A Weekend Full of Family and Friends

Our next stop was the Cherry Hill RV Resort in College Park, MD. This is the closest park to DC and, more importantly, to Columbia, MD.

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Cherry Hill RV Resort is quite an extraordinary place. First off, it is enormous. There are literally hundreds of camp sites. It has two swimming pools, a water park, a restaurant, miniature golf and a store with rv supplies, food and all sorts of things. Busses run guests to nearby mass transit and into DC proper. They even host nighttime tours of DC.

The resort is a sea of Class A’s and Fifth Wheels. During our perambulations around the resorts’ streets, we saw only one other Airstream. When we checked in, the man at the desk asked if we would prefer to be near the bath house or somewhere else. I asked for a quiet spot and we got a lovely site surrounded by trees. It was hard to believe we were in a major urban area. It felt like we were at a secluded state park.

Our weekend at Cherry Hill was a very social one. If we had been on our own since early March when we visited Jim’s brother, Jack, and his wife, Phyllis, in Pearland, Texas, we were now in for a full dose of family and friends.

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Columbia is the town in which Alex, our first-born and family Marine, lives. He works at Fort Meade, but lives with a friend. Alex joined us Friday night and we had a treat-your-child-special dinner in the Airstream. My goal was to make his favorite things which I know perfectly well, he doesn’t usually get to eat. We had steak, sautéed mushrooms and baked potatoes.

With some not-so-gentle maternal urging, Alex slept over with us in the Airstream. Saturday we lounged in the trailer in the morning and then headed to see his house in Columbia. It was very good to get a sense of our firstborn’s daily life. We met his room-mate, Rose, the actual homeowner, and Rose’s dog, Archer. Rose is a fellow Marine and seems to be a good friend and landlord. Rose is his last name. I don’t even know his first. I am not sure Alex knows his first name.

We were happy to see Alex living in an actual house—much better quarters than the barracks. The house had apparently been cleaned before our visit. It was, nevertheless, a bit of a bachelor pad. Both Alex and Rose are into video games and much more had been invested in monitors and CPU’s than sofas and chairs.

Saturday night we traveled down to DC to have dinner at our friends’ house. Hannelore and Didier live in the NW part of DC. I have known them both for decades—Hannelore since I lived in Vienna after college. Visiting with them is always a treat. They live in a lovely house with a back garden that is truly an oasis. Alex, their son, was home. A rising senior in high school now, we have watched him grow up and mature. Charlotte, their daughter, is almost always off on an adventure. They all tend to roam the world from France to Austria and back again.

Hannelore is the Washington Bureau Chief for the ORF (Austrian Broadcasting Corporation, the public service television channel). Didier is now retired but was a journalist for Agence Presse for many years. They have lived all over the world. In their home english, french and german intermingle from sentence to sentence. Hannelore is also an excellent cook. Every time we visit she cooks something marvelous which I happily take home to add to my own repertoire. Happily, the weather was delightful and we dined al fresco as we caught up on our respective lives.

As you can imagine, life has been pretty crazy for Hannelore for quite some time now. During our visit, President Trump was in Saudi Arabia and Hannelore looked very happy to have a brief respite. She has certainly been getting more than her fair share of air time.

Sunday was another quiet day. Alex is a very easy guest. He is happy to sit quietly and read. Actually, that isn’t quite true. It is somewhat difficult to get him to stop sitting quietly reading. He asserts, with some validity, that he should be able to do what he wants when he is not at work. Okay, so we sat quietly and read for much of Sunday.

Sunday night my step-sister, Kathi, and her wife, Kim, joined us at the Airstream for a barbecue. We cooked burgers, beans and slaw—perfect cookout food. We sat out under the awning. Despite Cherry Hill’s proximity to the urban sprawl of DC and I-495, our site was wooded and private. It almost felt like we were in the great outdoors. We cooked s’mores for desert and enjoyed a last campfire for this journey.

