Friday, December 6, 2013

Campground hosts at Champoeg State Heritage Area

Moby & Caddie at Champoeg State Park
October 30, 2013

There are two kinds of excitement I feel every time we move to another park hosting job:  One is the fun of discovering another treasure of a park – sometimes a park we’ve never heard of before accepting the invitation to work there.  Another is what we are experiencing at Champoeg State Heritage Area – a chance to get to know a favorite park from a whole different perspective.

As Steve and I took our first walk around the park after arriving at the end of October, I could already see a difference from what I remembered from our many previous off-season camping experiences in our 2000 Cardinal 5th Wheel Trailer.  Keep in mind, at the time of our walk, we hadn’t even begun our hosting work yet, or met a single ranger in person!  However, I was already looking at the park through different eyes.
The host sites were located - right where we expected, just inside our loop.  We walked through the RV group camping area, and I noted the meeting hall.  I had never noticed it before!  I knew there was a RV group space area, but had no idea about the extra building, complete with wood stove!  While not providing full hookups, it certainly is a great place for a weekend family reunion or a weekend social of some other organized group.
Continuing our walk, we realized we had no idea where the park office was located at Champoeg.  Often they are either a part of the registration area, or near the entrance of parks.  As Steve and I later studied the campground map, we found there are areas of this park we’ve never even walked through!  The park is much larger than we remembered - something like 615 acres in total.  We’ve gone on many walks along the river – it’s amazing to realize how the Willamette River runs here and there around Oregon.  The office is down at an end of the park we hadn’t even realized existed!
When we were given our assignment at the park we were surprised to hear from the ranger that we were assigned to “Loop A” – the older loop in the campground – as in our off-season experiences, that loop was always closed for the winter months.  Now, my eyes see it is the more beautiful loop (many mature trees surround us).  Somehow it seemed it must have been “spruced up” since we were last here, though we’ve been told since then that it hasn’t been.  It is quite beautiful with the mature trees, many of them oaks, mixed with some evergreens.  Those trees make getting our Dish Network satellite a bit of a challenge, but the leaves fell fast which helped.  Steve had no problem at all zeroing in on those satellites with the help of a computer program he uses on his Nexus tablet (of course, he’s also getting better and better at it too – practice makes perfect!).  Only when the winds cause those tree branches to bounce and sway does our signal get interrupted.
We’ve walked the path along the Willamette River during some very high river levels a few years back!  It’s so nice to enjoy the river in so many seasons of change.  We knew about the large Champoeg day-use area with the disc golf course.  We’ve since learned that area is the Oak Grove Day Use area.  It is well treed, with a path leading down to the river.  There’s a boat dock (for fishing), and a group tent camping area beyond that.  Disc golf is very popular.  We see groups even on days we consider inclement!
As park hosts, we learn repeatedly to be very careful about absorbing attitudes of other hosts without discovering our own perspective about various parks.  I have to say we were a little nervous as we waiting for our job to begin here, as we received unsolicited opinions from a pair of hosts leaving the park after three months of service here.  They were lovely people, but had gathered some negative views of various people and how things work here, all the while planning to return to work again next year.  Steve and I both were a little nervous about what we might have got ourselves into …  They also cautioned us about our incoming fellow co-host…

It became clear very rapidly that perhaps those previous hosts had just been on the job too long and had their own ideas about how things ought to work here.  Our personal experience  is that his is a wonderful park to work in!  We have truly enjoyed and respect all of the rangers we have met.  They are hard workers, and very appreciative of everything we do to assist them, as is most often the case with many rangers we have met.  The new host coordinator ranger, Mel, is a very nice and helpful lady.  We probably work most often with Ranger Michael, who we have also found to be a pleasure to work with.  He assigns us our extra tasks.  We’ve been able to help him blow off the roads and paths of leaves, and have been blowing leaves out of the landscape areas for ease of mulching them.  Both Steve and I enjoy getting to use the power blowers.
We have also helped with winterizing of the yurts.  Insulation in the form of wall padding needed to be adjusted and retied, ties on the window flaps had come off and needed to be replaced, and the gutters over the doors needed to be clean out.  With our loop being closed during the weekdays, we have had extra time for some of these kinds of tasks.  Our loop was opened on weekends as an overflow camping area up until Dec 1st.
Our main ongoing activity is dealing with the yurts.  We have six yurts located just in front of A Loop, just behind our coach.  We check in campers when they arrive, sell firewood, and clean and disinfect the yurts when they are vacated.  We also keep an eye on the restrooms in A Loop, for refill needs and cleanliness.  It’s not a hard job.
A real positively unique aspect of our job here at Champoeg is the work schedule.  Rangers work four 10-hour shifts a week, in general.  We, as hosts, work three days on with four days off, then four days on with three days off.  We are expected to be here all day on our work days, but other campgrounds require that of us for a regular five day a week work schedule.  It’s nice to get 3 and 4 days off on alternating weeks here.  We have already decided we will be looking forward to return to Champoeg to work again in the future!  It's a beautiful park, we've met some very nice people, and it's even within a reasonable reach of our old friends and family.

