Monday, August 27, 2012

Driving the Beast …Birthday fun

We're reaching the end of August, which means we will once again be heading back into Hillsboro to have more of the “bugs” worked out with our motorhome.  That means we once again have to drive this thing!

So far, Steve and I have always split the responsibility of driving.  We take turns:  one drives the Buick with Parsley, the other gets the motorhome – all by themselves.  Steve and I have shared a certain experience.  Each time we take the wheel of our Winnebago Journey 42E, we “white knuckle it” for the first 5-10 miles before we once again relax, realizing we CAN do this!

It’s really a strange thing, if you think about it.  No one really teaches you, aside from verbal instructions and a huge manual of information - most of which I didn't understand - how to drive it!  In my mind, it was as if someone handed me the keys to a semi truck and said, “Have fun!”..... What?!?!  I have to drive this thing?!?

I think, initially, the biggest fear for me was the size of our new portable home.  How could I get that thing around a corner without taking out the curb, and everything on the curb?  How could I keep it in the lane and not cause accidents?

Then there’s the matter of knowing NOTHING about a diesel engine.  And exhaust breaks.  And the side and backup cameras.  What’s with a “tag axel” and why does it have to "dump" before I can back up?  What is a battery boost switch for?  There are many, many other switches and buttons.  My brain screams, “I am not trained to drive this!”  Yet we do.  Fortunately most things are in "auto mode".

I remember the first time I drove alone -- no one else in the vehicle or outside directing me away from fixed objects.  We were on our way to Shelton, Washington and I’d taken over driving when we'd stopped at a rest stop, determined that if Steve could do it, I could do it.  I believe about a half hour up the road, I began to realize clouds were forming in the sky.  That’s when it occurred to me I had no idea where the control for the windshield wipers were should it suddenly begin raining!  I managed to pry one hand off the steering wheel and call Steve on the cell phone to ask him if he knew?  He told me he thought it might be on the left side of the dash!  I spotted it, though I didn’t try it, but at least I had hope should the rain begin to fall.

In a “normal car”, you just know where things will be.  They are most always in a particular area of the drivers seat.  We take it for granted!  The windshield wipers would naturally be found on the turn signal arm, or at least in that vicinity.  Not on Moby.  Though I haven’t tried it, there’s a toggle switch on the dash on the left side that has a picture that might just indicate a windshield wiper.  Where the high/low settings might be, I still have no idea at this writing….

When it comes to buttons and switches, it’s just overwhelming.  Also, they are so tiny in comparison to the surrounding dash!  There are different groupings of switches in various areas of the driving area in the coach.  There are buttons on the side wall, to the left of the drivers seat.  One turns on a map light.  Two others bring down shades on the front window.  There are others on the left side of the dash, in addition to the wiper switch.  In the center of the dash, to the right of the speedometer, tachometer, etc. there is an information center where two small monitors sit.  I know the bottom one is  "slave" to the top, but have never used it.  The top monitor is where our side and rear backup cameras show us what's happening outside the coach.  It also has our GPS in it.  Also a radio.  Steve was reading directions this week and learned we also have a DVD/CD player in there!  Who knew?  Don't know who'd be watching a movie while driving ... but at least I could play a music CD, since as of this writing, I still don't know how to turn on the radio.

A major issue of using some of these toys when I'm alone driving the coach, is that I have to remove a hand from the steering wheel to push a button, while diverting my eyes from the road.  Both those things are still uncomfortable for me.  Perhaps in time ...

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We have found that one of the biggest blessings of this adventure has been the contact we've had with family, friends, making new friends, and chatting with various campers ... especially the little ones.  Children sometimes come to us asking to "help" as we clean camp sites.  Isn't that just the cutest thing?  I had a young lady of perhaps six ask to help me yesterday.  I asked if she could help me find litter?  She nodded, and then quietly looked around.  When she found something in the fire pit, she just pointed.  She was shy, yet bold enough to ask if she could help.  I loved that brief encounter!

