Old Diary

A check on our solar powered fridge

The first day’s results are in.

Yesterday morning I turned off the battery charging system from the power post here at the Corps of Engineers campsite.  That is an automatic function within the coach.  I have to consciously disable it because most people want their batteries to be charged when they plug into shore power.  In yesterday’s blog I mentioned that I wanted to monitor what happens when we rely solely upon the solar panels to power our new refrigerator.  Seeing as the fridge is powered off the same bank of batteries that power our house lights and some small appliances we’re really testing our over all battery capacity against our typical usage.

Yesterday was a nice sunny day.  By the end of the day, and after several days of severely overcast skies the batteries needed to be brought up to 100% charge.   At the end of the charging day we had a full 600 amp hours in the batteries.  And this morning — as the sun was coming up and the solar panels were about to start working again we still had 94% of our charge. I’m pretty happy with that result.  I will continue monitoring — specially on days with overcast skies — and on strings of days with overcast skies to thoroughly understand the ins-and-outs of the system now that we have a larger continuous load on the system, but I’m happy with the way things are working.

Chill Time

Monday, after two long days of driving, I didn’t accomplish much at all.  We mostly try not to drive two days in a a row but it’s not like we have a “policy” that we won’t do it.  It’s just a preference that we often abide by but don’t get too upset about when we don’t.

It’s interesting though that for various reasons being in Milwaukee seems to have been more ‘stressful’ than one might think.  We’re out of the city, back with nature and after several checks of my BP throughout the day yesterday my numbers are a good 10-15 numbers lower than they were holding steadily in Milwaukee.  We’re back in our kind of environment with the geese and deer and not nearly as many people and no truck backup alarms, and no tow trucks zooming through the parking lot and life is good once again.

The Sunrise Tuesday Morning.

The Sunrise Tuesday Morning.

For the first time in (probably) 3 1/2 months we didn’t get in the car and drive anywhere yesterday.  Even though I had a couple errands I want to run I decided to chill and do nothing.  I started (about 2 p.m.) and finished a James Patterson book,  caught up on computer backups, edited quite a few blog categories and tags — all stuff that I consider ‘doing nothing.’  Peaceful time at the computer, or sitting in the lounge chatting with my sweetheart.

Speaking of sweethearts…

The 21st (of December) is our 47th wedding anniversary.  We’ll be moving from Grenada to the Service Campground on the 20th — so that on the 21st we are stationary and we can just enjoy the day as ‘newlyweds.’ 🙂

Silas AL is not much of a metropolis — I need to get to the grocery before we leave Grenada to find something interesting for our anniversary dinner.  The last couple years we have tended to do restaurants for our anniversary evening but there appear to be only three restos of any sort in Silas AL so I’m going to arrive prepared!

Mrs P — one of my faithful readers — commented the other day about differences in cuisine between East and West (coasts).  And I have been thinking about that comment for a couple days.

One of the things we have noticed as we travel about is how much the grocery stores change from place to place.  I have commented a few times about various things:  corned beef hash, sausages and preserved meats, jelly/preserves, quality of veg/produce, etc. I’m sure I could make comments that would be taken as ‘profiling’ or racially biased but the fact of the matter is that one finds a different variety of product in local stores based upon what the local clientele will purchase.

And sometimes it’s not about different states or cities — sometimes it’s just about neighborhoods.  For example if you go to a grocery that says it’s an Asian grocery or the name of which is obviously Latino one is not surprised to find that the store carries ingredients unique to Asian or Latino cuisine.  But if you go to a Safeway, or Lion, or Sentry, of Jewel it’s easy to think that such differences don’t exist — or don’t exist within departments — but in fact they do.

While in S. Texas we had to learn to buy completely different cuts of beef and pork, and we found it very difficult to find lamb at all.  The cuts of beef were often much larger — intended for the outdoor grill as prime cuts of meat.  The same steaks that we might expect in Milwaukee simply were not to be found — A Porterhouse was extremely hard to find, but what I know as thin-sliced breakfast steaks were in abundance — whereas in Milwaukee not so much.  We have noted that in some areas of the country jams and jellies are found in abundance while in other areas you get the sort of standard grape/strawberry/apricot mix and not a lot more.  Ethnic foods are another telltale.  In some generic groceries there are multiple aisles filled with ethnic food — in others generic groceries you might be lucky to find 1/2 of 1 aisle devoted to ethnic foods.