In the meantime, we are getting more excited about our next adventure!  We will leave Champoeg a couple days early to get a little more service done on our coach in Salem, and then will be heading off to Lowell State Park, about 20 miles SE of Eugene.  I've already learned there is a beautiful covered bridge that is waiting for me to take pictures of!  What a great life this is.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

A Vacation from our "Vacation"?

Greetings from Pendleton, Oregon!  We are staying for 5-6 nights in the desert side of the state, laying over for awhile at the Wild Horse Casino RV Park, while we wait for our host site to be vacated at Wallowa Lake State Park on September 1st.  There's really only one host spot that we fit in with our "whale" of a motor home, and we are happy to wait for it.  It's provided us with an opportunity for an bit of "down time" to enjoy being just the two of us.

We completed our job at Stub Stewart on August 18th, having collected 435 completed surveys from day-use park users who were willing to give input on their experience at Stub Stewart.  We were told we far exceeded expectations, which isn't really so much our doing, but reflects the willingness of park users and the value they put on the resources at the park.  We found many people coming to enjoy disc golf, mountain bike riding and horse back riding as day park users.  Either way, we are thankful to have completed our task successfully!  Whether we ever choose to collect surveys again will be determined somewhere down the road ... probably not.  However, our goal is to do each job we get to the best of our abilities, leaving a good impression on the park management, and opening up the possibility of being welcomed back in the future, should we choose to return to the park for a more traditional park hosting job.  Ranger Steve Kruger assured us he would like us to return, so we're very glad to leave in a positive light.

The day after completing our job, we were joined for four days by some host friends we met at Devil's Lake State Park (Lincoln City) in August of 2012.  We hadn't seen Bill & Judy Brock since then, but they were kind enough to spend part of their vacation month with us at the park.  It was such a treat to have their company, in the camp site directly across from us.  We shared dinner each evening and played games, getting to know them better.  One of the biggest blessings of this lifestyle is our new friends, each with their own unique story.

The Brock's have a home in Arizona, but escape to Oregon to avoid the extreme heat of the summer months down south.  They spend time volunteering for Oregon State Parks, and can also visit a family member in the Eugene area while they are up in Oregon.

It appears that we may just be steered toward visiting Arizona during a Winter at some point, as we continually meet new host friends and others who spend some portion of the winter months down in the area...  We never expected to become "snow birds".  We don't have issues with Oregon winters.  However, it just seems strange how frequently the Yuma area is brought to our minds...

The Saturday after the Brock's left, we had been invited to drive to Bay City (north of Tillamook) to enjoy a potluck with friends and family of our good friends and fellow hosts, Bill & Sharon Schaffer.  We look forward to hosting with the Schaffer's again this year at Wallowa Lake in only a few days.  While at their party, held at Sharon's sister's place, we got to meet the friends they traveled to Arizona with last winter.  In speaking with Jennie, I got to hear how they also like to stay in the Yuma area, near Lake Havasu.  The Schaffer's are now working for Arizona State Parks, whereas Jennie & Vern stay as guests in an RV park.  It was fun to hear yet a different option for staying in the same area.

I spoke to another couple of hosts from Alaska, who were working at Stub Stewart while we were there, who explained how they go down in October to work at a County Park in Arizona, again, in the same area ...  Then, the other night as we shared a shuttle back to our RV from the casino buffet, we met yet another couple who stay at yet another RV park near Yuma.  I'm just saying I'm wondering if God isn't leading us in that direction - perhaps next Winter?  Time will tell ...

Mia Victoria Elizabeth Landsiedel
We celebrated Steve's birthday while here in Pendleton.  This was another milestone year, as Steve's younger daughter, Ami and her husband William, were expecting our grand-daughter, due on Steve's birthday (8/27).  We spoke with Ami just as we left Stub Stewart on Monday, and heard there was still nothing happening ...  Then, on Steve's birthday, she went into labor.  We were excited to hear that our grand-daughter, little Mia Victoria Elizabeth Landsiedel, was born the morning of August 28th.  Baby, Mommy and Daddy are doing great.  One side effect of this lifestyle means we won't get to see her in person until probably November, when we are within reach of Beaverton, while we work at Champoeg State Park.  We're delighted to get to see her via picture posted on Facebook, and we got to hear her having her first diaper change by Daddy over the phone when Ami called this afternoon.  What a great time of life to benefit from cell phones and the Internet!

We were surprised, and delighted, to get a call from our good friends, Brian & Shelley Sundin today, as they were passing through Pendleton on their way to a family wedding in Idaho.  We were able to have a quick lunch with them in town before they needed to get back on the road again.  Our friends are truly a gift, and we love every opportunity to see them.

We are still waiting to see where we will be led to spend January and February.  I'm learning (slowly) to just wait and see what God has for us.  It is in true opposition to my inherent desire to plan everything in advance, and yet it really is the thing that makes the adventure all the more fun.

With our last couple of days free before we move on to our host job, we're doing a bit of housekeeping, laundry, and grocery shopping (Pendleton has a Safeway, an Albertsons, and a Wal-Mart!)  I will be limited to a family grocery in Joseph and a Safeway in Enterprise for the next couple months.

