. Where you are going is more important than where you have been.

That’s My Girl

 Posted by at 12:13 am  Nick's Blog
Jun 092021
 

Our daughter Tiffany has been visiting from Arizona, and today is her last full day here. She leaves tomorrow morning to go home to her family, and while I know that her husband and kids are really looking forward to seeing her, we’re going to miss having her around.

Some of you may remember that Tiffany’s heart suddenly stopped a few years ago and we almost lost her. She was in a coma for a while but came back to us and now has a defibrillator implanted in her chest to keep things working properly. She is one of the nicest, happiest, most easy-going people you’ll ever meet in your life. She’s always got a smile on her face and is quick to laugh.

I’m not just saying that because I’m her dad, she really is. If anybody epitomizes the attitude of when life hands you lemons, make lemonade, it’s Tiffany. Well, most of the time. Maybe not when it’s real lemons that aren’t ripe yet.

I’ve been letting the fruit on our citrus trees grow, even though the folks at Lindley’s Nursery said to take the first crop off as it shows up to give the branches time to get stronger. I left them on so the kids could see them when they were here. I decided yesterday was a good time to go ahead and take them off and brought in the lemons, key limes, and tangelos.

 

Tiffany and I decided to see how they tasted. From the expressions on her face, you might guess that they were a bit tart.

Or this could be what happens when you open Mom and Dad’s bedroom door without knocking. As Tiffany says, sometimes what has been seen cannot be unseen.

She had a very different expression on her face while eating some of Terry’s homemade cinnamon rolls the other day. I think she liked those.

And I know she liked the lobster she ordered at Dixie Crossroads in Titusville the other day, too.

But it’s not all about eating. While son Travis and his wife Geli were here, the five of us went out to Ferry Trail in Cassadaga. I wrote about the park in a previous blog post, and I knew the kids would all enjoy it.

Monday, we drove up to Saint Augustine, taking US Highway 1 to give Tiffany the most views of the ocean and beach along the way. We were looking forward to touring the Castillo de San Marcos and taking her for a stroll down Saint George Street, but the traffic was absolutely horrendous and there was no place to park anywhere in the area. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the city that busy.

We did pull into the parking lot at Ripley’s Believe It Or Not, and I took a picture of Tiffany with this sculpture of a stallion made entirely from car bumpers from the 1950s and 60s. It was created by artist Sean Guerrero to celebrate the Denver Broncos’ 1987 Super Bowl appearance.

I’m not sure what we have planned for today. An old friend of Tiffany’s from over in the Tampa/Saint Petersburg area is coming to visit her, and since she can never get enough seafood, Terry is planning to make her delicious homemade shrimp and grits for dinner. That’s always a favorite, and we figure if we keep feeding Tiffany enough good food, she might be tempted to come back again soon.

Thought For The Day – My kid has turned out just like me. Well played, karma. Well played.

Jim The Wonder Dog

 Posted by at 12:39 am  Nick's Blog
Jun 082021
 

Forget Lassie and Rin Tin Tin. In the pleasant small town of Marshall, Missouri, we learned the story of what has to be the most amazing canine of all time, Jim the Wonder Dog. And unlike those movie hero dogs, Jim was real, even if his accomplishments seem the stuff of Hollywood fiction.

Jim was a Llewellyn English Setter that came from a long line of champion hunting dogs. He was given as a gift to Samuel VanArsdale, who operated the Ruff Hotel. VanArsdale was an avid hunter, and he quickly bonded with his new puppy.

Jim was taken to well known dog trainer Ira Irvine, who quickly determined that the young dog was never going to be a good hunter. Jim refused to be trained. While the other dogs were being taught to find and retrieve birds, he just lay under a tree and watched. The dog trainer suggested VanArsdale give Jim to a family who just wanted a pet and look for another hunting dog. But on Jim’s first hunt, he quickly proved that he had learned well after all. He immediately came to point on a quail, held his position until the bird was shot, and then retrieved it, dropping the dead bird in his master’s hand.

Jim Wonder Dog Statue

This was the start of a fabulous hunting career. Jim turned out to be the finest hunting dog VanArsdale had ever seen. Jim had an uncanny sense of where the quail were, and refused to go where there were no birds. Over 5,000 birds were shot over him in his long hunting career, and he was called Hunting Dog of the Century by Missouri Life and Missouri Conservation magazines.