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A Rain as Big as Texas

Sunday brought an end to our stay in Village Creek. It was a bit grey and rainy as we hitched up and pulled out of the park.

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Deluge doesn’t even begin to describe the rain which assailed us on our drive south from Lumberton to the Brazos Bend State Park just south of Houston in Needville, Texas. The rain fell so heavily that we barely had visibility out the windscreen of our big blue truck. It fell in sheets and torrents. Thank heavens for Jim’s steady nerves and careful driving. He piloted our 48 foot craft skillfully through the darkened land and kept us from disaster. I shudder to think what would have happened if I were driving. At moments like this my strongest impulse is to shriek with horror and throw my hands in the air. Not exactly a prescription for safe driving.

Our progress was slowed by the weather and even more so by a terrible traffic accident on Interstate 10 in Houston. Traffic slowed to a complete standstill and we spent well over an hour inching our way forward. When we reached the accident, we saw some poor eighteen wheeler had hit the cement divider on the outer shoulder. The cab was completely separated from the trailer which still stood nose to the divider. The cab was crumpled like an aluminum can and had clearly burned as well. Cleaning this up in this weather was going to be a considerable challenge.

The rain followed us further south down Route 288 past Pearland and along Farm to Market 1462 to the park. We set up camp in the rain and were just able to sit out under the awning. Despite the fact that the ranger said the park was fully booked, we were almost completely alone. Was it the unrelenting rain? Just the fact that for people down here, this is winter? Who knows. It was a little strange coming on the heels of Palmetto Island. We felt lucky to have the park to ourselves, but where was everyone?

Our site was just lovely. We were nestled next to a large live oak who was our guardian. We were feet from the banks of the Brazos River and the park teemed with deer, all kinds of birds and big Texas armadillos. All were much in evidence during our stay.

Jim’s oldest brother, Jack, his wife, Phyllis and their friend, Dan, arrived in late afternoon. The rain was still falling but we could shelter under the awning and stay mostly dry and enjoy looking out at the verdant and sodden landscape. We spent several hours chatting and enjoyed brats and burgers for dinner. It was really great to see them. We don’t get to spend that much time with them and certainly had never had the chance to see them in their natural environment of Texas. Plans were made to head up to Pearland on Tuesday to see their home and get some necessary shopping done in the shopping centers there.

The sign welcoming visitors to Brazos Bend makes it clear who the primary tenants of the park are. The morning of our first full day in the park was devoted to laundry. The rain continued off and on, but it data=RfCSdfNZ0LFPrHSm0ublXdzhdrDFhtmHhN1u-gM,LdScLvlLmt6Al7fEQzBywPOD4L0u_I0VQZvmQ-oN8D6UpJzZfW0_mwEsdYo34OZSwpskzwjW0hNr-15GtXjt-jifUch5bkkzWmS3h3hI_nbe1cIW25_eEiE4_LVD33vMs1Dkf936Udf4swas quite relaxing to sit near the laundry and read. By mid-afternoon we were restless. The rain cleared off and the long absent sun appeared. We walked a trail around 40 Acre Lake. There was a nice breeze and it was warm, but pleasant. We saw several gators enjoying the sun. But once we hit the woods at the end of the walk, the mosquitos were unrelenting.

Tuesday dawned dry and we headed to Pearland—named for the former pear orchards which abounded until man discovered big box retailers—and some shopping as well as a visit to Jack and Phyllis’ house. One major goal was to get Jim’s electronic equipment up to current standards. After several hours and success at the Verizon store, we headed to Jack and Phyllis’ house in a very attractive, older development. Dinner that night was completely delicious barbecue and then we headed back to Brazos Bend.

Wednesday was alternately wet and dry, but we got in a nice hike around the Old and New Horseshoe Lakes and Elm Lakes. The two horseshoe lakes were formed by a river’s switchbacks slowly being cut off from the primary river. Over time the lakes fill in completely with vegetation and it was easy to compare the relative ages of the two lakes just by looking at the disparate landscapes around them. Old Horseshoe was well on its way to becoming marshy land while New Horseshoe was still very much a body of water.