Being at the RV Park means we have convenient access to larger washers and dryers than mine here in the coach, so we can wash blankets in their machines.  I'm so thankful to have my own washer and dryer, even though they do smaller loads, and take longer.  They are still a real luxury over relying on Laundromats!  They wouldn't ever be able to keep up with the multiple loads of a family, but are perfect for our more simple needs.

My next post will be coming from Wallowa Lake State Park.  We are excited to enjoy the on-coming Autumn weather at this beautiful park, and reunite with the ranger staff, and friends, while making new friends.  What a wonderful life we have.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Life at the Hilltop Day-Use Area

I can't believe we only have two more weekends of work here at LL "Stub" Stewart State Park.  Where does the time go?  I am happy to report we are doing well at our survey collecting job for the OPRD folk in Salem.  It hasn't been near as painful as I feared.  In fact, I think we've actually found much of the experience pretty great overall!

We love people.  We also love having time to ourselves.  Volunteering for Oregon State Parks forces us out of our comfort zone.  We are rewarded by meeting some of the most interesting and lovely people!  It doesn't matter whether we are cleaning up a vacated camp site, selling wood for campfires or collecting completed surveys on a hilltop.  We thoroughly enjoy the contact with people.

In our positions here at Stub Stewart, we are guests of the park, getting to live here for free.  However, we are not actually working for the park, so it's a bit different.  Some of the "perks" aren't quite what we have experienced in the past.  For instance, the site we are given is not a typical host site, as those sites are in use by campground hosts.  Instead, we were given a site that is apparently not exactly one of the sites in more demand by campers....  See, there is a septic field behind our site.  The story we've heard is that some children had a lovely time dropping sticks down a hole, which eventually caused the sewer system to backup, flooding the site next to us (a couple feet lower than us).  Though the park got the system up and running again, there tends to be a certain "stench" which overwhelms us from time to time, depending on the direction of the wind.  It's not always there, but comes up unexpectedly to the point that we really don't spend much time out at our picnic table.
When we "booked" this job, we envisioned enjoying visits from local friends and family.  I imagined some major reunions, etc.  Though we have enjoyed seeing many friends and family, I've had to push aside having a group come.  Both the potential odor, and the fact that at this park our guests have to have $5 day passes in order to come see us.  Parking is also very limited.  While day-use passes in all state parks are $5/day (unless you buy a yearly or bi-yearly pass), our hosting positions at other parks have allowed us free passes for our visitors.  The culture of every park is different, and this park is not into "special privileges".  Live and learn.
I should say, it's not that the park rangers aren't lovely people here!  We have met some of the nicest rangers ever at Stub Stewart.  There's a young man here who I secretly desire to adopt.  Both Robb and his wife and children would be a welcome addition to our family.  We haven't asked him yet, of course.  Not sure if it might scare him just a bit.  Still, I would love to be a "mother" to him and a grandmother to his children ...  Weird, huh? 
We had a gentleman come fill out a survey for us one day who had a lovely accent, which for whatever reason I couldn't place.  I thought perhaps French?  I finally asked him where he was from.  His reply was China!  I told him I was pretty sure his accent was not Chinese.  I asked about France, and he spoke a little French to me.  Then he explained he was actually Irish.  He immediately started speaking in a wonderful "brogue" and I wondered why I'd been uncertain.  Steve said he'd known.  How many French-speaking, Irish men from China have you met recently?
Often when we go up to the Hilltop Day-Use area to work, we discover the covered picnic area where we like to work is reserved for part of the day.  When that is the case, we set up an awning which has been loaned to us by the park.  Having shade during an 8 hour day up on the hilltop is important!  There really isn't shade outside of the covered picnic area.  Perhaps one day the trees they planted will grow big enough?
Steve loves it when he finds out the covered picnic area has been reserved for a family reunion or church picnic.  Most always the people take pity on him and offer him food and treats.  This last weekend a Chinese church group from Beaverton treated us to fresh barbecued pork and Steve got to have cake too.  I enjoyed the company of the cutest little girl, who would peek over the railing at me periodically to say hello and visit.  I do love visiting with the children.  I consider it part of my job to keep the kids occupied while parents fill out a survey.  It's one of my favorite things!

