Old Diary

Never Try to Make Travel Plans On Friday If You’re a Camp Host

camp signI’ve been smiling so much my cheeks ache!

Friday nights are fun. Cars rolling in and out, confused campers trying to find where they belong, firestarters roaming the forest floor looking for firewood. Oh Boy, We are Having Fun!

I’m just funnin’ ya.  The activity is real but the key to control is preparation and we’re prepared.

It’s quite easy to sort out the newbies, wave the return campers on through and answer questions based upon our ever-greater accumulation of campground information.  The faces quickly become associated with site numbers and departure dates, and when you come down to it, the questions are pretty much the same from week to week.

  • How many tents can I put up in our site?
  • Aren’t there more toilets than that?
  • How long does the shower run for my quarter?
  • Etc..

However, for our part — the private life of Peter and Peggy — we’ve learned that it’s not a good idea to try making travel plans on a Friday if you’re a Camp Host.  No matter what you start to do — just about the time you get to the important part — whatever that might be — someone drives up with questions.

Because this is our first year as fulltimers there remain a lot of things to learn: both about our life as RV’ers and about the even newer-to-us world of RV Volunteering.  We had more or less figured out how we were going to be making plans — but this stint as camp hosts has us looking at how to apply for other positions, how long we might be asked to stay (minimum and maximum stay lengths), and how often we might want to volunteer.  None of this was part of our first two-year plan and we had not done any research on this topic at all.

It has quickly become apparent that there are two worlds of RV workers.  There are volunteers and workampers. RV volunteers generally work 20-32 hours a week in exchange for a free campsite.  Workampers might work for a free campsite or for a free campsite and wages.  Some workampers are related to the recreation industry, but others are for commerce — Amazon.com for example has RV villages for peak season RV’ing staff.

Volunteers might work for governmental units and volunteering for private organizations.   The governmental units might be federal, state, or local agencies.

Each organization makes their own manpower determinations.  Each organization has their own ‘seasonal’ needs and if you want order in the world of humankind — don’t be looking for it here.

My reason for mentioning all of this is simple.  We really like working with the Corps of Engineers, and we really like their campgrounds.  But…. I like critters too.  And we are hoping to have an experience of Volunteering for National Wildlife Refuges at some point. It has become crystal that each of these agencies expects different services from their volunteers — we’re trying to learn a completely new language we knew nothing about a few months ago.

It might be nice at some point to volunteer at a National Park, but we’re a long way from that now.  We are still trying to sort out much more basic moving-with-the-seasons lessons.  We had been planning on Winter in Texas and that may still happen.  Over the last three days I have sent out some volunteer inquiries and do not yet know if we waited too long before trying to line something up for this winter.  We are finding some places that had their Winter volunteers chosen in March.  And others are now recruiting for next summer.

Dealing with all these new challenges while popping up and down to answer camper questions is a little challenging but we’re managing quite nicely.  It’s good we both have been multi-taskers from way back.  And Friday is the busiest day of the week here.  We’ll have plenty to do tomorrow — but less than today.  Sunday is our most strenuous day — as campers depart and we make our rounds to check out the sites and do whatever cleanup work is necessary.  By Monday we’ll be worn out — but this week we plan to do some painting while there are no reservations in one area.  After that we’ll have time to ourselves.  The painting is optional but it’s something we want to do — just to make things nicer for ourselves and for other campers.

I got my camera out today. There were mushrooms and toadstools I wanted to play with. While I had the camera out I did some shots of the hummingbirds.  I’m not really satisfied with the images, but they are good enough to have fun with.

Thanks for stopping by and I’ll talk to you tomorrow.

Old Diary

Peg Finishes a Puzzle Book


Can it take 24 years to finish a single book?  Yes.  Or so it seems.  Please don’t misunderstand — this isn’t a ‘fair’ story to tell about my sweetie because my dear wife has had a lot of projects on her plate more important than completing a particular puzzle book, and she has finished others before this one. But she finally finished this one!

A little background might be good (in my own defense).  We always travel with one puzzle book nestled in the door pocket in our car.  When she gets bored with the scenery, or when I’m inside the Ranger’s station registering, or in the men’s room, or well, anytime she needs to kill some time she’ll dig out that book.  This particular book has been sitting in one car or another since before 1990.