But being a fine hunting dog was the very least of Jim’s accomplishments. VanArsdale realized how gifted Jim was quite by accident. When the dog was three years old, they were out hunting on a hot day and VanArsdale got tired. He said to Jim, “let’s go and rest under the shade of the hickory tree.” They were in a forest with many kinds of trees, but Jim went directly to the only hickory tree in sight and lay down. Chuckling at what he considered a fluke of luck, VanArsdale then said to Jim “Okay, now go to a black oak.” Jim got up and trotted to the appropriate tree. Amazed, VanArsdale directed Jim to a cedar tree, a stump, and even a tin can, and the dog performed flawlessly every time!

At first VanArsdale and his wife Pearl were reluctant to tell anybody about Jim’s seeming ability to understand everything they said, for fear of being thought crackpots by their friends. But soon word got out and Jim was delighting others with his ability to carry out their requests. Everybody was amazed, and it seemed the more they challenged him, the more Jim could do. Word spread and people came to Marshall just to see this unbelievable canine.

Jim Dog street sign

Unable to account for Jim’s capabilities, VanArsdale agreed to allow Jim to be examined at the Veterinary Department at the University of Missouri. The professors there determined that Jim was like other Llewellyn Setters, with a few exceptions; they found he had a wider span across the brow then normal, and the measurement between his brow and the top of his head was more than other dogs of his breed. They also noticed, as had many others, that Jim’s eyes were large and had often been described as human-like.

Jim then performed several feats for the professors and students at the university, carrying out instructions given to him in not only English, but several foreign languages. A Paramount News film team recorded the event.

Jim was then asked to be taken to a joint session of the Missouri legislature, where he again astounded the audience. Someone suggested that VanArsdale was somehow sending signals to the dog, so a telegraph operator was brought in. Someone whispered a request in the operator’s ear, and he tapped it out in Morse Code. Again Jim did exactly as instructed!

While VanArsdale enjoyed showing Jim off, he refused to capitalize on it. He refused requests to display Jim at the Chicago Exposition and in New York. He even refused a request to bring Jim to Washington, D.C. to visit President Franklin D. Roosevelt! VanArsdale said he was a small town man and Jim was a small town dog, and they just didn’t fit in the big city. When Hollywood called with an offer to bring Jim to California to make a movie, for the princely sum of $384,000, VanArsdale turned them down. He refused to profit in any way on what he considered Jim’s God-given talent.

Many of Jim’s feats defy imagination. If they had not all been documented and performed before large groups of onlookers, one might think they were tall tales. It almost seemed that once Jim proved he could so something, he wanted to do something even more amazing. In a crowd of people in the hotel lobby, someone would say “Find the hardware salesman,” or “Find the man with the most change in his pocket” and Jim would immediately go to the appropriate person and sit down in front of them. He could also pick out a man with a red tie or a girl in a blue dress, even though dogs are color blind.

One common request was for Jim to go out on the street and find a particular car with an out of state license plate, a car with a certain license plate number, or a car of one brand or another. Each time Jim went right to the car and sat down beside it, even if it was parked several blocks away. VanArsdale could even write a request on a piece of paper, show it to Jim without saying a word, and the dog would do it.

Some people believed it was all a hoax, and that VanArsdale was somehow signaling Jim, so they wrote their requests in a foreign language and showed it to the dog, who again performed perfectly.

Perhaps Jim’s most astounding ability was being able to determine the sex of unborn babies. He would walk up to a pregnant woman and remain standing until his owner said either boy or girl, and Jim would not sit until the right sex had been spoken. Sure enough, on delivery day, the woman always gave birth to whatever sex Jim had indicated her baby was.

Jim also predicted the winner of the Kentucky Derby seven years in a row. The names of all of the horses entered in the race were written on slips of paper and shown to him, and Jim would paw at the one he selected. The names were then locked away in a safe until after the race, and each time Jim’s prediction came true!

Pearl VanArsdale told many amazing stories about Jim. Her mother and two of her sisters lived in separate rooms of the hotel, and she would tell Jim which one she wanted to visit, and he would lead her to the correct door. Another time, she fussed at her husband for tossing the decorative pillows on their bed to the floor when he took an afternoon nap. After his nap, when VanArsdale got out of bed, Jim picked the pillows up in his mouth and put them back in the appropriate positions on the bed.

