BBQ & Route 66…..it was Epic!

 

Our last outing was a 3 week jaunt down through the south.  Now anytime man child and I hit the south, our tastebuds involuntarily start drooling as we are big BBQ fans.  And this trip was no disappointment.

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One very big thing we discovered at our first BBQ stop in Tennessee, is that meat can be purchased by the pound!  And when traveling in a small Class B van, with refrigeration, this is a very good thing to know.

But I get ahead of myself, back to Route 66.  We started outside of Chicago, IL.  I really debated:  Do we go into the city to make this authentic (starting at the start) or do we call it good enough and catch it off Interstate 80?  I was still debating this as I careened west on  I80 and then I saw the sign for Route 66 (now called IL53).  Route 66 runs parallel to much of IL53 and US 55, so following it, initially, wasn’t too hard.  We tried to stay as much on the exact route as possible and enjoyed the changing scenery as we drove away from Chicago.  Our first stop was a McDonalds on 66 about 1 hour south of I80 and I want to caution anyone using public wifi at this stop, as we think it was here the man child’s info got captured.  This was our first time running into this on all our travels, and we were ultra cautious about free wifi from here on out.

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The scenery was classic mid-western and we enjoyed it, but things got a little more tricky as we went on following the Route 66 signs.  In a few places they led you onto US55 and then they didn’t lead you back off.  We spent a lot of time in our atlas trying to stay on the route as much as possible.  Eventually we stopped in a rest stop and the attendant had Route 66 maps tucked away (be sure to ask).  This stop also featured some items in museum-esque fashion.  It was fun to see these oldie but goodie things of bygone days.

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Route 66 memorabilia

We finally tracked into Springfield, IL after a long, long stretch on the east side of US55 and a lot of trying to follow the route.  I can’t say that Route 66 directional signs were plentiful.  I finally caught on that we needed to look after the main streets (and not before, as many places stick up signs indicating where turns are required).  If there was a sign after the street, down the way a bit, then we’d know we were still on Route 66.  Forget about signs telling you where to turn.  There weren’t a lot of those.  I wondered, at this point, how the foreign tourists navigate this.  At least I was accustomed to American byways.  If I had to do this over, I would have printed more information off the internet.  There are a couple of good sites dedicated to Route 66.

Speaking of foreign tourists, we ran into one a few months back at the Wal Mart near our Northern Indiana home.  They were outfitting a new Class C RV in the Wal Mart parking lot.  Turns out, according to this German man, coming over and taking an RV through Route 66 is a huge thing to do.  They start out here in Northern Indiana and end up in California, where I presume they dump all those camp chairs, coolers and bedding, then fly home after seeing the real America.  That’s awesome, but I was just wondering how they found Route 66 to follow, to be honest.  It was very challenging at times and at least 4 or 5 times, we got off the route and, by some happenstance, ended back up on it, to our great surprise.  But I imagine they did a whole lot of heading the right direction and it all worked out.

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Route 66 games!

A whole day of driving and we ended up outside of St. Louis, where we found a hotel parking lot to boondock in and we called it a night.  We had started this great Route 66 adventure and we were nearing the end of this portion, before moving on to the Great River Road and BBQ heaven.

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Our 1996 Dodge 190 Popular named Jonah

 

 

BBQ, Blues and headed to Bayous – Mississippi & Louisiana

This was our first trip to this area of the country and we were really looking forward to it.   For the man child and I, 70% of the enjoyment of the trip is just the drive – looking out the windshield at all there is to see and exactly what it looks like. I think parts of it are imprinted in our brains. I know that’s the case with my brain as there are many times I take those imprints out from the place they are stored in my mind, and bring them up to remember again. And so it was with this trip – delightfully so.

 

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My favorite sight in Memphis ~ gas at this price!

We hit Mississippi after a night in Memphis. (That will be a different blog post.) It’s very flat in the north of the state. Lots and lots of casinos sit on the Mississippi River but we passed those by. Our plan was to coast down the Great River Road and we had been following those Great River Road signs down the Mississippi for a couple of states.   One problem though – the Mississippi delta is flat and low and so all we really saw for miles and miles were levees built to keep the Mississippi out of the delta. Big levees. Levees so big you cannot see the Mississippi River when driving. After a while even our highway was built up on a levee. And as we had elected to follow the Great River Road we missed most of the Blues trail. Not a huge miss as we aren’t big Blues fans, but nonetheless, it probably would have been more interesting than hour after hour of farmland and levee. Most of my attention, at this point, went to maintaining the van on top of the levee road.

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The levee in Natchez from the Visitors Center.

 

We were, however, delighted with the Mississippi Welcome Center on intersection of Highway 49 and Highway 61. We’ve made it a point to stop at these and this one was a delight. Built to resemble antebellum mansions, this one had an exhibit of Native American artifacts found on site. The gals manning the center were so helpful too. We took a couple of hours to have lunch in the parking lot and I noticed an RV dump, along with picnic tables, grill and RV parking. Apparently all their centers throughout the state were this well equipped. My guess is you could ask permission to stay the night onsite. We’ll definitely remember to stop at these next time we are back in Mississippi.

 

As we continued along our way, we came across the Winterville Indian mounds site. We parked and went into the small museum (free admittance). The tour started with a short video about the history of the area and the Indians who lived there and some background on the Mounds. We walked out the back of the museum and went over to the largest mound to see them up close. It was definitely worth the stop. It’s located on State Hwy 1, about six miles north of Greenville, Mississippi and the museum is open daily. I also noted the grounds must get very gorgeous in spring, as the local garden society has done lots of planting. There was also a pond on the property. It looked like the gate was locked nightly or this would make a great place to boondock.