We figured out today that during this month of August in Lincoln City we've had nine different visits from family and friends!  Most all were totally unexpected, and so appreciated!  It's meant an awful lot to us that people have gone out of their ways to visit us, whether for a couple days, or a few minutes.  It made us feel so special!

Today is Steve's birthday.  It's the first occasion where we celebrate a birthday outside of the family traditions we've pretty much done for 19 1/2 years now.  While we miss being able to share Steve's birthday with family, we decided it was an opportunity to do something different.  We originally planned to go out to dinner - just the two of us.  However our favorite host couple here at the park, Bill and Judy Brock, were asking us about this place we'd gone to eat at with our friends Brian and Shelley.  We asked if they'd like to join us there for Steve's birthday?  They accepted, and tonight we all enjoyed a wonderful meal at Tidal Raves, and got to know each other better.  Last night they'd come to see us at our motorhome, and after dinner tonight, we spent some time at theirs.  We visited at various times this month, and quickly figured out we had some fun similarities, including both Steve and Bill having engineering backgrounds and careers.  It's always fun to have friends who understand some of the unique qualities of the "engineering brain".  I love my engineer husband, and enjoy his many unique qualities.  Judy understands that and feels the same about her husband, Bill.  Before leaving them this evening, we made sure we have each other's cell phone numbers and email addresses.  We also made tentative plans to try to meet up on the Oregon coast next summer.

We had another fun surprise this week!  Steve went up to the wood barn to put away our tools after work yesterday and heard someone say, "Hello Steve".  It was "Oh-No Phil", a friend of Vern and Londa Sundin's who'd golfed with Steve when Brian had taken Steve along to golf with Vern's gang.  Steve has always talked about this "really nice guy", they call "Oh-No Phil".  His name came from the words he speaks often when he swings his golf club - "Oh no!"  Phil, and his wife, Shirley, are frequent RVers, and had been camping at another park here on the coast with the Sundin bunch earlier this week.  When they heard we were hosting just down the coast from them, they decided to spontaneously drive down and see if they could get into the park - which they did.  The Sundin's hadn't told us, so it would be a fun surprise.  It worked!  Phil and Shirley came to visit this afternoon after Steve and I had finished cleaning camp sites.  We had such a nice visit, and will likely get to see them again one day as they plan to hunt us down again.  What a special thing to make new friends!

God has blessed us with life-long friends, and it is a special blessing to be adding new ones as a result of our new lifestyle!

With only two more days left of "work" here at Devil's Lake State Park, we are getting things put away again, in preparation for our appointment at Camping World.  We're really hoping the pesky things that are not yet working correctly on the coach will be fixed.  We know the part is in for the a/c repair, and also my new closet door is waiting.  We are hoping we'll be able to use the electric controls to move the passenger seat out of the way of the entry area better.  We have had to add to the list that one of our two furnaces isn't working.  Like with the air conditioner, it fires up, then quits.  We'll most likely be needing that furnace at Wallowa Lake!

It will be an adventure spending a couple nights on the Camping World back lot also.  We're glad they are allowing us to do that, as we don't know where we'd stay without our home!  We plan to leave Hillsboro on Friday, spending a night at Memaloose State Park in the gorge (between Hood River and the Dalles), courtesy of Oregon State Parks!  Oregon State Parks lets hosts in transit between jobs stay overnight for free in the parks, assuming there's an opening.  This will be our first experience of that benefit.  Then we plan to arrive at Wallowa Lake State Park on September 1st.  Our orientation meeting is set for 10:00 a.m. on September 2nd.  We're really looking forward to spending two months in such a beautiful area.

I guess that brings my blog more up to date.  I'm hoping to have more time to write next month.  I haven't done so well this month.  I need to be "in my head" to write, and well ... I don't have much alone time anymore.  That's not a bad thing, simply a fact.  Steve and I are having to learn new ways of being together.  It's not natural for us to be together in the same room and not share spontaneously whatever pops into our minds.  Yet, we each need some time to be "in our heads".  We'll figure this out eventually.  It's just yet another adjustment we need to make.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Planning and Learning to Get Real ...