Bike washing/repair station at the Hilltop Day-Use Area
The folks in Salem are hoping that we will have 400 completed surveys collected by OPRD Salem each Monday.  With two weekends of work yet to go, we have completed 325 surveys to date.  Gathering 75 in a single weekend of work would be normal for us, so we will surely exceed the goal of 400.  Though I'd like to say it's our charm that has brought us this success, the truth is that we are NO PRESSURE surveyors.  Our job is to inform them of what we are doing, and ask if they are willing.  Beyond that, it's up to the people.  Obviously, the people coming to Stub Stewart to enjoy the many day-use activities (disc golf, mountain bike riding, hiking, horse trails, etc.) value the opportunity to share their opinion.  That is why we are doing so well!  It's hard to believe we are nearing the end of our 6 weeks (7 weekends) of work.  We began very slowly on July 4th, but things stepped up a bit the following weekend.  We don't read the completed surveys, but we do count them, and send a package to Salem each Monday.
Though the weather here at Stub Stewart has been plenty warm for us, we have been surprised and delighted to find that it is generally cooler here than in Portland.  Also, there seems to be an almost constant breeze, especially up at the Hilltop.  Some weekends, day-users find us wrapped up in blankets, layered in sweatshirts as we try to keep warm up there, as they come back drenched in sweat!
As we see the month of August quickly slipping by, we are beginning to focus on our next job - at Wallowa Lake State Park.  I've begun "hoarding" non-perishable groceries which are so much less expensive here.  I'll be packing the freezer to full capacity in order to avoid spending $13 on a whole uncut chicken ...  It's just so wrong!  Costco, here I come!
We're looking into updating our Winter weather clothing, and I was able to get a pair of Gore-Tex hiking boots in preparation for the wet winter weather of October in the Wallowa Mountains.  Last year we had to leave the park 1 1/2 weeks early as the park needed to turn off the water early due to the very cold temperatures.  We drove away
with snowflakes in the air!  Both Steve and I have shrunk a bit with our new eating regimen and not everything will fit again this year.  Fortunately, we mostly stick to very basic clothing items in this life style:  jeans, t-shirts, sweatshirts, coats and hats keep us comfortable most the time.  We found we could live without an electric blanket on our bed, thanks to the light-weight down comforter we have for our bed.  We bought an extra portable heater to keep the chill down during the night, while reserving our propane-fueled furnaces for a short time each morning to bring the temperature up quickly and pump some heat into our storage basement.  It's hart to believe those will be realities in the very near future!
We are delighted to be hosting at Wallowa Lake for the second time with our good friends, Bill & Sharon Schaffer.  We'd hoped we'd be seeing other Wallowa hosts there again also, but plans change for host-like people for lots of reasons.  Sue (in photo, far left) recently sold her RV.  That changed things!  We plan to caravan over to Wallowa Lake with the Schaffer's, taking a few days to play along the way before beginning work for September and October.
We will leave Wallowa Lake in October as the weather dictates, and will be going directly to our next job at Champoeg State Park for November and December.  It will be our first time hosting at that park, though we've been regulars there as campers for years.  The ranger there has been kind enough to ensure us a spot for our Moby Homa, even if we end up arriving early.  Seems like a nice guy!
We still have a vacancy in our schedule for January and February, but look forward to returning to Jessie Honeyman State Park for March and April, where we will reunite with newer host friends, Tom and Chris Vorgert, whom we met there last year.  It's hard to believe we are thinking and planning for 2014 already.  Naturally, we plan loosely, as we never know for certain what tomorrow holds.
Keep an eye on my blog link "Where Are We" to see how life unfolds as we go along.

Summer at Stub Stewart - and More Challenges

We’ve passed the one year point of our new life, and we can see that we are still in the learning curve! Perhaps it’s just an on-going part of life that we are continually learning?

I consider myself to be a “glass half full” person. Certainly, I have moments of feeling hopelessness and despair (to exaggerate a bit), but most often I am what I consider to be a “realistic optimist”. I made that term up myself, so don’t be looking in any documentation for it. What “realistic optimist” means to me is that I realize that life inevitably comes with problems, however I hope for the solutions to those problems to be better than I am prepared for. I love looking back and seeing how things could’ve been so much worse, if not for God’s grace and goodness,  and the goodness of some of the people we encounter along the way.  It encourages me to keep on!

A new challenge developed on June 30th, during our trip to LL “Stub” Stewart State Park from our May and June home south of Monmouth. The day went really well overall. Our replacement hosts at Sarah Helmick had showed up about an hour early, but we’d been able to vacate the host spot early for them and hooked up the tow vehicle while they were getting settled into their new digs for the month of July. They had come from their home in Gresham, volunteering for Oregon State Parks (OPRD) for the milder weather months. We handed over all the tools, paperwork and keys, having said our goodbyes to our new friend, Ranger Steve, the previous day.

It was my turn to drive the coach. While we were prepared that Steve might need to go sit next to Parsley for a few minutes at least, we never heard a single meow escape her lips. She has truly been the most perfectly suited cat we could imagine for this life we now live. With our cat content inside her cute little cat carrier on her favorite blanket, belted onto the couch behind the driver’s seat, I was able to enjoy Steve’s company up in the cab. We really don’t travel that often (every couple of months usually), so we haven’t got to enjoy that kind of traveling much yet. It was a treat that it worked out this trip.
We have long envied (in a good way) those people in motorhomes, traveling down the road side by side. We thought it was so cool that they could just pull over into a road side view point and enjoy their lunch. The first time we got to enjoy that very thing, on a stormy day heading down the coast, it was like a dream come true!

Our June 30th trip would be short – a couple hours at most. We decided to just travel up hwy 99 to McMinnville. We then preceded on hwy 47 the rest of the way to Stub Stewart. We were incredibly very close to right on schedule – not something that happens often with us. Our objective was to not arrive at the park any earlier than 1pm, when our site was to be available to us. We knew we’d be in Dairy Creek West loop, site 37. We were looking forward to 50 amp service, and full hookups, after having only 30 amps and 300 gallons of black/grey storage each week. Oh, to be able to use water without worrying about how much more until we filled our limited storage tank! With the early arrival of summer weather in Oregon, with sun hitting our coach for a good part of the day, we’d already been forced to use one of our a/c units in order to avoid baking in our deluxe oven. Unfortunately, using that one a/c unit meant we could do little else, as it used a good portion of the 30 amps available to us. So, knowing of our new, more deluxe accommodations compared to Sarah Helmick, was something we were really looking forward to.

