March 25, 2020

Campfire Talk

I do want to get back to the Big Switcheroo series of posts from last spring’s travels from the northeast to the Florida Keys and back, but the miscellaneous collection of items I’ve wanted to mention in “Reflections” has been growing.  Today’s edition of Campfire Talk will allow me to share a few comments with you before I get back to the series.  Heads up!  This is a long post with no real photos (just a few random, somewhat blurry, adult coloring pages), so it’s time to get a refill of whatever it is that you’re drinking and settle in.  Here we go . . .

Yes, I’m continuing to blog!  During the past week or so, I’ve used the word “surreal” and the phrase “uncharted territory” on more than one occasion, and now, I’ve been noticing them in news broadcasts, newspaper articles and on other blogs.  In my humble opinion, living in the surreal environment created by the COVID-19 situation comes with its own set of symptoms that has nothing to do with feeling ill.  I find it more difficult to focus, I’m more easily distracted and I vacillate between ignoring the pandemic and gathering as much info as I can about it.  Nothing seems normal; everything seems, well, surreal.  So, to sit down and draft blog posts about the wonderful world of RV travel in the midst of this miserable situation feels wrong for some reason.  Don’t ask me why.  It just does.  So, in an effort to wrestle this bothersome feeling to the ground, I went back to the reasons that prompted me to launch this blog a little more than two years ago.

To document our travels:  Alan and I have been traveling together for more than 40 years.  Sure, we remember a lot about many of our trips, and sometimes one of us remembers a really neat tidbit that the other can’t recall at all which is rather sweet.  But many of the details of those travels have been lost, and that’s disappointing to me.  So, by continuing to document the many places we’ve been, the magnificent scenery we viewed along the way, the memorable attractions we enjoyed and the extraordinary adventures we experienced, we’ll have a record going forward of all that made our journeys special.  My interest in documenting our travels hasn’t diminished, so I decided to continue enjoying every delicious morsel of our memories as I plug away at recording them for posterity.

To write creatively:  I write better than I speak.  I have no trouble with normal conversation but, if you ask me to get up in front of a crowd, I have a difficult time - and I don’t mean with the idea of public speaking.  My problem is that my thoughts and the words that support them are quite clear in my mind.  They just don’t come out of my mouth that way.  Writing is SO much easier for me.  If I type a phrase and it doesn’t look or sound right, I simply hit the backspace key and try again.  That’s why every speech I’ve ever made has been carefully crafted beforehand and either read or memorized as called for by the situation.  Because I can express myself best through my writing, the creative aspect of writing a blog post allows me to say exactly what’s on my mind.  Plus, it’s a perfect activity during these times of “sheltering in place” and “social distancing.”  So, despite the seriousness of our current situation, I intend to continue blogging, using the activity as a way to pass time and deal with the unusual and unwelcome feelings that accompany the loss of control over so many facets of my daily life.

To reach out to and connect with others:  I’m an introvert.  It’s not that I don’t like people; I do.  It’s simply that I can’t handle a large number of them at once or a small number of them for an extended period of time.  Those situations are both physically and mentally exhausting for me.  Not so with blogging!  Not only do I enjoy the writing aspect of blogging, but I also enjoy the reading of other authors’ blogs.  By posting on this blog and following others, I can pursue my interests and connect with people who are passionate about the same things.  Posting about our RV lifestyle and the travels we enjoy because of it is fun for me.  Maybe a particular post will entertain a reader or inform another RVer who is planning a trip or, better yet, provide the inspiration to turn a dreamer into a doer.  It’s all good.  My "bucket list" already includes tracking down a number of fellow bloggers because I know that meeting them will bring the sense of connection full circle.  I do wish I knew you, my readers, better.  While I can see the number of people who visit the blog, I don’t know most of you personally.  I don’t know what it is that you find appealing, what it is that keeps you coming back.  I wish I did.  You can read that as a plea to visit the comment section – if you’re comfortable doing so – and fill me in.  Making connections with others through this blog has proven to be an exceptionally gratifying experience - one I hope to continue for a long, long time.