Equestrian Camping Area

Equestrian Camping Area

At any rate, this one sat most of the time in the car even when she was working on other books and other puzzles and somehow this one only got attention when we were in the car.  After 23 years she finally finished it!

A busy day today. Most of the 38 sites emptied out so we did our campsite checkout; and about 1/2 of them filled back up again — including 10 units in one group.  Busy, busy, busy.

I thought I’d include a shot of our equestrian area.  Not only were all our campsites filled — all but one of the equestrian sites were filled as well.  A local equestrian group got together some years ago and co-oped with the CORPS to set up this campground and the associated riding trails.  It’s quite buys and talk about needing to bring a lot of gear along for your hobby….


The equestrian trails are quite nice; moving through the midst of the forest with only minimal ‘trail’ to give horses footing but it has to be almost like riding through the forest WITHOUT  a trail.  This says a non-equestrian who just looks at the trail and doesn’t see it atop an equine guide.

Well, that’s it for now.  I’ll talk to you tomorrow.

Old Diary

I Can Drive, Says Uncle Sam


Woo Hoo!  Uncle Sam says I can drive a golf cart!.  Ok — so I’m being silly. But the Corps of Engineers IS concerned about safety!  So, yesterday our coordinator came around and checked us both out on operating the Golf Cart — our one piece of moving equipment.

Actually, this hosting thing is getting more interesting.  As observed (at THIS location) the camp host hasn’t been doing a lot compared to other Corps campgrounds.  I won’t say that was part of the appeal — in truth it was not.  I was kind of wondering whether there shouldn’t be more to the job than what we were seeing.  It just didn’t seem right that other camp hosts were busier and not so much here.  But I think your level of busy-ness is a function of your ambition.

The coordinator went over the official duties with us briefly.  Seeing as the camp host couple had already spent some significant time doing the same he didn’t waste much time on it.  BUT… He did bring with him a list of optional projects we can tackle if we want.  And I have a sneaking suspicion that we’ll try to work through all 7 of the projects on the list. painter cartoonMost of the projects on the list involve painting!

There’s kind of a joke there.  Don’t forget in the past we have owned a 12 family apartment and a 6500 Sq Ft school — we are NOT novices to swinging a paintbrush!  But when we left the school we naively said to ourselves that we weren’t going to be doing any more painting.  I mean in Journey we haven’t any interior surfaces that are particularly amenable to paint.  There’s wall covering and wood, and if the wood isn’t really ‘wood’ then it’s masonite covered to LOOK like wood.  So, we blithely went along thinking we might not be doing any more painting until we came back (if ever) to brick & mortar living. That will not be.

The thing is, we are sort of encouraged to do pretty much anything we’d like to spruce up the campgrounds.  There’s a shed here with some macro gardening tools (loppers and bigger saws).  There are the painting projects to keep things looking spiffy.  The Interpretive Center has never been finally stained — they got three sides done and ran out of steam, or help (I’m not sure which).  And there are paths that could use a little trimming to make them more usable.  So — I think we have as much work as we choose to do.  And that’s the nice part about it.  No one says we have to do anything more than the assigned camp host duties — but if we choose we are free to run rampant.  Sounds like MY kind of JOB.

Once the drivers’ testing and form filling were done we had time to bop into Menomonie to get a little shopping done.  Our ‘routine’ — if we have yet developed one — will have to change to accommodate the cycle of camp hosting.  That means Monday through Thursday tend to be pretty quiet — no matter which Corps campground you’re at.  Friday, Saturday, and Sunday tend to keep you busy.  And so, errands and lengthier trips away from the campgrounds are best undertaken early in the week.  And yesterday we stocked up for Katy’s visit so we’re good to go.  Tomorrow we move from our present site to the Camp Host site.

Terrain Map

Click for Larger View

I wanted to share this terrain map of our area.  If you click on the map you’ll see it closer up.  We are right on the edge of an area of nice rolling hills.  The road to the East — towards Menomonie traverses some more of those hills.  This time of year, with all the lush green, this is an absolutely gorgeous area to drive. To the West and North is primarily farmland, with a lot of corn being grown, along with gently rolling hills and light forestation.  We have done a little exploring thus far (this year and last year) — just radiating out from our current location.

When we leave here in September we’ll only be going about 60 miles to the N.W..  Not far at all.  There we’ll be along the St. Croix River (tributary to the Mississippi) What we don’t see from here we can (if we choose) continue exploring while we are there.  There are a couple state parks — Willow Run and Kinnikinic — we explored both of those last year.