If you go to a restaurant you’ll find far more standardized dining than if you visit a grocery — or at least so it seems to us.  Especially if you are one of those unimaginative eaters who love chain restaurants — for the thing about chain food is that they work very hard at giving you the exact same thing no matter where you are.  McDonalds has become the ‘taste’ leader — being the first chain to manage giving you the same cup of (admittedly mediocre) coffee no matter where you are.  Their reliance upon reverse osmosis filters (and subsequently their impact on other chains) has done a lot to remove the differences in restaurant coffee based on the local water supply.  Some of you may be young enough never to have tasted coffee made from highly sulphur water, or highly iron coffee but let me tell you, if you missed it, count yourselves lucky.  As terrible as McDonalds coffee might be, it’s infinitely better than coffees I’ve been served in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s in independent restaurants and truck stops.

Lemon Curd dundee orang marmaladeMy dad used to love visiting grocery stores while on roadtrips.  When I was young I never appreciated what he found there;  after we married and started traveling on our own I found myself doing the same thing and discovering the same delights as he.  I remember my first container of Dundee Orang Marmalade or Wilkins Lemon Curd.  The original containers — at least of the Dundee product didn’t even have a screw top lid or safety lid — they were covered with a piece of parchment tied in place with a little bit of string.  And they were outrageously intensely flavored — and we could not find them in Milwaukee.

In college I worked for Uncle August Sausage company and developed a taste for smoked meats.  When I first tasted the difference between fresh liver sausage and smoked Braunschweiger (same contents, but smoked) I was over the moon — my tastebuds woke up for the first time ever (or so it felt).  All of these differences to be found in an average grocery store — forget the idea of traveling the world for taste sensations — and we have done that as well.  One of the best meals I ever ate was in Carcassonne France, when I had a classic Cassoulet which is really nothing more than amped up baked beans — and yet the combination of circumstances and flavors hit a high note I have rarely repeated.  It doesn’t have to be fancy to be extraordinary.  Sometimes the simplest ingredients, honored and respected, produce the best flavors.

And at that, I’m going to get in the car and drive into Grenada to see what we can find for dinner.

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

Old Diary

Back with the Corps

Granada Lake

“The Basin” at North Abutment Campground / Grenada MS

I have to make a point in the next few days of snapping some pictures to illustrate how much the water levels have receded in 12 months.  The reservoir is quite a bit lower than it was last year.

There is nothing as soothing as a still night and the sounds of nature (unless of course it’s a pelting-hard-downpour) which is what we had last evening for a few hours.  It was only the second time in 4 years that the sky was obscured enough that DISH had a hard time finding a signal (for a scant few minutes).  After the pelting downpour the winds finally went away and peace and calm returned over the kingdom of Grenada Lake and the North Abutment campground. 😀

Fridge Update

I’m trying to consciously monitor the life of our new fridge.  What do I mean by that?  Well, it’s all about power consumption, temperature and lifestyle.

For one thing I have noticed that some RV’ers who have household refrigerators consciously shut them down when they travel rather than pulling power from their batteries.  I suppose if you routinely plug in every night at a RV campground that’s a workable solution but I would be concerned about temperature rise in transport and how long the fridge would keep things safely cool.  So it was that when we installed the fridge I purposely plugged the unit into the SHORE POWER outlet knowing that when we moved from Milwaukee the fridge would be disconnected from power until we pulled in here.  And, during approximately 30 hours of disconnection the temps in both the fridge and the freezer appear to have risen about 10º F.  In a pinch — and especially if we were only going to be on the road for 4 or 5 hours that’s not an unbearable situation.  In 4 or 5 hours we’d gain a few degrees and everything would still be well within safety levels.