Since all of my original reasons for blogging remain relevant during this time of turmoil, I plan to carry on.  When you read a post about a gorgeous camping spot or the fun we had with our family in Disney World, understand that I’m not ignoring or downplaying the seriousness of what’s going on around us.  It simply means that I’ve been digging deep into my cache of optimism, with the belief that, although our future lifestyle may be somewhat altered, life will (inevitably) return to some semblance of normalcy.

“Link HERE” for smiles!  Sharing resources during the COVID-19 crisis not only helps disseminate information, but also allows us to remain socially engaged.  As some of us struggle with sheltering in place and finding activities to occupy our time, I imagine that restlessness and cabin fever may rear their ugly heads.  Alan and I already had four major projects going before COVID-19 made its appearance:  painting two rooms and two hallways in our home; clearing out and cleaning up the "stuff" that has been accumulating for 35+ years all over our house; taking down a shed and a dilapidated concrete wall and replacing them with a decorative, two-tiered retaining wall; and the seemingly endless task of cutting and splitting firewood.  Those projects have been keeping us fairly busy.  But, when my mind begins to wander too far down Anxiety Road, I'll sometimes turn to one of several resources that relieve the tension, bring a smile to my face, and remind me that, although life might be exceptionally difficult right now, there are still blessings to be found if I just keep an open mind and an open heart.  Please allow me to share.

How would you like to inject a little good news into all of the gloom and doom being projected by much of the news media these days?  May I suggest the Good News Network (link HERE)Bob Lowry over at Satisfying Retirement clued me in to this source for positive news.  (Thanks, Bob!)  While I am in no way minimizing the seriousness of this threat, and I continue to stay up-to-date on the health info and government directives associated with COVID-19, I applaud any organization that spotlights the positive in an effort to balance out the negative hype that some of the media outlets call news. Real information, when professionally delivered, is helpful; sensationalism is not, but it skyrockets ratings and increases ad revenue.  With recent articles entitled, “People Are Now Stocking Little Libraries with Toilet Paper and Food for Neighbors in Need,” “Siblings Filmed Playing Sweet Spontaneous Porch Concert for Elderly Neighbor in Self-Isolation,” and “TV Medical Dramas are Donating All Their Gowns, Gloves and Masks to Real Hospitals Fighting COVID-19,” the Good News Network is a perfect antidote.

Anyone who likes and enjoys our National Parks may be interested in Park Tracks, a recording of approximately 12 minutes in length of the sounds of nature from the Parks (link HERE).  If you're just seeking a few minutes of quiet in which to settle down and regroup, you may find it soothing.  For those of you who aren't able to get out and enjoy the great outdoors right now, Park Tracks may present a delightful, audible excursion in nature.  If you practice meditation or yoga, I imagine that Park Tracks would ensure a gentle and comforting background for those activities.

Many people enjoy coloring, and it’s an activity that can be especially soothing in times of stress or anxiety.  From tiny tots to great-great-grandparents, we all “get” coloring.  It transcends generations, allows a certain amount of creative expression AND passes the time when you’re sheltering in place.  For the small price of a box of crayons or colored pencils (or, better yet, no cost at all if you borrow some from your grandchildren), you can enjoy an activity that reflects your passions and interests.  If you have access to a printer, simply enter “free adult coloring pages” in a search engine and you’re good to go.  No shortage of themes to worry about – animals, birds, travel, nature, landscapes, holidays, and inspirational quotes – it’s all there for the choosing.  What was once a favorite childhood pastime may turn out to be an enjoyable adult pursuit.