Old Diary

Rubber Finger Withdrawal

Ribber FingerWe’ve been officially out of the job market for 22 months, but yesterday Peggy was Jonesing for a fix!

She worked for Aurora Healthcare for some 33 year.  Almost all that time was spend driving a desk in the corporate accounting department doing what most people think hospitals don’t do:  sending money BACK to people who have overpaid.   I always thought that was good.  Better to have people asking YOU for money, than you having to ask THEM for it.

Anyway, today was “shadow the Camp Host day.”  Our predecessors leave here on Wednesday.  Joe and Sandy have been here for a month; it’s been their first experience hosting also.  So, we were trained by novices.  But Wednesday is a pretty quiet day at a Corps campground to Sunday worked out to be a better day to learn our duties.  It didn’t take long, and it’s not like we didn’t know most of what they did — after spending about 7 months worth of time in Corps campgrounds here and there the job is mostly mastered knowledge.

One aspect of our job requires working off of a Corps report called the Daily Arrivals Report.  Sandy took Peg off to a corner to talk about how to handle the information on that report and that’s when it hit.  Wave after wave of withdrawal; wave after wave of urges.  She needed her rubber finger!

It seems (I did not know this) that she wore her rubber finger ALL DAY LONG at her Aurora job. Most of the other women, she says, might wear their rubber finger for a while, and then take it off while they were doing different parts of their job, and put it back on when it came time to work with a lot of paper.  Not Peg.  She was addicted to her rubber finger.  AND TODAY, SHE MISSED IT!

Rubber Finger

It’s funny how little things like that become part of us.  More than just habit — almost like something we think/feel we can’t live without.  For her, that rubber finger was just how she did her job.  She never considered working with out it.  It just was.

I’m not sure if we’ll end up buying her a rubber finger — or if she’ll just give me that part of the job.  We’ll see.

In the meantime, a nice morning rain stopped about noon; the sun was out for the rest of the day.  We took it easy and had most of the campground to ourselves.  If I counted right only 5 sites are occupied tonight.  On the subject of being in the midst of things or not — our Camp Host site is right at the opening of the campground so we’ll see more people coming and going — but I doubt we’ll see as many campers camping until we make rounds.  Our site is separated from most of the others by a hundred yards or so.

2013072117195901FLUSHAnd while we’re at it, Peg finished another Jan Karon book — New Song, while I finished up another Carl Hiaasen book, Flush.  I’ve still got a few more in the library so we won’t run out of material for a while.  IT has been so good to have a mind clear enough to enjoy a good read.  Those months of fussing and fretting about the school seemed to bar the door on reading for fun and reading has always been a part of my life.  I’m glad to have that back again.

Old Diary

Ranger Pete? Not Quite!

COEWe’re joining the army!  The Army of volunteers!

To be clear, Peg and I are going to be Camp Hosts here at the Army Corps of Engineers Campground here at Highland Ridge for the month of August! No — I won’t be a ranger.  It’s not that big of a deal.  But volunteering is something we have talked about even before retiring.  The opportunity fell into our lap when the August Camp Host cancelled out at the last minute.  So, in keeping with the theme of this blog  Life Unscripted we jumped at the opportunity to get on board.

I have yet to cancel three of our two week reservations.  By the time we leave here just after Labor Day we’ll have spent almost two full months here.  And the funny thing is that this was the location we considered making our shortest visit for sundry reasons.  It’s funny how life changes.  As I said yesterday — Life is all about improvisation.


A side effect is that Kathryn will likely visit us — now that we will be closer — so that’s a good benefit.

I’ll tell you more about our duties and what all is involved as time goes on but for now I had to blab my news before I burst.  We found out about the opening on Monday evening, but the volunteer coordinator was off for his two day weekend on Tuesday and Wednesday.  Today we made contact and he wanted to come over to speak with us this morning — and he made it — just before noon.  So, you can imagine that Type A personality Peter was chomping at the bit to ‘hear.’  Even now that we have the house sold the Good Lord continues to work on my patience.  I guess the appropriate response is:  “Thank you, Lord.”

While I waited I did get some sorting and discarding done.  I can’t believe how many computer cables I still have after throwing many of them away when we downsized.  This is going to take a while.  I can see that already.Adaptive T-shirts?