Now that we are camped and plugged in for a week I removed the plug from the SHORE POWER outlet and plugged it into what used to be the ice maker outlet — one that is powered from the house batteries.  Over the next few days I’m going to monitor how much power we are using.  This is a process in process as it were.   We routinely travel with the inverter turned on for AC power.  I use the AC power to run the laptop that our Silverleaf engine monitor system runs on. So we always have some draw on the batteries, and on the trip down here the skies were so overcast that we didn’t get a lot of solar regeneration.  Still and all we arrived with 93% charged batteries.

Slide Topper Update

A little bit of bad news though.  After arriving we took a walk; needed a little exercise.  From a slightly higher point looking towards the coach I could see that we appear to have torn the slide topper over the curb-side lounge slide.  That’s the biggest of the four slides (wouldn’t you know it)!  We had a LOT of wind in Milwaukee over the last few weeks and I have been a little concerned about those flimsy pieces of awning material.  When it dries up and warms up I’ll get out the ladder to see if I can tape anything to extend the life a few weeks until we can get the awning material replaced — I’m sure that all four of them are original to the coach — so after 11 years I should not be surprised that the material is aging.  C’est la vie.  There’s always something when you’re RV’ing.

Coach lock

I think I mentioned this a few days ago, that we are having problems with the primary door lock on the coach.  It has been getting worse over time. While I might have dealt with it in Milwaukee I have never been thrilled by the expertise of the Milwaukee RV shops. So I made a conscious decision to wait until we got to Florida to have it worked on.  If we are in Ocala for 3 months surely there will be enough time to ship in parts to get the job done. I hope we don’t get locked out of the coach before then, but it was a conscious choice to delay. If we find ourselves locked out I’ll bear the repercussions.  I had enough stressors to deal with while we were in Milwaukee.


The topic of stressors brings up another topic which is my health.  I’m feeling fine.  Of course I was saying that before I visited the doctor too!  I have gradually come to realize that I was much sicker than I realized or even thought about once the situation was explained to me.  So, I’m consciously taking new looks at what I do and how I do it.  As well as what causes me stress and what am I doing about it.  I have always been a serious guy — sometimes to the point of being socially backwards.  I have also been an intense guy who actually worries about things like being on time and doing things the right way — and yes, I’m still one of those guys who believes that there are right and wrong ways of doing/being/living.

Blood Pressure CuffSo, long story short, as long as I’m on a doctor’s regimen to monitor my BP I think I’m going to start checking things that I have always thought were not particularly stressful to me — so see whether my perceptions match with reality.  For example I have driven so much in my life that I have always felt relaxed while I was driving.  Maybe not so much in the middle of an ice storm — and I’ve done many of those trips — but overall, pretty relaxed.  Saturday night I made a point of checking my BP after pulling into Wally World knowing that I had been stressing about whether we’d have difficulty finding a place for the night.  Happily I was slightly higher but not overly so.  Last night after arriving here in Grenada I was actually right about my new normal  — 117/74 — which is right in there where the doctor wants me.  We all worked hard to drop that number in the last couple months — the less pressure I generate the less stress on my dilated aorta.  Makes sense to me!

All in all I’m just being more deliberate about a lot of things.  Which, I guess, is a good thing for someone my age.  At least it’s good if I want to live a lot more years!  Which I do.

Thanks for stopping and I’ll talk with you tomorrow.

Old Diary

Morning Glories and Morning Glories

20150803182415112015080318040706There are Morning Glory’s and there are MORNING GLORY’s.

On our last visit to Highland Ridge we started hearing about the Morning Glory and it took us a while to realize the Corps staffers were not talking about flowers.  I have thought from time to time about these round holes in the water but after leaving here I (make that WE) forgot the name, and eventually we forgot about them completely as an inspiration for a post.  Returning here, the subject arose once again.

We learn something wherever we go and earth packed dams are one of the things we learned about here.  The Corps builds them primarily for flood control projects.  The rivers are smaller than for example the Mississippi or the Columbia.  We haven’t often seen movable sluice gates at them.  Instead the Morning Glory is an alternative form of spillway for the release of water from the dam.  The Corps dams are massive for sure.  And there are little idiosyncrasies about this ‘business’ of dams and water control that strike us as curious.