It's been a good week here at Devil's Lake State Park. We worked one day, had two days off, then just completed five more days of work. It's time for our "weekend" (Thursdays and Fridays).

We are feeling some muscles that haven't had much of a workout in a while. Poor Steve has been doing an awful lot of lawn mowing! He said it took him a couple hours to remember he didn't really like yard work that much... However, he's been a real trooper. The park is looking cared for again! As I'm cleaning camp sites, I regularly notice neatly trimmed grass and know my Steve has been there.  He's making a difference!

Steve took me up to the hiker-biker camp this evening when we went up to return our cart, to show me how much mowing he'd done up there. It is a very steep area, with camping areas at the top and the bottom. While many of the park lawns are turning brown from lack of rain fall, that area seems to still be growing happily. Steve mowed the upper area, and down the hill as far as he could safely get his push mower.

Have I mentioned we haven't felt a drop of rain while we've been here? It's really been quite the perfect weather to suit our unusual tastes! Ranger Richard told us today that there have been times when the rain levels here have forced them to close down the park - even though it is open year round!

I think when we accepted the job at this park, we imagined Steve would be on a riding mower. Doesn't that sound like fun? I'm sure it must be! However, Steve has a push mower. No self-propelled wheels either (we were so spoiled at our Hillsboro home). Nope. Just Steve, pushing a little gas mower. Steve is a man who prides himself in rarely breaking a sweat. Today I made him change his shirt (after a shower) as it was drenched! I've rarely seen such a thing, especially in such mild temperatures.  We're both getting some exercise, which is good for us.

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It's Saturday now, and I'm determined to publish another posting to my blog!  It's getting harder to make time to sit and ponder life and write out my thoughts recently.  I expect that will be less of a problem when we are further away from friends and family at Wallowa Lake during September and October.  I'll be more glad to have something to do!  For now, it's been a treat having company drop in!  My parents came yesterday, bringing frozen food we've been storing in their freezer.  Howard and Linda Hudson stopped in the day before for a visit in route to the church family camping weekend.  Earlier in the week we had a surprise visit from Dave and Nancy Heaton, long time friends, out on a day-trip on their motorcycle.  This coming week, Carl & JoAnn Isom are going to be camping here in the park for a couple nights.  We look forward to hosting them for dinner.  The following Sunday, we're expecting Brian and Shelley Sundin for another short visit.  It's been a special thing to have company, even now that we are further away.  We don't take our friends and family's special efforts for granted these days.

We've had one recent change to our schedules:  our days off are now Friday and Saturday, which works better as far as covering for off-duty hosts.  It really doesn't matter to us.  Even though we work Sundays, we are able to get away to church on Sunday morning before working.  We appreciate the loosely scheduled work week in that way.  We blindly picked a church to attend last Sunday.  It is Faith Baptist Church, just north of Lincoln City.  They have just completed a new church building.  That could be a good sign.  We found we really enjoyed the service, the pastor, the worship music, and felt comfortable there in general.  We decided we'd definitely be attending again next week.  On our way out, we passed members coming in for the second service, and I spotted a couple of familiar faces!  I told Steve we had to go back in and see them.  It was Doug and Betty Kettle who were long time members of Cedar Mill Bible Church, our home church, and my life-long church family.  The Kettles lived on the same street as the Skeels (my Dad's family) as they grew up.  I'd seen Doug not long ago at my Dad's brother's memorial service.  Now, here they were in Lincoln City and a church we'd picked from a list of churches!  It seems they have a vacation home in Lincoln City, and attend this church whenever they are in town.  Doug assured us it a strong, growing church.  How nice to have one more confirmation that we'd found a good church for the month of August!  It appears that God continually goes before us, paving the way to whatever he has for us.

As we continue to try to figure out our future as full time RVers, we're needing to get our doctor and dental appointments scheduled together and corralled into a couple of months, six months apart, if possible. As a result, we need to plan to be in the Hillsboro/Beaverton area, or at least reachable to that area, a couple times a year. I wondered how we'd work this out. It seems it's just kind of falling into place naturally. I can't make my August teeth cleaning appointment, so I schedule one at the same date and time as Steve, in November. Steve won't be able to make an eye exam at the end of this month, so I scheduled us both to have one in November. So, it appears November is the month we'll be around the Beaverton/Hillsboro family. We might end up back in McMinnville, or we could choose to work at a more local state park ... Champoeg and Stub Stewart could work.