When I need a day-brightener, my absolute favorite go-to's are the Warrior Canine Connection puppy web cams on the web site (link HERE).  Alan and I love dogs and, honestly, who doesn’t fall under the enchanting spell of a puppy?  They are just So. Darn. Cute.  There are four puppy cams at the Warrior Canine Connection including the Nursery web cam, the Whelping Room web cam and the Outdoor Puppy Pen web cam.  My personal favorite, though, is the Puppy Playroom web cam.  Simply watching these little guys and gals tackling their toys (and each other) with such gusto never fails to bring joy to my day.  Even when they exhaust themselves and pile on top of one another in their big, comfy bed to sleep, they’re still fun to watch.  It reminds me of when I’d sneak into the kids’ rooms when they were babies just to see their tiny, tired bodies in a deep and peaceful sleep.  According to the web site, the Warrior Canine Connection “is a pioneering organization that utilizes its mission based trauma recovery model to help wounded warriors reconnect with life, their families, their communities, and each other.”  Knowing that these puppies will grow up and, most likely, become wonderful companions and extraordinary aides to our wounded warriors promptly upped the sweetness factor for me.

Speaking of day-brighteners, our family had a good laugh at the birthday dinner for our son's girlfriend, Anya, that was held at our house on Sunday.  (Don't worry, no government mandates were violated and there were only five of us.)  Here's the backstory:  When Ryan and Anya moved to a new apartment last year, the ever-practical planner in me decided that a large package of toilet paper from Sam's Club would be an excellent housewarming gift.  I didn't give it a second thought until months later, when Anya mentioned how much she appreciated that extra-large supply.  When they ran low, toilet paper was yet another item to squeeze out of their grocery budget.  (Do you see where this is going?)  So, in February (several weeks before Anya's birthday and the COVID-19 run on toilet paper), at a time when our own supply of toilet paper was running low, I bought one large package for us and one large package for Anya as a gag gift for her upcoming birthday.  You know Sam's Club - we're talking about 45 rolls of toilet paper.  (Anya is an avid reader, so I also bought a gift card from Barnes & Noble as her "regular" gift.)  Who knew that toilet paper would become such a hot commodity?!  So, back to the birthday dinner . . . Anya was definitely grateful for the Barnes & Noble gift card and she planned to use it immediately to help get her through her long days at home while the school district in which she works was closed.  But, her gratitude increased exponentially when I brought out the huge package of toilet paper.  Prior to this pandemic, if you had told me that someone could actually get that excited about a gift of toilet paper, I would have laughed.  But it's true!  Several photos were promptly taken of the toilet paper (none of the gift card), and Anya went home quite happy because they had been down to their last three rolls and hadn't been able to find any.  Ryan said he had been getting a little nervous as well, until I had shown him the gag gift the weekend before.  Although he was relieved because he knew it was coming, he laughed about having to continue to act nervous in front of Anya during that intervening week.  When toilet paper becomes a treasured birthday gift (it's kinda sorta like getting underwear for Christmas), you know we're living in strange times. 

So, there you go – a few additional resources to help you “keep on the sunny side.”

Automated RV Parks – the Wave of the Future?  At the end of February, an article entitled “World’s First Automated RV Park Opens” by Rene Agredano appeared on the RV Life web site (link HERE).  The facility, called RV Self Park, was opened by Jim Turntine and his wife in West Sullivan, Mississippi, and is located at mile marker 223.4 off Interstate 44, about 45-50 minutes southwest of St. Louis.  As so often happens, the RV Self Park was created to fill a need and solve a problem: finding a safe, well-lit facility near the highway to spend the night that offers full hookups and the amenities many RVers crave – like high speed internet, cell service, a pet run and easy booking.  Bingo!  The RV Self Park even allows guest access to the security camera feeds – certainly a plus considering how many RVers consider safety and security before settling in for the night while on the road.  The Turntines’ idea was nothing less than prescient, as many private RV parks that have remained open during the COVID-19 pandemic have transitioned to a contactless check-in process.  (Before you get too excited, you should know that the Turntines have already patented and trademarked this “coin-op RV park” idea.)