We had such a lovely drive through the country side. Even pulling the Cadillac behind us, we can barely tell a difference driving our 400 hp diesel engine. Except for making sure it clears curbs and vehicles on corners, it’s a dream to drive. I love driving in general, and I love driving our big Moby Homa. It’s fun, no matter what, but I also take great satisfaction in being able to do it. Life is good.

As we drove through the small town of Gaston, we noted some nice wide parallel parking available along the main drag. It was perfectly suited to accommodate our long coach & tow vehicle, so we decided to stop and enjoy lunch, to ensure we didn’t arrive at the park before our site was available.

One of the really cool things we enjoy in our motorhome is the great battery power available to us. We are able to even use the microwave at rest stops. We have extra batteries and an extra hefty inverter as we have a residential refrigerator, not so different than the one we had in our Hillsboro home. The power system gives priority to keeping that refrigerator working, and the microwave is on that same system, making for some great lunches of leftover soups or stews. We never had that option in our fifth wheel trailer, where we just kept the fridge closed to keep in cold until we could get to the next place with a power post for us to plug in to.

After concluding our lunch, we hit the road again, turning onto hwy 26 for a period of time before continuing on hwy 47 toward Vernonia. Stub Stewart is about 10 miles south of Vernonia, perhaps 4-5 miles off hwy 26 on the way to the coast.

I noticed immediately that there were quite a few campers obviously leaving the park coming toward us. I mentioned to Steve how narrow this portion of highway 47 was, and how little shoulder there was. We are pretty “chunky”, and while I do fine keeping our rig in the center of the road, it always feels better if there is a little “wiggle room”. That was obviously not the case on this road.

hwy 47 curve
We took a curve off to the left – no problem. Ahead I could see a posted 35mph curve to the right. I watched a couple travel trailers come out of that curve on our side of the road to some degree. That made me nervous. Just as I entered the curve, another truck, pulling a small travel trailer, came around that very curve toward me. The front wheels of his truck were on the center line, and his travel trailer was at least a couple feet into my lane. Having nowhere to go, I “snugged” the coach over just a few inches, hoping to avoid making front end contact with his travel trailer. We missed his trailer. Unfortunately, we heard a long “screeeeeeech” down the side of our motorhome. I’d obviously scraped something on the shoulder! Major bummer.

Steve said there had been a bridge. I never saw anything. I was just intent on not hitting that trailer. Immediately beyond the curve there was a wide enough spot that I could pull over. Neither of us wanted to go look, but I told Steve he had to make sure our basement bins were still closed, etc. He came back in to report that they were all closed, but that we’d definitely scraped down the side of the coach. Why is it that I always seem to be driving when these bad things happen, I wondered. Very major bummer.

I should say here that both Steve and I have “issues” we struggle with from time to time, or a lot of times. I struggle with a term I’ve learned – “perfiction”. Yes, you read that right -- not perfection, but "perfiction"! That applies to me because there will never be in me on this earth anything even close to perfection. I’m as imperfect as the next one perhaps more. However, I often seem to feel that I am required to be “perfect”. I feel I let everyone, including myself, down when I am less than perfect. Do you suppose it is a coincidence that God allows so many cruddy things to happen on my watch? I think not! I am learning not to think poorly of myself for not being perfect, but I still struggle.

We managed to get to the park, and into our site without any further issues. I did have to laugh when Steve was assisting me with backing in the coach into our site though. For most of our 20 years of marriage, Steve was the “backer-inner”. I would dance back and forth behind the travel trailer, and later behind our larger fifth wheel trailer, making sure he could see me, and that he wasn’t going to hit anything. In the early years I would at times dissolve into tears as I attempted to communicate correctly where the RV needed to be. We had some really tough backing in spots to deal with. Steve had to back up a side drive-way and then make a near 45 degree turn, then threading our former trailers into the “trailer port” he’d built especially for our first trailer. It was stressful feeling it was my responsibility not to let anything happen, while learning to communicate effectively with my husband. Steve learned to be very patient with me, and we found our communication style.

Our former RV/truck at Champoeg - a lovely Autumn Day
I drove our former RV’s also, but I never learned to back in. I always let Steve, since my issues with “perfiction” made it impossible for me to back into a site with other campers waiting for us to clear the road. All that to say we never had to learn to communicate with us being in the opposite positions!

I had to laugh as I watched Steve use his fingers to try to tell me where he wanted the coach to be. At times he had both fingers pointing in opposite directions! I remember well those moments when I wasn’t sure which way to tell him to go. Now, it’s his turn! We will, of course, eventually get a set of hand motions that I can understand and that feel comfortable to him. I’m thinking perhaps we’ll adopt the motions the rangers we work with use. They appear very straight-forward and simple.