Jim’s fame spread far and wide, and his story was told in several magazines. Ripley’s Believe It Or Not examined him and reported on his uncanny abilities in its syndicated newspaper column.

The VanArsdales traveled a lot, but they refused to stay anywhere Jim was not allowed in their room. On a visit to Florida they hired a hotel bellhop to walk Jim every day. Unknown to them, he was using Jim to select the winners of the horse races, and was making a lot of money off the local bookies until the VanArsdales received a telephone call telling them that if they valued their dog’s life, they would get him out of town. They quickly packed their suitcases and left that night.

Jim was twelve years old on March 18, 1937 when VanArsdale took him with him on a fishing trip to the Lake of the Ozarks. Upon arrival at the lake, Jim got out of the car, took a few steps, and collapsed. He was rushed to the nearest veterinarian, but died a few minutes later.

The grief stricken VanArsdales wanted to have Jim buried in their family plot in Marshall’s Ridge Park Cemetery, but cemetery officials said that was impossible. So they had Jim embalmed and buried him in a specially made casket just outside the cemetery fence. People sent flowers from all over, and newspapers as far away as Canada printed Jim’s obituary. Calls, letters, and telegrams of condolence flooded in from all points of the compass.

But this was still not the final chapter in the story of Jim the Wonder Dog. Over time the cemetery expanded and the fence was moved, and today Jim’s grave is inside the cemetery, near the children’s section. Jim sleeps under a large shade tree, near the graves of children, which he always loved.

Jim Dog grave 3

The VanArsdales and the Ruff Hotel are now gone, but the memory of Jim the Wonder Dog remains. A small memorial park occupies the land where the hotel once stood, with a statue of Jim, markers telling his story, and benches where you can sit and contemplate things that seem beyond human reason.

Thought For The Day – Always drink upstream from the herd.

One Tough Patriot

 Posted by at 12:04 am  Nick's Blog
Jun 072021
 

A monument in Whittemore Park in Arlington, Massachusetts tells the story of a man who was no doubt one of the toughest and bravest soldiers in the American Revolution.

Samuel Whittemore, born in 1696 in Charlestown, Massachusetts, was a farmer, patriot, and soldier who is officially recognized as the oldest known Colonial to serve in combat against the British in the struggle for American independence. Whittemore had served in the Third Massachusetts Regiment in King George’s War, taking part in the capture of the Fortress of Louisbourg, an important French stronghold, in 1745. There are also reports that he fought in the French and Indian War at the age of 64, and later against Indians resisting White expansion.

While he had served the Crown for many years in these struggles, over time Whittemore grew frustrated with the heavy-handed way the British ruled the Colonies and became an advocate for breaking away from British control. Speaking out in many public meetings, he drew the ire of officials. But Whittemore was not a man to back down from his convictions, as he proved in the early days of the American Revolution.

After the initial battles at Lexington and Concord, British forces returning to Boston were continually harassed by heavily outnumbered American militiamen in hit and run attacks.

When Whitmore learned that a British column was passing near his farm, he grabbed his musket and flintlock pistols and went out to engage them. Opening fire from behind a stone wall, Whittemore killed one British soldier, then drew a pair of pistols and shot two more, killing one instantly and wounding another, who would later die. With his single shot guns now empty, the brave old man drew his sword and attacked. He was no match for the younger, stronger British grenadiers and was shot in the face. When he fell to the ground, several of the British soldiers thrust their bayonets into the wounded man’s body, then they stomped him and beat him with the butts of their rifles. Satisfied that they had killed the crazy old man who would take on so many of them single handedly, the grenadiers marched away.

But it would take a lot more than that to kill a man like Samuel Whittemore! Not only did he survive, but he was loading his weapons to pursue the British and attack again when he was found by militiamen. They ignored his arguments that he was not finished fighting yet and took him to a doctor to be treated. Although he was gravely wounded and part of his face had been shot away, the tough as nails patriot went on to see the Colonies win their freedom. In fact, he lived another eighteen years before dying of natural causes in 1793, at the age of 96.

They just don’t make men like that anymore, and even now, Samuel Whittemore’s courage and determination are still remembered in the Bay State. In 2005 he was officially proclaimed the state hero of Massachusetts.