A friend we made while park hosting at Fort Stevens last year emailed us this week.  He is currently hosting down on the lower central coast, at Beachside, a day use area.  He recommended to us that we consider volunteering at a park in the Willamette Valley called Sara Helmick.  It's fairly close to Monmouth.  Apparently it is another day use area, with a beautiful natural area.  The park isn't particularly busy, and the amount of host work is light.  He thought we might enjoy it for a couple months next Spring.  The park apparently is closed off-season, or at least doesn't require a host except from May through September.  Our "wood-buddy" Brian, as we like to refer to him, has signed up for August and September of next year.  That leaves 3 months open as options for us, since they've had problems getting hosts for some unknown reason.  Perhaps, like us, it's because no one really knows about the place?  We're considering doing a couple months.  If we pick May, we'd be close enough to drive up for dental appointments, etc., again, while having no RV park fees.

Steve and I enjoy each other's company.  If we didn't, this RV life would not make much sense!  So far, we find our most enjoyable days of hosting are when we get to share the job.  This morning, even though it's official our day off, we decided to walk the board walk over to the primitive boat launch so we could do some clean up of litter and pruning debris.  It looked messy when we were there the day before.  It's hard to have a day off as a host, as we see things we want to "fix", yet aren't equipped with the right gear to handle the task.  We end up having to mention whatever we see to another host.  It's hard to pass by a need and not take care of it!

If we sign on at Sara Helmick State Park, Steve and I would be by ourselves quite a bit, which is different than we've experienced as hosts to date.  Our company would be day-users, instead of campers.  We haven't been sure we'd want to do a day-use park, because of being "on our own" as far as safety issues.  We felt we'd be somewhat vulnerable.  However, having a friend who's already hosted there without any concerns makes us feel the risk is minimal, at least at that particular park.  The real issue is would we get too lonesome!  We're thinking we'd like to try it out.  It probably wouldn't be too busy at the park during a nice rainy Spring and early Summer.  We might even enjoy having more time to ourselves.  More time to work on hobbies we might pick back up again!  Who knows.  If we don't like it, we don't have to do it again.  What a cool thing to be able to try out new things!  Something tells me we'll be looking forward to a month without so much of a schedule by then.

We have yet another visit scheduled at Camping World in Hillsboro at the end of this month, as we continue to get the "bugs" fixed on our motorhome. We will leave Devil's Lake after our last day of work, and spend the night behind Camping World. We'll be able to plug into 15 amp service (much better than nothing!) and we won't be late for our 8 a.m. appointment the next day.  We'll have my parents house to crash at.  Unfortunately, they won't be there, as they will be off for the Labor Day weekend with my sister and niece and families.  We'd thankful, however, to have a place to be!

We're very excited  to be getting our new closet door - I'm so tired of wrestling the old one that pulled apart due to extreme humidity changes before we took ownership. The part is in to fix our #2 air conditioning unit also. The adjustable bed still has it's issues with the switch working only on occasion. We need to be able to depend on it. We've added some new things to the "fix list". My bathroom sink has a slow leak, that we can't seem to fix ourselves. The microwave fan vibrates - which is making me crazy. I can hit it at times to make it behave, for a while anyway. Our bathroom light fixtures each have a light socket that won't let the bulb screw in ... Just those kinds of things that we're learning as we live in our new home.  We've got to work through all the bugs.