I know you may be thinking, “Doesn’t she have a camera on the back of the coach? Why couldn’t she just use that to see where she needs to be?” Yes. I have a camera on the back of the coach. We also have cameras on either side of the coach. However, even with the backup camera on our little Cadillac SRX, it’s a very different perspective having that camera mounted right on the back. I remember my first time backing in Moby at our McMinnville RV Park. There was a deep drainage ditch behind our coach. I could see Steve wanted me to continue to back up, but that camera was looking straight down into the ravine!! I was certain my back wheels were going to drop down into that ditch! What a lesson in trust when backing in our huge whale of an RV!

Okay. So now you must be wondering where my “realistic optimism” is coming into play in our current challenge of having a somewhat damaged motorhome. We began counting our blessings pretty quick actually: 1) I didn’t have a head-on collision with that travel trailer; 2) We were not injured (except mentally); 3) We didn’t hurt anyone, nor cause anyone else any stress by our actions; 4) Not a single one of our basement bins opened, meaning none of our “stuff” was damaged; 5) Though the handles are bent, each and every compartment still opens and locks securely; 6) Our front door was not even scratched. This is a HUGE blessing, as our RV repair place was unable to get the door off when they were replacing screws with sheered off heads. How would they be able to replace it?; 7) The damage was limited to those lower basement doors, and did not touch the gigantic slide on the passenger side of the coach, which would’ve been a massive repair; 8) Not a bit of our siding was ripped off – just scratched/dented a bit; 9) Our new insurance company appears to be dealing with this very nicely – we even have insurance to stay in a hotel if we were to have to; 10) Our favorite RV repair place is able to handle the repairs for us; 11) We already had an appointment at the service place for 1 ½ weeks later, at which time their body guy was able to look at and assess the damages for the estimate; 12) I was complimented on not over-reacting with my driving, as it could’ve been much worse, and they thought it was absolutely wonderful that I was capable and willing to drive this coach when their own wives did not or would not drive theirs.

We believe that God does not promise to save us from all the struggles and problems of life. What He does promise is to see us through those problems and turn them into something good. I just listed 12 good things, and we have barely gotten started dealing with this current challenge.

A little bit hazy afternoon view - still beautiful!

I guess it is very clear that challenges come in life, no matter where or how you live. It is our job to learn to accept and work through each one as it comes and enjoy the moments of peace in-between. I’m sure looking forward to more of those moments!

Sunday, July 7, 2013

A Year Ago Today ….

One year ago today we took delivery of our 2012 Winnebago Journey 42E.  We dropped off Parsley at my folks place, and drove our 1999 Dodge 2500, pulling our 28’ Cardinal 28RKB fifth-wheel trailer, over to Camping World in Hillsboro and finalized the paperwork.  That’s when the real fun began...

Our fifth wheel was parked door-to-door with the motorhome.  The sun was shining.  The temperature reached 88 degrees that day in Hillsboro.  Steve was stationed inside the fifth wheel, unloading drawers and cupboards.  I was stationed in the motorhome, as the “receiver”, thinking I'd find places for everything in our new home.

The true hero-of-the-day in my eyes was my brother-in-law, Jim MacDonald, who stood sandwiched between those two RV doors – out in the sun – taking whatever Steve handed him and handing it to me in our new home.  Jim went up and down the stairs of both the fifth wheel and the motorhome, as needed, to receive and deliver. 
I've always known Jim to be a hard working guy.  I probably never thought too much about it though.  Also, Jim has always been willing and available to help others.  If my memory serves me right, I believe Jim just showed up that day, in case he could help us out.  That's what my family is like.  My brother, Paul, had wanted to help, but his work schedule just didn't allow it.  Jim gave up his Saturday, his day off, to be of assistance to us.

I remember many feelings of that day.  I felt overwhelmed, scared to death, and also so incredibly thankful to Jim for being there for us – in the hot summer sun.  As often happens, we’d underestimated our own stamina and ability to do all that had to be done.  My back was in bad shape from weeks of packing up our old life, cleaning refrigerators and freezers, bathrooms, and hauling no longer needed belongings to the Goodwill.  Steve had been doing all the heavy work of cleaning out the garage and shed of tools and other equipment.  We were both incredibly tired and under the impression that we would finally be getting some rest once we got moved into our new motorhome … Talk about na├»ve!  We are thankful in hindsight that God doesn't let us see the future in advance.

By the time the move was over that hot day, my brother-in-law was completely drenched in sweat.  I do not exaggerated when I say I cried every time I thought about what Jim had done for us!  I don’t know how we would’ve managed without him that day!

Even after that arduous task in the parking lot, Jim went to my folk’s place and helped us haul boxes from their garage (our temporary storage unit) into our new coach.  I don’t know where he got the energy to continue!  I don’t have any pictures from the actual “move” that day, but I have distinct memories of Jim’s huge gift to us.
Today we will celebrate the anniversary of that day by meeting Jim and my sister, KariJane, for dinner down in McMinnville.  They are themselves currently staying in their travel trailer at a Dayton RV park while they wait to move into their new home – not of the mobile variety.  It seems like the perfect time to feel thankful and appreciative for both what Jim did for us, and for what God has brought us through!