Note: Thank you, Eric Thomsen, for the use of your photograph in this blog.

Thought For the Day – Our lives are made up of two dates separated by a dash. Make the most of the dash.

Having Lots Of Fun

 Posted by at 12:49 am  Nick's Blog
Jun 062021
 

Our son Travis and his wife Geli arrived on the 26th from Alabama, and two days later our daughter Tiffany flew in from Arizona, so we have been having lots of fun. When you get this crowd together, how can you not have lots of fun?

In a blog post last week titled The Gang’s All Here, I showed how Travis greeted his sister when she arrived at the airport in Daytona Beach dressed as a dinosaur. And the laughs continued. When Travis and Tiffany were kids, they literally fought like cats and dogs at times, but as adults they are very close, which makes my heart happy.

Travis and Geli have it in their heads that Terry and I are old and need taken care of. We keep telling them that’s not true, but at the same time I’m a big enough hypocrite to let them do some work around the place since they insisted.

When we had a hurricane warning about three years ago, we filled some large, heavy-duty lawn trash bags with sand to put in front of the garage door and my office door in case of flooding. We never needed them, and they’ve been sitting in the garage ever since. Partly because we may need them someday, and partly because they were too darned heavy to move!

Terry ordered some regular-size (smaller) sandbags from Amazon, but we never got around to filling them, so Travis and Geli also did that while they were here and then stacked them neatly along the garage wall.

We have also been wanting to get rid of the banana palm trees alongside the driveway. They produce small bananas, but nothing we’ve ever been able to eat, and the leaves are always turning brown and nasty-looking. So Travis and Geli took that job on next, pulling them out and stacking them for the trash guys to come by and take away. Thanks, kids, I really appreciate it. It looks a lot better out there.

I figured that anybody doing all of that work deserves some playtime, too, so we went out to the beach one day. They both love it out there and had a nice time walking along the sand at the water’s edge.

When I saw Travis gazing off at something, I immediately thought, squirrel!!! and had to take this picture. The boy has a short attention span.

I have mentioned before that Travis is an amazing photographer with an eye for detail that most people will never see. He, Geli, and Tiffany got up early and went to the beach a few times and he came back with some pictures that I really love.

Speaking of pictures and love, here’s a family picture full of love.

And I cherish this one of Terry and me. We’ve been together almost 24 years now, and I love her more every day.

Travis and Geli had to leave to go back home, but Tiffany will be here a few more days. I’ll have more to tell you about our time with her in another blog post. That is if we can ever get her to go home. She says Terry is spoiling her with so much delicious food that she may never leave! You’d think Terry would have learned by now. She fed me once and I’m still here all these years later.

Thought For The Day – If really good looking people are “Eye Candy,” I guess I’m in the “Eye Broccoli” category.

Hunting Peanuts

 Posted by at 12:06 am  Nick's Blog
Jun 052021
 

On one of our trips through Alabama, we spent some time hunting peanuts. Don’t worry, Charlie Brown and Lucy are still alive and well, I’m talking about real peanuts. Well, they were not exactly “real” either.

Dothan, Alabama and the surrounding area produce over one-fourth of the U.S. peanut crop, and much of it is processed in the city, earning Dothan the title of “Peanut Capital of the World” though there are some cities in Georgia that dispute that title. Either way, every year in November Dothan hosts the National Peanut Festival at the fairgrounds on the south side of town.

To honor the peanut and all it has brought to Dothan’s economy, in 2001 a local civic group started a project called “Peanuts on Parade” and soon afterward a series of peanut shaped statues about four feet tall and dressed in all kinds of costumes began appearing around town. These days there are over 60 of them, and it’s become a popular activity to find them all. Kind of like birdwatching, except that they don’t fly. Maybe more like geocaching, except they’re not hidden. Whatever you compare it to, it’s a fun way to see the city and get to know some of the local business, many of whom sponsor the peanuts.

Your first stop on your peanut hunting expedition should be the Dothan Area Convention & Visitor’s Bureau at 3311 Ross Clark Circle, where you can pick up a map of where to find most of the peanut statues. But be aware that the map has not been updated in a while and it doesn’t tell you whether or not you have to go inside a location to see its peanut. That’s also where you will find this golden peanut.

They are whimsical characters, and the detail put into many of them is amazing. This patriotic one stands in front of automotive shop and looks like a couple of retired Marine drill instructors I’ve met over the years.