I have to admit I have had a few times when I feel very frustrated about certain things about living this way. I think it's an accumulation of still not having things all figured out. I need to work out how to store those things I use on a somewhat regular basis in a more reasonable way. I get tired of having to move one thing to get to another, or unloading a whole cabinet to get to one baking dish. I'm aware I need to downsize even further. That leads me to deal with the frustration of continually giving things up. I'm to the point of having to let go of some things I have used on a more regular basis.  That's hard sometimes.  Other times, it's no big deal.  But there are harder days on occasion.  What major life change doesn't have challenges?  When in real life are there not challenges?  It seems it doesn't matter the choices, life is just challenging from time to time.  I guess that's the occasion for learning and growing.  I am sure going to be smart one of these days!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

A Wonderful Volunteer Life!

Though we’ve been at the park for 5 days now, we just completed our second day of “work”.  I use the term “work” loosely, as it is so enjoyable; it hardly seems like actual work!  We are signed on here at Devil’s Lake State Park as “maintenance hosts” which basically means we’re volunteering for a little more than campground hosts.  We (by “we” I mean Steve) could be doing lawn mowing, weed whacking, use various pieces of power equipment, fix broken things, etc.  Steve is actually the only one who is working as a maintenance host.  I am helping out with things that campground hosts would be most like to do, though I’m helping Steve out some also.  It’s the best of both worlds!

Today, the pathways to the 3 different restroom facilities needed some pruning.  You know how things are in Oregon in the summer.  Nothing grows faster than berry vines!  We pruned back, or up, any vegetation that might be in the way of a camper on his/her way to the restroom facilities.  Nobody wants those sticky berry vines around their ankles, or scratching their arms.  Well, the campers are safe tonight!

It was a lovely day to be working outside.  I might say we never had this kind of sunny, but cool weather last winter at Fort Stevens.  Having not been “summer campers” for the most part, this whole experience is new for us.  I understand it is to be way too warm back in Hillsboro today, where I know the Oregon Air Show is going on this weekend.  We knew it would be warmer here today too, but as I told my Mom, our warm 65 degree day must feel warmer…. as it’s a “moist heat”.  You know how people in the desert heat will say it’s not that hot as “ it’s a dry heat”?  Well, here it might be 65, but it feels like 73 or 74.  It’s all relative!  Steve and I actually came in this afternoon because we were feeling a little cool!  At 3:00 in the afternoon!  Too lovely!

While tooling around in our gas powered golf cart today, a young woman flagged us down.  It seemed she had set out an ice cream bucket with some supplements (vitamins), which had disappeared.  She wondered if raccoons would perhaps take them?  I told her I doubted a raccoon would take anything he couldn’t eat, and if he did, he wouldn’t have been so neat and tidy about it!  We decided to go ask the other 2 pairs of hosts in case they’d picked it up thinking it was litter.  We also thought we could let the ranger at the registration booth be on the lookout.  By the time we accomplished all that and came back around to find the lady, she cheerfully thanked us, saying it had been found.  She said, “Thank God!”, and I agreed.

It’s those little encounters we have where someone actually needs our help and we willingly step forward to try to help that makes this job particularly fun to me.  I truly enjoy helping people.  People in those positions are so grateful and thankful.  I suppose we are receiving our reward in full here, but it isn’t bad!  Heaven will be where we are thanked for all the things no one knows we’ve done!  That’s how most jobs are:  If a camper found litter around their camp, they would think poorly of the park.  If there was no litter, they wouldn’t notice and would simply enjoy their camping trip.  We both love sweeping up a broken bottle, knowing that our park comes across as a beautiful, clean park.

Every Wednesday, between 10:30 and noon, we have a tsunami warning system test.  We have a handheld radio we were told to keep inside the motorhome.  It went off for the first time Wednesday, but we were outside.  We heard the sirens go off in the city.  One of our neighbor campers asked what that was.  Imagine how smart we felt when we actually knew the answer!  It's nice to learn some of the "behind the scenes" kinds of things.  Looking forward to more of that!

Friday, August 3, 2012

Devil's Lake State Park - Lincoln City

After a full day of traveling (well ... a six hour day to us is full!), we arrived in Lincoln City at Devil's Lake State Park.  When I checked in at the booth I was greeted to cheers from the rangers on duty.  Seems they haven't had a maintenance host in months, and were working with only 1 of 2 campground hosts as well.  It's nice to be needed and appreciated.  We met the ranger, Janie, in charge of hosts, as we walked through the park a few minutes later.  I knew it was her by her friendly voice, which I'd experienced on the phone.  We arranged to meet with her for orientation the next day.