We added to our walk with a loop around Elm Lake. Elm Lake was alive with bird life and alligators. This was their turf and they lined the banks of the lake. I got so nervous about them chomping down on Dakota that each time we spotted one, I carried him past. Nothing spoils a trip faster than a beloved dog becoming gator lunch. Jim tried repeatedly to get a good shot of one of them with his phone, but it was nerve-wracking to try to get too close. Nothing spoils a trip faster than losing part of a spouse.

We were just at the end of our loop when we heard a loud, sudden crack like a tree falling. Just across an inlet in the lake, a big gator had clamped his jaws down on an unfortunate egret and we watched with sickened fascination as the bird disappeared into the great creature’s gullet.

The sky was dark and overcast as we headed south to our next destination. Moving from park to park is a little like falling in and out of love successively. There is a mixture of sadness to be leaving and an itchy desire to be moving on to the next adventure. Our next adventure would be Goose Island State Park in Rockport, Texas.

Tampa Times

The final installment in our string of family visits was a long weekend in Tampa with my cousin, Carrie. With no state parks in the immediate area, I had been elated to find an rv resort which seemed very close to her apartment. When we arrived at Bay Bayou RV Resort, it turned out we were so close we could almost wave. While the park was adjacent to a busy road, it was quite nice and the proximity to Carrie more than made up for any possible faults.

We arrived on Thursday in the late afternoon. We had invited Carrie to be our first Airstream dinner guest and we broke all speed records setting up so I could get dinner ready for our esteemed guest. The entertaining was successful. A delicious dinner was followed by wine out under the awning in the warm evening air. This sequence was repeated each evening of our visit except for the night we went out for Cuban food.

Carrie and I were born exactly one week apart. Carrie is, of course, much older than me—a fact I drive home with annoying frequency during that one week each year. We were both adopted. It is family lore that my mother called her big sister to exult that, after a long wait, she and my father had just found out there was a baby available and her sister responded that, after their own long wait, she and my uncle had just brought their own bundle of joy home! During our visit we celebrated our combined birthdays with champagne, steak dinner and copious amounts of red wine.

The first day of our visit featured a hike. We had a warm and sunny walk along a rails-to-trails path, the Upper Tampa Bay Trail. Carrie modeled her new Pussy Hat despite the sun and heat. After our hike, we headed to an Irish pub for lunch to insure we would suffer no caloric deficit. It was a perfectly gorgeous day and we were able to sit outside so Dakota could annoy all of our fellow diners by barking ferociously at every small dog who passed by.

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Right next to the restaurant was a dog-grooming spot called Woof. I popped in to ask if they could trim Dakota’s nails. The victim was duly handed over and as he was led away, I told the man that Dakota was a bit of a chicken. Seconds later screams began erupting from the back of the store. A request for reinforcements was issued. My favorite moment of mortification was after a particularly high-pitched, terrified scream, I heard the woman say, “Dakota, we haven’t even touched you yet…” I wasn’t kidding, he is a big chicken.

After the hike, our lunch and nail trimming, Jim and I headed back to the trailer park. Carrie would be over later, but first I had something to attend to. I won’t mention any names, but after a month on the road, one of us was smelling a little…doggy. Bay Bayou’s welcome packet mentioned having dog parks with dog baths. Dakota and I grabbed his shampoo and conditioner and headed over.

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Dakota has never been to a dog groomer. I have always bathed and groomed him myself. We call it “beauty parlor.” He enjoys it. He enjoys baths a little less, but afterwards you can tell he is very happy to be clean and gorgeous. The dog bath at Bay Bayou was a raised, elongated tub with the back cut out. There was a harness to which you could hook the dog and he could stand in the tub while being shampooed and hosed. It beat the pants off of the back break in leaning over a bath tub. With a nail trim, bath and brushing, I like to think of our weekend in Tampa as Dakota’s spa weekend. He did look and smell mighty fine.