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Exploring Our World


We are beginning to realize our time here at Sarah Helmick State Park is coming to an end in the very near future – less than 2 weeks now.  We leave here on Sunday, June 30th for LL Stub Stewart, near Vernonia, where the next adventure awaits us.  Now is the time we begin to evaluate how this job worked out for us, whether we might want to come here again in the future, what time of year would be best if we did, etc.  We also have a chance to look at ourselves and our “evolution” as we continue to live out our lives as full-time “RVers”.  I guess you could say we are our own lab rats! 

As far as working at Sarah Helmick, there have been a number of things we have truly enjoyed, and only a couple things that were a bit less than perfect from our perspective (everyone is different in that respect!).  Having this park as our “front yard” was incredible!  We love walking around the park.  We enjoy seeing the beauty of this area and visible fruits of our labor.  The local people here, from Monmouth and the surrounding area, seem to us to be just plain old good people – very friendly and warm – both at the park, and in town.  There’s a small town feel we have grown to love.  We notice a difference in how strangers relate to us in the various parts of Oregon we’ve lived in: some don’t meet our eyes – perhaps a cultural thing; others welcome us easily.  It was really great here.  Case in point – as I was writing this very sentence, Steve returned from work with a pint of fresh Oregon strawberries in his hand.  A local man visiting the park gave him a box to thank us for the work we’ve done here.  How can we not love these people when we are often the recipients of their kindness?  We enjoy these people.  As park hosts, we think the amount of litter we pick up says something about the people also.  We rarely pick up anything of any consequence here.  I’m just saying... 

We have learned we can survive on 30 amp electrical service, but that we’d really rather have 50 amps to live fully in this coach of ours.  Remembering to turn one thing off before turning on another was a bit annoying at first, but got better as we grew accustomed to it.  Still, in warmer weather we would require 50 amps to run the a/c when the sun hits the coach.  We heat up quickly in here when the sun is on us.  We’ve been able to run one unit on the warmer days, but wouldn’t be happy here in the summer months.  We refer to our power here as a “flakey 30 amps”. 

The work here was a lot more physical than we generally have experienced when park hosting.  It’s been fun to take on some new challenges.  We’ve enjoyed seeing the results of some pretty hard labor, and have appreciated our increase in muscle mass as well!  However, we realize that doing this much work for the long term would be tough on our aging bodies.  Bless you, park maintenance people!  We will never take you for granted again! 

We’ve enjoyed our independence, being the sole residents at this park, and have enjoyed being trusted with more responsibility here, including being allowed to use large tractor-mowers, gas powered tools, and even park vehicles when necessary to ease the responsibilities of our ranger.  We haven’t always appreciated needing to be up and dressed to unlock the gate at 7:00 each morning, though.  We aren’t so much morning people these days.  However, after needing to be up at Honeyman State Park, it wasn’t as tough as it might have been otherwise.

Ranger Steve DeGoey & Merilou
at Luckiamute Landing
We’ve enjoyed ranger, Steve DeGoey, and we truly have enjoyed working at this park .  We would definitely consider returning to this or one of the other host positions in this management unit at some point if it makes sense for us in the future.

We, as people, are changing as we continue in this new lifestyle.  One of the many changes we have seen slowly, over time, is a desire to see more of the area around where we are living.  We've never considered ourselves as "tourists".  Other friends and family seem to always be going somewhere, exploring new places, always looking for where to go next.  We, on the other hand, are self-proclaimed "home bodies".  We've sometimes felt bad about ourselves for being this way.  We definitely see the contrast between us and others around us.  We've occasionally gone so far as to try to forcibly plan some outings, thinking we'd look better to those other people.  Most of those attempts failed miserably.  We never got away from the coach.  Either we'd decide it was too much trouble, the risk was too great, or perhaps we were just too tired that day...  We are B-O-R-I-N-G!  Any increase in exploring activity would be an improvement, right?

During our hosting time at Wallowa Lake last Fall, as we saw our dear new friends, the Schaffer's, head out of camp on BOTH their days off, exploring roads to nowhere, eating burgers at restaurants in cities we'd never heard of, we had an epiphany of sorts.  I'd expressed our dismay to Sharon about how boring we were, and how we truly felt we should strive to be more like the Schaffer’se Schaffer's, are changing as we continue in this new lifestyle.  turning to this, or one of the other positions in this.  Sharon, a true friend, told me it was absolutely okay if we didn't become just like them.  We are not the Schaffer’s – we are the “Kronschmeiers” (Sharon’s first attempt at remembering our last name has continued to be a teasing point as we continually try to make up new names for ourselves, experimenting with the spelling, etc.  Sharon has spoiled things now by remembering our name correctly, and even being able to spell it, but we continue to enjoy using different names for our own, and her enjoyment.)  Our good friends like us just the way we are.  It is true we are not all the same.  Whew!  We are relaxing our expectations a bit.

Advance ahead in time 6 months or so.  It seems we are naturally evolving into being just a bit more curious about the world around us!  We’ve begun leaving the coach more often, sometimes even taking the cat with us.  Perhaps we're changing because we’re focusing more outside the coach, with the frequent change of scenery.  Perhaps it's because we can make each other crazy if we just sit in the coach all the time.  Perhaps it's because we're discovering this whole other world, right here at home in Oregon, which we never even knew existed?  I mean, who ever heard of Sarah Helmick State Park, let alone the Luckiamute River, or Luckiamute State Park?  We are certainly glad our friend Brian Ingoldsby shared his knowledge of this park with us. 