On that same walk, we met and visited with the hosts who have been on duty alone for the last month.  They were a couple in their early 70's from California, trying park hosting for the first time.  While physically they looked like they were in better condition than us, they were exhausted.  Seems they've been working very long days, doing most everything all month.  They were trying to finish cleaning yurts when we spotted them.  They weren't complaining at all, but just wanted us to be warned.  As I listened to their story, and asked questions, it was clear they just didn't feel they could speak up and say that the long hours were just too much.  They were aware of the huge need and just kept working.  I felt bad for them!  That's not the way a first experience at park hosting ought to be.  I'm certain the host coordinator had no idea they were feeling so overburdened.  She is too busy with her own load to even notice their long hours.  They hadn't yet turned in the time sheets either.  I decided to make certain I asked some good questions of our host coordinator before we began work to make expectations clear.  We are volunteers, after all!

This is a small park, in the middle of town, just a block off Hwy 101. I was sure we had checked this park out, but now realize I was completely mistaken. It's a beautiful little park, on a huge lake with boat launching areas (the park has boat slips for campers with boats).  I guess they are fishing for several kinds of fish including trout, catfish and perch.  We could see small catfish in the shallow water around the boat slips.

We worked our first day on Wednesday, August 1st.  Since we only have one day on before our official two days off this week, we groomed camp sites throughout the park as campers left.  We picked up litter around the boat slips and on the board walk - a path made of composite decking which leads to a "primitive boat launch" just south of the park.  There are several signs along the boardwalk explaining the bog habitat that it's built over.  Really quite interesting!

I think we're going to be happy here.  The expectations were clear - 5 days, 4 hours a day, unless we just wanted to work more.  Steve will be doing some lawn mowing and weed whacking and miscellaneous repairs as needed.  We've both had a list of safety modules to complete online in preparation for our work here.  Safety is a big thing in the Oregon Park systems, but sometimes the training comes after you've already been doing the work.  Naturally, much of it is common sense.  However, there are many issues it's good to be reminded of - how to lift appropriately, how to avoid "sticks" when dealing with litter, what to do if encountering a wild animal, or a pet dog!  The online modules are somewhat well done, and each is followed by a test on the information covered.  We're both close to "A" students.  It's a good test of our brain cells.

We met another fresh-in pair of hosts yesterday.  They are from Phoenix, and have a beautiful 40' Monaco motor coach, which they let us come in and see.  Very nice.  They are looking forward to coming to see our new beast as well.  It's always fun to see the choices others make.  It's like an RV show - always fun to look!

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We left Shelton, Washington only four days ago.  I can't believe how fast the time has passed.  The week of fun with cousin Steve & Desolee (love that name!) came to a peak last Saturday, when most the Kronschnabel and Bang family got together with a "mini reunion" at the Bang family lake house on Spencer Lake.

My Steve's Dad, Don, is 92 years old now.  Steve's Mom, Barb, passed away from Alzheimer's disease in February of 2005.  Cousin Steve's Dad and Mom, Ron and Evie, are something like 89 or 90.  I can't believe how good they all look and appear to be doing!  The parents hadn't seen each other since Barb left this world.  This would be, perhaps, the last chance for the parents to see each other in this world.

A few old photo albums of Steve's Dad where there to be enjoyed, as we were returning them after having had them for a few months.  Do I think it was a coincidence that we had them, and needed to return them this very week?  After all the other events that have fallen into place?  I don't think so!
I tried to get some good pictures, and Desolee was getting lots more.  It's good to have these professional photographers at family gatherings!

My favorite photos are seeing my father-in-law back with his departed wife's Aunt & Uncle after all these years.  Also, the group photos of the grown kids, most of themselves grandparents now.

It was a great week we will always remember.  We are hoping to meet up again with Cousin Steve and Desolee in the not-so-distant future.  Perhaps even "on golden pond" again one day!