The pricing on the RV Self Park is intriguing: $20.00 for 10 hours ($2.00 per each additional hour), $39.00 for a full 24 hours, $35.00 per day for 2 to 6 days (full 24 hour days) and $32.00 per day for 7 to 28 days (full 24 hour days).  There is a $1.50 electronic transaction fee and 8.85% tax – at least at the location in West Sullivan.  (More locations to follow?)  While Alan and I favor public campgrounds for stays of two or more nights, the idea of an automated RV park with reasonable rates is extremely appealing for those quick overnights when we’re just trying to move on down the road.  I don’t see the Turntines blanketing the country with automated RV parks anytime soon, so I don’t think that private RV parks will be going out of business due to this novel business idea.  However, if the idea fits the needs of enough RVers, I have no doubt that growth in this new field will follow.

While I did just use the phrase “new field,” the Turntines were not the first people to come up with this idea.  The State of Ohio has a designated overnight parking area for RVs at eight of its travel plazas on the Ohio Turnpike.  Yes, we’ve used them and, yes, we love them.  Although not full hookup, per se, electric is available at each site and potable water is available at the dump station in the RV parking area.  Payment is made via a free-standing kiosk at the entrance to the RV parking area, but guests are able to use the showers in the travel plaza and, of course, the restaurants and restrooms, as well.  While I can’t say I agree that the RV Self Park is the first automated RV Park, I will say that it’s a worthy idea that just might acquire a cadre of staunch supporters and prove to be an excellent business model.

The Charming Adventures of Tessa and Philip: In one of my comments following a recent post, I mentioned this blog, having just recently become aware of it when Tessa commented on one of my posts.  Tessa and Philip Miller, RVers based in Arizona, spend a great deal of time RVing across the United States on journeys that range from a few days to a few months at a clip.  Tessa writes, she and Philip both mug for the camera and, for the life of me, I can’t figure out how the Charming Adventures of Tessa and Philip flew under my radar for so many years.

Whenever I add a new favorite to my list of favorite blogs or my list of favorite places (in the column at the right), I always like to tell you why I consider it a worthy addition.  That way, you can decide for yourself whether or not the blog or web site is one that might appeal to you, as well.  Here are some of the reasons I really like the Charming Adventurers . . .

Tessa and Philip began RVing in 2013 at the time Philip planned to enter a long distance bike ride across the entire state of Iowa.  (Yes, I said “the entire state,” and, yes, he did complete it.)  In Tessa’s own words, “We thought about renting an RV for the occasion, but then said 'Let's just buy one!'"  How can you not be intrigued when someone (or, in this case, two someones) leaps into RVing with both feet and without a second thought?  When I read that, I figured they were pretty gutsy folks, and they went on to prove me right with the recounting of their adventures.  As far as I can tell, there is (almost) nothing they won’t try.  They’ve visited wineries, distilleries, caves and caverns, Presidential libraries, farm stands and farm markets, unusual museums and all kinds of dives and other havens for foodies.  They have ridden in gondolas, braved a haunted plantation and gone backstage at a rodeo.  These people are adventurous, to say the least, and they seem to enjoy many of the same outdoor activities that Alan and I do - like biking, hiking and kayaking.  Although, if you were to ask me, I’d say that they overdo those activities because I get exhausted just reading one of their posts.

The Charming Adventures of Tessa and Philip is, in essence, a travelogue with gorgeous photos included.  Tessa and Philip can be both deeply serious and outright silly.  Tessa writes in an always entertaining, sometimes irreverent style, and her posts are peppered with tons of facts and figures about what they’re seeing and doing.  Philip is (apparently) a willing accomplice to Tessa during her trip documentation; he is often the subject of her photos and can come up with an appropriate facial expression for almost any situation.  Tessa also uses Philip in her pics as a point of reference for scale.  If Philip minds, you’d never guess.  This teamwork makes their blog both a fun-filled and educational read.  If you don’t pick up some travel inspiration from these two, I’d be surprised.

I’d be committing an error of omission if I didn’t mention here that Tessa and I connected almost immediately due to our incessant, diligent and elaborate planning habits.  For me, planning is both a thrill and a compulsion.  I want to discover every possible detail about the places we’ll be visiting so that we can take advantage of any obscure travel gems out there.  I also want a ready list of campgrounds in which we’ll be staying, along with the applicable site information, plus travel times and mileage for each day of the trip.  Happily (or, maybe sadly, if you view planning differently), I believe Tessa to be the same.