Lights, camera, action! Hang around this fellow too long and you might find yourself on TV or in the movies!

And if you’re a book lover like I am, both as an author and reader, be sure to go across the street to the library and visit this guy.

Is your house starting to look shabby and in need of a paint job? This peanut man is ready to get to work right now!

And how can an old newspaperman like me not feel a kinship with this one?

Did somebody say Hooters? I only go there for the wings, I swear!

Who could resist stopping to give this friendly puppy at the Dothan Fire Department, a pat on the head?

And these are just a few of the peanut statutes around Dothan. There’s also an Elvis peanut, state trooper peanut, and a cowboy peanut, to name just a few. The next time you’re in southern Alabama, stop in Dothan and see how many of them you can find.

Thought For The Day – Water solves so many problems in life. Want to lose weight? Drink water. Want clear skin? Drink water. Want your obnoxious neighbor to stop playing his music so loud? Drown him.

They Got Elected?

 Posted by at 12:24 am  Nick's Blog
Jun 042021
 

If you are like a lot of Americans, you probably believe that our current president or his predecessor are either the best or worst thing that ever happened to this country. But believe me, a lot of men elected to the highest office in the land have had their own fans and enemies for many reasons. Here are some interesting bits of trivia about former presidents that you might not have known.

Popular folklore would have you believe that George Washington, our first president, had wooden teeth. That’s not true. While he did have dentures, Washington was a wealthy man who could afford only the finest, and his were made from ivory and mounted in silver.

While today’s presidents retire with a healthy pension, then spend their days writing their memoirs, things weren’t always like that. When Washington left office, he went into the whiskey business, opening a distillery that became the largest in the nation.

Founding fathers John Adams (our second president) and Thomas Jefferson (our third)  held different views on many things but were friends even though they often disagreed. Among their bones of contention was the fact that Jefferson was a strong advocate for state’s rights, while Adams favored a strong central government to run the new nation. Though they sometimes clashed in public and in private, and at one point did not speak to each other for twelve years, there is no question that they had great respect for each other. Ironically, the two ex-presidents both died on July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. Unaware that Jefferson had died hours before him, Adams’ last words were said to have been “Thomas Jefferson survives.”

John Adams seems to have believed in keeping it in the family. In 1754 he married his third cousin, Abigail Smith, over the strong and vocal opposition of her mother.

Thomas Jefferson was an educated man with many interests, from science and literature to politics, but he was also a craftsman. It is said he loved working with his hands and built many beautiful pieces of furniture. While he was president, Jefferson somehow obtained the bones of an ancient mastodon which he had shipped to the White House, where he spent his leisure time reconstructing the full skeleton of the prehistoric giant.

Unlike George Washington, who enjoyed success in the whiskey business after he left the presidency, Thomas Jefferson found himself so deeply in debt that in 1815 he sold his personal library of over 6,000 books to Congress for $23,950 to pay off his creditors. These books would supply the Library of Congress, whose original book collection had been burned by British troops during the War of 1812.

Many of our presidents have kept dogs and cats in the White House, but our sixth president, John Quincy Adams, apparently thought mundane pets like that were boring. That would explain why he kept a full-grown alligator in his bathtub. Historians say he had great fun showing off the big reptile to his friends and official guests.

Maybe it wasn’t an alligator, but President Andrew Jackson had a pet parrot that was just as ill-tempered. Not only did Polly bite anyone who came near, but the bird also had a penchant for profanity that Jackson took great delight in. It is said that the bird’s language proved scandalous to genteel society attending functions at the White House.

We all know that political debates can get heated at times, and the comments can turn downright ugly. It was no different back in the days of President Martin Van Buren, who grew so tired of the viciousness of elected officials that he carried a pair of dueling pistols to Senate meetings, just to keep the elected body in line.

Chewing tobacco is frowned upon these days both from a health and social standpoint, but back in the “good old days” it was common for men to chew. President Zachary Taylor was not only a chewer but also quite a spitter. Saloons and offices always had a spittoon, often made of brass, and they were messy, nasty things often coated in tobacco juice from spitters who did not aim well. Not President Taylor! He was very proud of the fact that when it came to spitting, he always hit his mark and never missed. Of course, who needs a spittoon when you are outside? It is said Taylor would sometimes knock a pesky fly out of the air with a well-aimed spit.