I guess you could a Morning Glory something like a relief valve.  Earthen dams are built to contain a specific amount of water and with seasonal fluctuations in water level the cam can be overstressed.  So spillways are built in so that regardless of other situations the water will never rise TOO high.   Hence the Morning Glory. They are also these large concrete vertical tunnels that prove a set height at which a dam will begin releasing water.

As for the other kind of Morning Glory — there are over 1000 different species and some other day maybe I’ll talk about them.

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

Old Diary

You Never Know What Might Pop Up

Sunday at Highland Ridge was a lot of fun.  We had visitors!

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Our former ‘boss’ here at Highland Ridge stopped by to see us and chat, and then later in the after noon he stopped back again with his wife Emily, and their cute little 4 month old Stella.

It’s been a long time since we’ve been holding babies and there really isn’t anything in the world as beautiful as a little child!  Peg got her turn, I got my turn, and for a little kid who had gotten woke up from her nap twice that afternoon she was amazingly happy and content.  No fussing, hardly a peep out of her and such a little bundle of love!

Brad is a pretty interesting guy.  In addition being a Corps of Engineers Staff member — he’s in charge of volunteers, the seasonal ranger staff, and tours an at least two COE properties — as well as covering for the one staff member by which they are understaffed  — he also RAISES BEES and is an amazing BLOWN GLASS artist.

We caught up on the last two years since leaving here and had a great chin-wag.

While he was here he mentioned that he had nothing lined up for volunteer staff for next summer.  We talked a bit and I think we may return here and spend the May-September camping season hosting here.  Things are still a little tentative; he’s got us pencilled in but we can back out if we need to — after all we haven’t even had this year’s doctor’s visit yet and while we’re feeling good you never know what doctors might throw your way.   So, our Life Unscripted may not have details written into it, but there are a few blocks of time pencilled into our jello plans.

With our grand-kid in Minneapolis, and a new boyfriend serious enough to be co-habiting, grandparents never know when they might be called upon to show up for official events ( 😇 ).  Grandmothers are always thinking of such things.  At any rate, here we are about 75 miles from where the G-kid lives, and about 300 from our daughter so we’d be further away from our daughter than we were in Thomson or Blackhawk — but visiting us here could kill two birds with one visit — seeing us and Melanie.  So, could be win-win for all involved.

That’s about it for now.  thanks for stopping and I’ll talk with you tomorrow!

Old Diary

Parting Glances at Highland Ridge


a view of the fields, alternating rows of corn and soy, on the road into the park.


The beach at the Day Use area.


a panorama of the lake from the overlook above the dam.

By the time this posts we will have departed Highland Ridge and moved to Willow River State Park for two weeks.   Before leaving the topic for the blog I wanted to put just a couple images of the area.  This is hilly country.  There is good soil here.  The area is partially populated by a community of Amish with their ways and their wagons and home crafts including some marvelous food — baked, produced, and furniture.  There is a cheese factory (Cady Cheese Compan) about 3 miles from the campground, a lovely little town with several restaurants, a hardware store, grocery, and — of course — a laundromat.  This is Wisconsin hardwoods forest country with farming fields cut out from the forests with lots of hard work — but the farms here prosper in spite of the shorter growing season that is just part of Northern Wisconsin.

We like all the places we’ve stayed with the Corps, but I have to say that the intimacy of the forest here, and the few campsites (50 some) make this a really lovely place that resonates with our soul.

Thanks for stopping, and I’ll talk with you tomorrow.

Old Diary

The Ichneumon Wasp

We were taking in our usual evening walk recently at Highland Ridge when we came upon a sizable dead tree with a couple 2” diameter holes in the trunk, the holes extending back into the trunk some distance. On what remained of the bark I saw these critters.  2015080209272506 2015080209273709 2015080209274214

There were live specimens — in full color.  There were dead ones that had faded black.  I have never seen a wasp this size before.  From tip to tail some of them were nearly 7” long.   About 1/2 of that length was the ovipositor — the device the female uses to lay her eggs.  They look terrifying but didn’t seem to be bothered by my presence or my camera.

