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!