Besides chewing tobacco, Zachary Taylor apparently had a fondness for the taste of cherries as well. It is reported that at an Independence Day party in 1850, he ate an abundance of cherries washed down with milk, which caused a severe bout of gastroenteritis, followed by cholera and led to his death five days later. Maybe he should have spit those cherries out along with the tobacco juice.

We all think of Abraham Lincoln as being a kind and gentle man, and by all accounts, he was. But did you know that he was also quite the wrestler in his younger days? It is reported that he engaged in 300 wrestling matches and only lost one. That feat earned him a belated award from the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in 1992.

We all know that Lincoln was a lawyer before entering politics, but did you know that he was also a bartender? In 1833, long before he went to Washington, the future president and a friend opened a saloon in New Salem, Illinois. The business failed because Lincoln’s partner was an alcoholic who drank far more booze than they ever sold.

Who doesn’t appreciate a president who is careful with the country’s money? What better way to do that than to do something yourself instead of paying somebody else for it? During Andrew Johnson’s term in office he sometimes returned to his pre-presidential days as a tailor, making his own suits to wear at public functions.

Maybe Johnson’s frugality was a result of the fact that his life was a true rags to riches story. Born in a log cabin in 1808, his father died when he was still a child and Johnson never had any formal schooling, teaching himself to read while he worked to help support his family from an early age.

Theodore Roosevelt is famous for advising people to speak softly and carry a big stick. Carrying a pair of eyeglasses also came in handy for Roosevelt, who survived a 1912 assassination attempt while on the campaign trail in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The bullet passed through a multipage copy of the speech Roosevelt intended to give that day and an eyeglass case in his pocket before entering his body and lodging against a rib.  Teddy Roosevelt wasn’t going to let something like that keep him from speaking to the assembled crowd. After calming the enraged mob who attacked his would-be assassin, telling his security detail to turn the mentally disturbed man over to police before he was beaten to death, Roosevelt brushed aside the concerns of his guards and a doctor called to the scene and went on to give the speech he came to Milwaukee to present. Doctors later determined that it would be more dangerous to remove the bullet than to leave it where it was, and there it stayed until Roosevelt’s death on January 6, 1919.

As you can see, colorful and sometimes controversial men have led our country from its earliest days. I sometimes wonder how they would have fared with today’s mass media and internet helping to mold public opinion.

Thought For The Day – A waist is a terrible thing to mind.

Bus Conversion Project

 Posted by at 12:08 am  Nick's Blog
Jun 032021
 

Several readers have asked me if I could share any pictures or information about the bus that Terry and I converted and lived in for over 8 1/2 years as fulltime RVers. At one time I had a series of blog posts about the bus, but in moving from different web hosts, they disappeared somewhere along the way. So I’ll give you a quick rundown with a lot of photographs.

We bought the 1976 MCI bus from a dealer in Petal, Mississippi. It had been owned by Gray Line Tours and was used to haul gamblers between San Diego and Las Vegas and on tours from Las Vegas to the Grand Canyon before being retired. The previous owner had started to strip the bus out and quickly realized it was much more of a project than he wanted to tackle. Here are two pictures of what it looked like when we purchased it.

The first thing we did was strip the interior of the bus completely, walls, floor, and ceiling, getting rid of many years of accumulated goop and grime that had built up.

Since we wanted an all-weather bus, we spent a lot of time on insulation. Here Terry is installing foil-backed insulation that we used as the first layer inside the ceiling and the sidewalls of the bus. The next layer was styrofoam insulation blocks cut to fit.

Then we covered them in plywood.

We also painted several layers of an elastomeric seal coat material on the roof to provide extra insulation.

Then we laid down oak strips the length of the floor of the bus and cut sheets of insulation to fill in between the strips. Over that, we put in a carbon fiberboard insulation that was 3/4 inch thick and only weighed something like 10 pounds for a 4×8 sheet.

All of the insulation work paid off very well because a few times when we were in single-digit temperatures in northern Michigan while Terry was going back for her cancer checkups, we stayed toasty warm with just a small catalytic heater. And in the summer we were comfortable on even the hottest days with just one small roof air conditioner.

Terry said cutting the holes in the roof for the air conditioner and vent fans were one of the scariest things she did. Not because of the height but because we were cutting holes in our bus!