Ok — I have a question for you.  My wife prevailed upon me to get some new T-shirts, which I did.  When I got home I was looking at the packaging and I noticed the advertising slogans.

And I have to ask…

Just how does a t-shirt “adapt to temperature, environment and activity”?  It rather seems to me that it’s inanimate.  It doesn’t DO anything.  The wearer might adapt; but the shirt ain’t gonna do nuthin’. Hoot!

I did finish another book.  Goodwill had a couple more Carl Hiaasen books I haven’t read, or don’t remember reading.  And the first one is already finished.

So, that’s my news.  I’ll talk to you tomorrow!

Old Diary

A Place to Lay Our Head

Our New Home

Our New Home

To say that today was filled with ups and downs would be unfair to an elevator!  We had them:  emotionally, physcially, and geographically. In and out and up and down to pack up and travel.  In and out and up and down along the route — hilly and twisty.  In and out and up and down about where our new home might be.


Water lapping at our tail…

This morning when I woke I looked out the door and the Mississippi was lapping at our rear.  It’s hard to realize how much water this river “holds”.  We were at the widest point of the Mississippi — it’s nearly three miles wide at Thomson, and a dozen miles or so long in this pool for lock #13.  How much water is contained in a lake three miles by twelve miles — if it’s only 1 foot deep?  Or how much water has rushed into that same lake if it suddenly rises two, three, four, or more feet?  It boggles my mind to imagine.

By the time we pulled out this morning the camp hosts were gone and only about 5 units remained — all of whom were being forced out by flood waters.  The Corps will have finished shutting it down by this time and I see on The Weather Channel that flooding is being reported in Fulton IL.

Last night — late — I listened to another message from the people up here at Blackhawk Park.  After assigning us a temporary site yesterday the weather forecast was revised again and we were told (too late to call them back) that they might be closing later this week.  So, last night we wondered what to do.  It’s the busiest week of the year for campgrounds coming up — 4th of July. My resources for places to camp were all telling me this was not going to be easy and we could possibly end up with a couple hundred mile drive to a campground we might LIKE or at least 50-70 miles to a KOA campground which we would be less than keen on .

We got moving around 5:30 and by 7:30 we had packed up, slid in, disconnected, dumped and refilled our fresh water supply — we were ready to go.  And goodness gracious, if the rain that had been plaguing us all night didn’t come to just about a halt.  Saying a prayer for safe traveling mercies we high-tailed it North.

We stopped in Galena for coffee AND….  Literally as we were re-entereing the coach the phone rang again with a call from … you guessed it… the rangers at Blackhawk. The forecast had changed again overnight — they had MISSED a couple rain events and they were hopeful — even optimisitic that we’d be Ok here for at least most of our stay if not all.

Reassured we continued our journey northward with a stop for groceries (Prairie du Chien) and  a stop to look at binoculars (Cabela’s – Prairie du Chien).  The river highway — HWY 35 — had mud slides over the weekend and the highway was closed so we retraced our steps and found a detour.  Finally, about 1 p.m. we arrived in De Soto and pulled into site #67. The first shot shows us in our site.

This area is quite open, with little shade, but when faced with a lot of booked-to-the-gills campgrounds we were happy to have our choice of sites in this area and not to have to scurry for last minute accommodations.

We slowed down enough to snap a few shots of the flooded section.  Just outside the park is a small bait and campers’ supply store.  The owner told us they have been flooded out 5 (FIVE) times since May 1, 2013!!!  Considering last year there wasn’t enough water in the river to keep barge traffic moving — and now flooding — it’s quite a change.

We decided to celebrate with Pastrami sammies — pastrami, mustard, mayo, lettuce, on a sourdough baguette!  Add in a little cole slaw and a beer and it was a meal fit for a king – or if not a king, then at least for Edward X. Delaney!

We’ll be here for 14 nights, Good Lord willin’ and if the creek don’t rise.  Kathryn is scheduled to visit next week for what may be her last visit with us until after Labor Day, so it’s good not to have had to divert a couple hundred miles in the wrong direction.

Our life here will be different than planned — we would normally do a lot of walking here — the place is spread out and there are places TO walk.  But with the flooding we may focus on getting some of that still-put-off organizing work done — especially as regards the basement.  But for now, the awnings are out, the curtains are drawn to keep ourselves cool and we’re basking in the delights of woodpecker rattles, and warblers, and watching turtles sunning on floating logs.  Life is Good!