On the Saturday of our visit, Carrie and I headed over to the Salvadore Dali Museum in St. Petersburg to see the Frida Kahlo exhibit. The boys stayed back at the trailer doing manly things. St. Petersburg is a beautiful town and the exhibit was really good and sadly topical. The show was completely packed. How great that on a perfect Florida day so many people would be enjoying a museum. Carrie says there is so much great weather in Florida, they don’t think twice about possibly squandering one of those days with inside activities. She might not admit it, but Carrie is an unabashed Floridian.

Welcome to Naples!

Naples signThe purpose to our visit to Naples was seeing my step-father, Ferd. My parents bought their condo in Naples about fifteen years ago. After spending increasingly long stretches in the winter as a snowbird, Ferd now lives there full time. We couldn’t find  a state park or an rv park close to Ferd’s apartment so we would be staying about 20 minutes away at Club Naples RV Resort.Club Naples RV Resort.

After our adventure with my brain fart and near disaster on the forbidden road, we arrived at the rv park a little strung out and wild-eyed. Club Naples is an older rv resort from a time when rv’s were far smaller. The sites are densely packed together. I don’t know how some of those Class A’s ever got into their sites. It sure didn’t look like they were going anywhere anytime soon and I don’t blame them.  The resort had given us the smallest, most uneven and awful site in the park. The fact that Jim didn’t just quit and run was a testament to his fortitude. The job he did in backing our 48 feet of trailer and truck into an impossibly small space was nothing short of amazing. It took a lot of maneuvering to make it past the Fifth Wheel across the tiny road. We had to fold in our side mirrors and even so we had a bare inch to spare.dijon mustardOur neighbors on either side were so close we could have passed a jar of Dijon mustard back and forth and never fully extended an arm. This was purgatory. It was a shaken crew who headed off to meet Ferd for dinner.

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It was delightful to visit with Ferd. We didn’t do much of anything. We ran some errands, hung out a bit and each night I cooked dinner at Ferd’s condo.We would watch the news together and then Jim and I would head back to the sardine can rv resort. Sometimes a quiet interlude is just what is needed.

Ferd’s condo is in South Naples just off Bayshore Drive. This south end of Naples is much less built up and features small businesses, a marina, a smattering of homes and small apartment buildings. Foremost among its charms is Taqueria San Julian 2 . It isn’t much to look at from the outside, but the tacos inside are outstanding. It is a highlight of any visit to Naples for me.

Bayshore Drive is the kind of place where real people live. Sadly that is beginning to change a bit, but it is still endearingly scruffy and real.

Visiting Royalty

Visiting Jim and Betty meant a lovely drive down Hutchinson Island. This barrier island spanned the entire distance between Fort Pierce and Road Runner and Stuart on the southern end. It was no hardship to drive the length of the island in either direction. The sunsets were especially lovely. I thought of these days as our “city days.” We all went out to lunch at dog-friendly restaurants with outdoor spaces or ran errands. It gave me a chance to spend time with Betty as well as Jim.

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The beach in Stuart was dog friendly and we had great fun one afternoon taking Dakota over to see the waves. He was ferocious and gave each wave a piece of his mind while carefully avoiding getting his paws wet.

Our visit with Betty came to a happy conclusion. Jim’s sister, Linda, arrived on Saturday. The changing of the guard involved Jim returning to Road Runner as Linda took up residence in Stuart. Late Saturday afternoon she and Betty came up to Road Runner so Linda could check out the  Airstream. She was an enthusiastic visitor and Jim gave her a thorough tour. Betty and I sat happily under the awning and had our own good visit. We all had a delightful dinner in Fort Pierce at the Harbor Cove Bar and Grill.

The night was unfortunately chilly, but I would highly recommend this place to anyone. Nestled in the middle of a big harbor, there was live music and a very lively bar. We had a tasty and highly enjoyable meal.