Despite the fact that we live on opposite sides of the country, Alan and I and the Millers were all at Crater Lake in the summer of 2017, just 11 days apart.  If only we had known!  I’ve added these two to my bucket list of bloggers whom I’d love to meet and I’ve included the Charming Adventures of Tessa and Philip (link HERE) in my list of favorite blogs in the column at the right.  Be aware that Tessa posts when they travel, not on a regular schedule.  So, don't worry if you don't see a new post pop up every week.  I can assure you that she's hard at work, already planning their next epic journey.  Hop on over to visit the Millers any time you’re in the mood for some fun-filled, entertaining adventures.

And that, my friends, concludes this rather lengthy edition of Campfire Talk.  Please take good care of yourselves and be especially kind to family members, friends and neighbors who may be having a more difficult time with the COVID-19 situation for whatever reason.  We’re all in this together - at least six feet apart.


  1. A tour de force, Mary! (I guess we commenters don't have an italicizing option in Blogger, or I would have done so in honor of "tour de force," one of the few phrases en Francais that I know. It also doesn't allow me to use the "c" with a cedilla attached, as it should be in the word, "Francais," but I'm not going to switch my keyboard to French just for that.) All of this idiocy is moot, of course, as "tour de force" has been shamefully stolen by us Americans, so all of this kerfuffle is much ado about nothing (with apologies to the Bard) unless you are French and get all snooty if your language is misused--a trait that is not uncommon among the French. This comment of mine--which has obviously not merely gone off the rails but has left earth's orbit--should make you feel much better about your organizing skills having spilled over into your writing. I, as you obviously have observed, am easily distracted in mid-paragraph. The point I'm trying to make in this demolition derby of a comment is that I admire a piece such as this one of yours that is thoughtful, organized and informative, with personal tidbits included. (By the way, I added the Millers' blog to my reading list.) I'm glad that you find in writing a respite from chaos. For me, it's a bit different; I find respite in chaotic writing, I suppose. In closing, I realize that I have added little cogency--much less feedback--in this comment, but I hope it made you smile; these days, we could all use more of them.

    1. Mike, I always love to hear from you (no matter how far you've gone off the rails) and seeing your name pop up in the comments never fails to bring a smile to my face. For me, one of the blessings of writing is that it allows me to organize and make sense of the many jumbled thoughts tumbling around in my mind. While I don't embrace technology to the extent that you do, I admit that it provides many benefits during this period of isolation, including our ability to share laughs, extend kindness and remain connected with family, friends and neighbors. I hope that you and Sandy are staying well, and trust that you're taking good care of each other.

  2. very interesting, Mary- I like the way you reviewed your reason for blogging in the first place, which helped you find the motivation to carry on, under the pandemic shut down.

    1. Hi, Janine! I think "sheltering in place" is providing those of us who are "non-essential" with extra time for contemplation these days. A round of applause for you and your fellow nurses, as well as doctors and other health care workers - your efforts on our behalf are sincerely appreciated!

  3. This is Tessa's daughter and just wanted to say that was such a sweet recap of their blog! Love your post and thanks for sharing such positivity like this! :)

    1. Hi, Tessa's Daughter, and thank you for your kind words! I'm impressed - my kids don't even comment on my own blog, so I can't imagine them exerting the effort to comment on someone else's blog on my behalf. Good for you. I'm so glad you stopped by!

  4. As always Mary your writing makes me enjoy all the tidbits of information you share. Thanks for the needed distraction at this time in all of our lives. Stay well

    1. Thanks, Anna! The writing is proving to be an excellent distraction for me, too. I think my Mom's legacy of optimism continues to help, as well. The latest "find" in the cleaning up and clearing out project? A full box of Kyra's Teen Vogue magazines from six years ago. They hit the recycle bin yesterday - with Kyra's permission, of course! Now, we have yet another empty box in the growing pile.


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