We also removed all the original windows and framed and covered the openings with the same gelcoat that is used on the sides of RVs. Then Terry cut holes for new windows and we installed jalousie-type RV windows that cranked open on the bottom. This let us have the windows open for cross ventilation even when it was raining.

When it comes to building or fixing things, I am pretty much worthless, with a couple of exceptions. I do understand a thing or two about electricity and wired the bus.

Terry’s dad Pete Weber helped install the final laminate flooring, which looked gorgeous.

We used tongue and groove strips on the curved ceiling, with vinyl-covered upholstered insets between them, and a center channel that held the wiring and our fluorescent lights.

Terry had never built cabinets before, but there’s nothing she can’t do. While we were dry camping, using just solar panels we had installed and a generator for power, she bought a couple of books on cabinetmaking and set to work.

Here are the kitchen and bedroom cabinets. They were absolutely beautiful and got a lot of remarks from experienced woodworkers who saw them.

We replaced the original driver’s seat and installed a matching passenger seat, which came from one of the RV surplus stores in Elkhart, Indiana.

Once, when we were at a truck stop in Arizona getting fuel, I saw a sign for polishing and went over and talked to a couple of gentlemen who quickly set to work polishing the stainless steel, and they did an excellent job.

No bus conversion is ever finished; there’s always something else you want to do, but our bus provided us with a safe and stable home for many years, and we loved it.

We built the bus while Terry was recovering from stage 4 cancer, which almost killed her, as well as taking our savings and retirement because our insurance company denied coverage since the first doctor told her she only had six weeks to live. We called it our buckboard bus because every time we got a buck, we bought another board. A friend said it was a 30-30 bus because from 30 feet away when we were driving 30 miles an hour, it looked darn good!

I used to tease Terry that when she was a little girl, and someone said she would grow up to be a homemaker someday, she never knew she would actually have to make the home. But she did 90% of the work on the bus. I installed the plumbing and electrical systems and helped her as much as my meager skills allowed, but it was her creativity and wizardry that made it so functional and beautiful.

Would I want to take on a project like that again? Not at my age. And I darn sure wouldn’t want to try to do it on the road as we did! But when you are broke and have nowhere else to turn, you do what you have to. The old bus is gone now and we have hung up the keys. And while Terry has recovered and is now cancer-free 20 years later, and our finances have recovered as well, we have memories that are priceless.

Thought For The Day – Home is where you park it.

Jun 022021
 

41 years ago last month one of the largest natural disasters in my lifetime happened, and it also my first big news story. I was running my small town newspaper on the Washington coast, and for weeks there had been news reports that Mount Saint Helens could erupt at any time. It finally did on May 18, 1980.

Our house in Aberdeen, on Grays Harbor, was about 150 miles north and west of the mountain, and we didn’t know it had erupted until we woke up that Sunday morning to news bulletins. The mass eruption killed over 50 people and destroyed hundreds of square miles of forest. The massive cloud from the explosion deposited ash in eleven states and two Canadian provinces.

Like every newsperson in the region, I wanted to be part of the story. A doctor friend of mine had a small airplane, and the next day we flew in that direction, getting as close as we safely could. I managed to get some good photographs of the mountain still belching steam and ash 24 hours after the eruption and of miles of trees that were laid flat. I saw bombed-out places in Vietnam that did not look any worse.

Back home in Aberdeen, those who were not glued to their television sets were trying to figure out a way to make a buck off of the event. A young man named Dave who worked for me in my print shop promptly started producing bumper stickers and screen-printed T-shirts that said Mount Saint Helens Made An Ash Of Herself or asked Where Were You When The Mountain Blew? One businessman in town who was always looking for a way to make a quick buck hired two guys to take his van and pickup truck and get as close as they could and shovel them full of ash because he was convinced that he would be able to put the ash into small glass vials and sell them for $5 each. That didn’t work out too well for him because, A. the guys he hired were drunks who did not manage to collect very much ash, and B. because there was so much of it that anybody who wanted ash got all they wanted and more, and C. because the gritty stuff clogged his vehicles’ air filters, so the guys took the filters off to make the vehicles run better, which means they sucked in a lot of the nasty crap, causing all kinds of engine problems.