We have since learned that Sarah Helmick is in fact Oregon’s first State Park!  We had previously never stayed or visited anywhere in this area to our knowledge, though Steve had a daughter attend college in Corvallis.  Trips down this direction were just to see the daughter and perhaps grab a quick lunch.  Visits to state parks were not a part of those trips.  Yet, we are only about an hour and a half drive from where we used to live in our “stick homes” in both Hillsboro and Beaverton for the first 19 years of our marriage, and many years previous.  You might say we are looking at things now through different eyes.

Partly due to realizing that hosting at day-use parks is now attractive to us, we’ve made a point of seeing some of the other parks in within a reasonable distance for a nice drive.  Because our ranger, Steve DeGoey, is also responsible for Luckiamute State Park with its multiple sites, and we have helped him by working at Luckiamute, we learned of two more hosting possibilities within 10 miles of Sarah Helmick.  We decided we also wanted to check out Fort Yamhill State Park, near Willamina.  It’s a gorgeous day-use park focusing on the history of an actual military fort that was on that land from 1856 – 1866 as a buffer between the settlers and the Indians, who had been pushed out of the land as it was settled.  There’s a lovely half mile walk with informational signs along the way, giving insight into the lives of the military, the settlers, and the Indians.


We visited Willamette Mission State Park during May.  That park is head of the management unit which includes both Luckiamute and Sarah Helmick State Parks.  It’s a huge park – something like 1500 acres – with equestrian accommodations and lots of room for picnicking, bicycling and hiking.  It is part of the restoration work being done to return some of the land in Oregon to its native vegetation.  On our visit there, I have to admit I wasn’t sure what it was about…  It’s such a vast area of land and is still being developed.


On our way back from Willamette Mission, we got to see Maude Williams State Park as well – another day use park we’d never heard of previously.  Another set of hosts who were leaving Luckiamute moved to Maude Williams.  We’ve heard they ended up being rather bored with the contrast in work opportunities.


Thompson Mills State Park
We drove to Thompson Mills State Park, near Junction City and Shedd (who’s heard of Shedd?!).  We are so glad we made the effort to visit this park.  It’s an actual flour mill that was operated for something like 125 years on that site, during the world wars and beyond, though for a time it processed animal feed.  The actual silos and mill, with its wooden gears and leather pulley system, along with the owners’ home, still stands.  Guided tours are available.  We had a private tour by host volunteer Pamela Dean, who we learned we will see again when we work at Champoeg State Park this winter.  Pamela took us all over the mill, turned on some of the equipment which had been converted to electric, and even opened the waterway so we could see the turbines operate.  It’s a true historical picture of what life was like back in the 1800’s and early 1900’s.  The mill wasn’t actually closed until 2002, we learned.  The park system purchased the land, and sold back the water rights.  I just had to buy a souvenir apron with one of the flour mill bag’s picture/logo on it.  Flour bags were often turned into clothing back then, and are works of art in their own right.

While down near Junction City, we looked up a couple Oregon State Park waysides as well – Alderwood and Washburne.  While nice, they are simple waysides for a picnic or a quick rest stop.  Still, we made the effort!  We are changing!

Wheatland Ferry
Buena Vista Ferry
Another one of the fun things we did while residing at Sarah Helmick was check out a couple of local ferries which barge vehicles across the Willamette River.  As we returned from visiting Willamette Mission State Park, we crossed the Willamette on the Wheatland Ferry – a $2 toll.  We were surprised to see the amount of cars waiting to cross the river by ferry!  I can’t remember the last time we took a ferry.  We also learned of, and went to see, the Buena Vista Ferry, not far from Luckiamute State Park.  I knew of the Canby Ferry, as my sister and her family lived in Canby for many years.  Prior even to that, my Grandfather took me for a ride in his VW Karmann Ghia across the Canby Ferry.  I had no idea there were still other ferries on the Willamette!

We have become very proficient at spotting the dreaded, yet beautiful, Cow Parsnip, which we cleared from pathways here at Sarah Helmick as one of our first tasks.  It can cause blistering on human skin, after it is exposed to ultra violet light from the sun, and other problems, so we remove it where people might come into contact with it.  We see it along the roads all the time now in more natural areas and ditches.  We’ll never look at that foliage the same.

We’ve gained a curiosity about what farmers are growing out here in the vast farmland in the Willamette Valley.  What is field mustard grown for?  We had a beautiful crop of yellow flowers on leased-out park land next to us.  I looked it up and have learned it’s a cover crop used in-between other plantings to nourish and keep the soil in place.  There are several bee hives located in the corner of the field mustard field, so obviously the bees like it also!  We’ve seen fields of clover, always with bee hives.  We see fields of field mustard, corn, mint, winter wheat, Christmas trees, and vast fields of unknown white flowering plants, probably another cover crop.  We’ve decided they should all have signs so we can learn as we drive.

We are definitely still broadening our horizons with each adventure, which makes each assignment a new opportunity.  We truly wish we could bring all our friends and family along on this adventure.  We’d enjoy “having it all” that way!  What a great opportunity this is, for those who are led to it!