The eggs are laid on or near other insect eggs in the same tree.  When hatched the young will feed on the other insects first until they have reached flying stage. The wasps that you see here are the final adult stage of the insect; their lifespan (like the mayflies – or Shad Flies)  is quite short and they do not feed at all.

Giants like these stay away from cities and tend to be found only in deep forested woods.

The larvae are parasites of the Pigeon Horntail larvae, another tree-laying wasp.  They will feed on the horntail larvae.

This is truly a North American Insect. 

Thanks for stopping and I’ll talk with you tomorrow.

Old Diary

Too many trees, Too few trees

The Best PeachNo matter what you do, you’re never going to please everyone.  On Thursday I was chatting with another camper (whom we seem to be following from campground to campground) about Corps of Engineers campgrounds.

They are a lovely couple, have been full timing about as long as we, and they have been working their way around the country going to Corps campgrounds in every state — this was the last Corps campground in Wisconsin that they had to try.  And it seems “this is the worst Corps Campground we have been in.”  — so says the husband.


Highland Ridge Campground, Eau Galle Lake, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Spring Valley, Wisconsin

Two years ago when we were hosting here a camper arrived from NJ (not on a single day’s drive — that’s where they were from — and he proceeded to tell us that there were too many trees here, and the sites were too hilly.  “The Corps should just chop all of these trees down and make the sites bigger and easier to get into” he was quick to tell me.  They left the next morning.  Evidently they didn’t like it either.

And then you have us, (and hundreds of others) who love the campground as it is, and hope they never do anything to change it.  We have stayed here three out of our almost four years of full timing.  I think that’s a reasonable demonstration that we like this place.

I participate in an RV’ers community called RVillage.com and one of the curiosities has been the number of people who participate in an online community and expect others to do their research for them.  “We’re buying an RV in the next couple years, can you tell us which is better a 5th Wheel or a Class A” ,  “What kind of tires should I buy,”  “How can I get from Pueblo CO to Kansas City”…. you get the idea.  I sometimes wonder if they really want to know something, or if that’s just their way of trying to make conversation (I don’t think it is).  Then again I remember that some professor in Oregon (I think) has concluded that there are something like 26 different ways of learning — and I guess expecting others to do your research for you is one of them.  But I just don’t get it.   Still and all, the point is everyone has their own opinion and when it comes to camping and RV’ing we all do it differently because we are all individuals.

There are days when I think I need to get the phrase, “There’s No Right Way to RV” tattooed on my forehead.  But no one’s paying attention anyway!

Our stay here looks like it will be lovely this year.  The campground is on high ground.  Temperatures between here and the town of Spring Valley in the … duh… VALLEY…  can vary by as much as 10º over a distance of scarcely 5 miles…. this is a little microclimate;  one of those areas where drafts and tree cover do fascinating things to temperature and precipitation.  We’ve been in the low 80’s on the thermometer but it feels much cooler.  I haven’t had the A/C on since we arrived and the sun-dappled light is easier on the eyes when you’re outside.

We’ve been getting reacquainted with people.  The Corps staff has changed markedly in 2 years but those who know us have been a pleasure to talk with and those who don’t are becoming fast friends already.

This is NOT a flat campground.  Well… there might be two spots in the campground that are flat but they aren’t very large.  Our twice daily walks within the campground put on at least 1.3 miles each and I can feel it in my knees and my calves especially.  After the flat terrain of Thomson, and Blackhawk we’re working other muscles than we were there and it’s good for us.

Tent-Camping-ImageThis is very much a family campground.  To us it seems as if there are more grand parents and grand kids here than at almost any other campground we have ever visited.  Every campground does have it’s own personality.  Many of the campers are here every weekend and the majority come from … oh,  about a 50 mile radius.