But that wasn’t the only thing that destroyed his master plan to, like the proverbial Phoenix, rise from ashes as a rich man. Exactly one week later, on May 25, we awoke to a gray, dismal day, which didn’t surprise me because the weather was often gray and dismal in that part of the world. But it turned out there was another reason for it. Mount Saint Helens had a second smaller explosion, and while the prevailing winds the first time had taken everything east, this time they had shifted, and everything in town was blanketed in a quarter-inch of gray, gritty ash. My buddy Josh, the businessman, could have saved himself a lot of time and money if he had just waited a week. He’d have all the ash he could ever want right at home!

People today complain about having to wear a facemask, but back then everybody was wearing a mask because you couldn’t stand to breathe that stuff in until it all finally settled. Even then, cars driving down the street would throw it back up again. I knew several people with respiratory problems who were forced to stay inside for a couple of weeks.

The businessman I told you about wasn’t the only one who learned an expensive lesson from the explosion of Mount Saint Helens. When it went off the second time and hit us, several news people from Seattle, Portland, and other areas came to Aberdeen to cover the story, nobody knowing if there would be a third eruption and cause a lot of damage in our area. This was before the days of digital cameras and cell phones, and they descended on my little newspaper office, asking if I would help my fellow journalists out. I figured sure, why not? They used our place as their headquarters, disrupting our own operation while they called in their reports and used our darkroom, typewriters, and computer typesetter. A couple of days later, when it was determined there would not be a third massive eruption, they thanked me and left. It wasn’t until I got my phone bill, something like $1,300, that I realized the price of being a good guy to my fellow journalists. I never received a penny of compensation or even mention of our cooperation in their stories. As my wife always tells me, no good deed goes unpunished.

Thought for The Day – When you say yes to others, make sure you’re not saying no to yourself.

The Outer Banks

 Posted by at 12:03 am  Nick's Blog
Jun 012021
 

Note: This is a blog post about one of our favorite places from our days as fulltime RVers.

Terry and I drove to the Wright Brothers National Memorial. Most people think that the aviation pioneers made their first flights at nearby Kitty Hawk, but it was actually a couple of miles south at Kill Devil Hills. Today a Visitor Center has replicas of one of the brothers’ gliders and first airplane.

Wright Brothers airplane

A short walk along a paved path took us to the actual spot from which they made their four historic flights on December 17, 1903, totaling just twelve seconds, that changed the world.

After touring the Memorial, we drove south, stopping to check out a couple of shops along the way, then visited the beautiful Bodie Island Lighthouse, which was built in 1872 and whose powerful beacon still guide ships through the treacherous waters known as the “Graveyard of the Atlantic.”

Bodie Island Lighthouse

More than 1,000 ships have sunk in these waters over the last 500 years, including the Civil War steamship Oriental, which was loaded with soldiers and supplies for the Union Army when it struck a sandbar off Bodie Island and sank in 1862. Part of the ship’s boiler still sticks up out of the water and is still visible from shore. It’s popular with divers and this seagull, who was perched on top.

Shipwreck Oriental

Many people told us that once we visited the Outer Banks and Cape Hatteras National Seashore we would be hooked and return over and over again. Now I understand why; miles of unspoiled beaches, clean air, and a scattering of charming little villages.

Empty beach

Curved Beach

I imagine it’s a lot busier during the summer, but yesterday all we saw were a few beachcombers and one fellow surf fishing.

Surf fisherman

We discovered a real gem in the little village of Rodanthe; the Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station (pronounced chick-uh-muh-cah-mih-co). The U.S. Life-Saving Service was the precursor to today’s Coast Guard, and the station, established in 1874, has been carefully restored.

Lifesaving station sign

We spent some time taking the self-guided tour of the site’s two stations and five outbuildings, which are filled with artifacts from the days when this was a working station charged with saving people in peril in the treacherous waters along the coast.

Lifesaving boat

It was getting late in the day and our tummies were growling, so after a quick stop to check out Jeannette’s Pier in Nag’s Head, I asked a couple of local fishermen where we could find some good seafood. They told us to go right across the street to Sam and Omie’s, one of the oldest restaurants in the area. I had a scallop and shrimp platter, while Miss Terry chose the flounder and scallops. Now we understand why this is such a popular place with the locals! We can’t wait to go back.

Thought For The Day – When I was young, I was poor. But after years of hard work and sacrifice, I’m no longer young.