The Rangers and county sheriff make regular tours through the park and even at capacity it’s rare to find rowdy campers or campground abusers.  The only time we witnessed that the Sheriff made short work of ending that situation.  It’s nice to be in a place where people are polite to each other and outgoing.  Sitting in our chairs in the afternoon shade yesterday it was even hard to get through a few chapters in the book I’m currently reading for all the friendly folks who stopped by just to chat.  We could have turned out chairs away from the street and they would have walked right on by, but it’s more fun to face out to the road and see who might make the 10 step detour off the road and over to talk.  Being on a corner in the campground people walk around two side of our site so there’s plenty of time for interaction.

The diets are coming along.  We’re both down 10 lbs (over differing time periods) and we are feeling good.  With any amount of luck I won’t get yelled at by the doctor for gaining weight this year and I might be closer to my weight from 2 years ago instead of last year’s embarrassment.walking

Being on a diet means that we aren’t going to some of the restos we discovered 2 years ago.  For a rural community we found that there were several little ma & pa operations nearby that we really enjoyed and the people were lovely.  I’ll miss seeing them and getting re-acquainted but you can’t have everything and right now getting healthier is more important.  I realized a couple months ago that after the double dose of the flu that I had during the winter and spending several weeks in bed, followed by the sprained ankle that my stamina needs improvement so I’ve been trying to be good about regular exercise in addition to watching the pounds.  We’re getting there.

Oh, and that couple that think this is the worst campground… well they have more experience of Corps camping in Texas and we got a couple ideas for what we might do in future winters; once we get past this winter’s stay at Bosque del Apache.

Thanks for coming along on our Life Unscripted.  It’s nice to hear from those of you who follow regularly.  And, I’ll talk with you tomorrow.


Old Diary

Luxuriating in the Forest


How idyllic! tree lined roads and only about 6 campers in 53 sites on a Wednesday.


A nice playground for the kids / This is a favorite weekend spot for a lot of locals.


adjacent to the playground is the Interpretive Center.


Our site is more than long enough for our 40’ coach. The CR-V isn’t even at the end of the drive.


The camp road runs alongside the site, and Peggy is enjoying the cool breezes on a 84º day.


The view out of our lounge window

It has been over a year since we had a wooded site like this.  I’m not quite sure but we’ve been enjoying the sun and open campsites but you can get to the point that you forget what you’ve been missing.

Highland Ridge (USACOE) is a small campground, probably the smallest since we left our little enclosure on the Siuslaw Forest.  With only 53 sites here, and being nestled into a Wisconsin hardwoods forest, it’s so the complete opposite of where we’ve been recently.  And it’s a good reminder that the same temperatures  when filtered through the forest canopy is a good deal more comfortable than being out there in the  sun.

It’s a short drive from Blackhawk Park to Highland Ridge.  About 140 miles, three hours (the way we drive) and about 1/2 of it follows the Mississippi with plenty of choice views. The route is all US highway, State Highway and County Highway.  Oddly enough the bumpiest part was state highway.  Even the county roads were better than WI-35 at this point.  That road is really in need of some TLC.

There’s a small lake here — the results of the packed earth dam put in here during the 1960’s.  Unfortunately, the lake is not accessible from the campground directly. You have to drive about 8 miles around the lake to get to one of several access points.  But there is a nice overlook at the campground.

With sites as long as 70’ it’s easy enough for big rigs to get in — but not all the sites are as luxurious  so you need to check the Recreation.gov listing to insure the site you’re looking at is suitable.  The sites are Electric only.  No water at the site.  No sewer at the site.  There is a dump station at the park entrance.  But it’s good to note that most of the water spigots that campers might used to refill their water tanks do not have stay-open faucets.  Someone decided that if you weren’t really willing to hold the faucet open you really didn’t want water after all.  Seeing as our coach takes 30 minutes to fill with a 45psi pressure regulator when we are 1/3 full it’s something you want to think about.  In this case we’ll only be here for 1 week and our next stop is only 30 miles up the road — so we’ll refill when we arrive there instead of before we leave Highland Ridge.

Well, that was our Wednesday.  Thanks for stopping by, and I’ll talk with you tomorrow.