 

Next up, Natchez.  As we had arrived at night in Natchez I didn’t want to spend time driving around so when we came upon a Wal Mart, that’s where we stopped.   Next morning, we drove the town delighting in the houses and how different than our own region they looked. The Natchez Visitor Center had been recommended and it was worth the stop. There is a huge area museum inside and a viewing area for the Mississippi. A National Parks site sits inside the Visitors Center with a very reasonable charge to see a movie of the area. It also it looked like boondocking in the parking lot was a no-brainer as the lot is huge. (Plus it looked like a couple of people were doing just that.) A better tip, if parking is allowed, was a large parking lot right on the Mississippi in a lot on South Broadway in the old downtown area.  I imagine, though, that in the summer there were be lots of people and cars choking this lot, but since it was February, that wasn’t an issue. The view down the Mississippi from this lot was spectacular.

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Continuing on, the topography changed the further south we got and Mississippi got super hilly and very piney and quite beautiful. (Still no bayous though.) But we so enjoyed the view out the window. Along the way, signs were popping up for antebellum houses and plantations and tours.  Add this to my bucket list.  We didn’t stop that day, as the man-child had absolutely no interest in seeing an antebellum house.

 

We coasted into Louisiana. After a quick overnight at the Cracker Barrel in Gonzales, Louisiana (RV parking behind the Cracker Barrel) and a stop at a few of their stores to drop some cash (who would have thought I would finally score the size 12 women’s black boots with the larger calf on a clearance rack in LA?), we headed on to Baton Rouge. Located right on the Mississippi River there is an old section of town (and an old and new statehouse) and we so enjoyed seeing it all. In my mind’s eye I could just see the trade and hustle and bustle down this river and into this town in ages past. We had a lovely lunch stop in Capitol Park and man-child grabbed the fishing pole and tried to catch a fish or two in the ponds. His main concern that an alligator would come out to eat him never came to pass (thank goodness) and while he fished, I tidied up the van. Both of us were basking in the warmth of 68 degrees, he after changing into shorts and a t-shirt. For us northerners, yes, 68 is warm. Especially considering we had word of a blizzard up where we lived. We were ever so glad to be in warm weather!

Later it was off the New Orleans. We had a couple of state parks in mind.   We’ll share that adventure in another blog post.  And what did BBQ have to do with all of this you ask?  We stopped and ate it whenever possible.  The BBQ joints got fewer and further between the further south we went (in favor of fish places).  The best thing we did was buy it by the pound to have in the Roadtrek as we went.  NOM, NOM. NOM.

 

 

 

 

Pickles & Spontaneous trips

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Just a few of the pickles and pickled products for sale at Sechler’s Pickle Factory in St. Joe, Indiana.
Sechler's Pickle Factory, home of the giant hanging pickle!
Sechler’s Pickle Factory, home of the giant hanging pickle!

We had a quick couple of days (and a doctor’s appointment scheduled one state over) so we left early to make our visit more productive.  If I am spending on the gas anyway, might as well enjoy the trip.  So in our usual, no-idea-which-way-we-are-headed mode, we took off after throwing a couple of things in the van – like food and clothes.

We generally travel with enough clothes in Jonah, our ’96 Roadtrek Popular,  to make it work whatever we do, especially after a trip this same direction a couple of months earlier, which spontaneously morphed from overnight to four days.  That resulted in a Wal Mart stop for more t-shirts and shorts for the man child (while mom was thinking of all the t-shirts and shorts hanging in his closet).  But we chalked it up to spontaneity and man child actually found a couple of really funny cat t-shirts, including one to gift to his big brother.

Here's Jonah, when we picked him up 8 months prior. Isn't he handsome?
Here’s Jonah, when we picked him up 8 months prior. Isn’t he handsome?

Driving off toward the direction we needed to be, we spied a small two lane highway on our map that connected to the main road.  Never a fan of main roads when undriven two lanes are nearby, we veered off that way.  Adventure awaited!  Shortly we saw the sign for the Sechler’s Pickle Factory in St. Joe, Indiana (northeast of Ft. Wayne, IN).  Mom had been here many years prior (with a couple of the older set of man child’s siblings), but unfortunately on that day they weren’t doing tours.  So here was a chance to rectify that closure and see the pickle factory.

Free tasting bar!
Free tasting bar!

This free tour was completely worth the stop!  The pickle store contained all sorts of things pickle (including pickle Christmas ornaments, pickle pillows, and pickle keychains), but the highlight was the free tasty pickle bar to try the flavors for sale on the shelves behind us.  We arrived early (tours on the half hour), looked at all the yummy pickles and such for sale, peaked through the windows at the factory we were soon to tour, all while waiting for two o’clock.

Attractive free tour hair nets.
Man child models the attractive free hair nets.

Coincidentally, the retirement tour bus arrived shortly and a few sweet old ladies, complete with walkers and a wheelchair, were to join in.  This would prove to be interesting.  We donned our hair nets with gusto, signed a statement indicating no open wounds (yes, really) and we were ready to learn about pickles!

Actually it was a wonderful learning experience.  This factory has been in operation for almost 100 years and is the last pickle factory of it’s kind in this area of the state.  They private label many other kinds of pickles (and they looked like upscale pickles too) along with their own brand, sold in many areas of Indiana, and they ship all over the country.  While they used to sit smack dab in the middle of a dill pickle patch, now there are no more pickle farms in Indiana so their pickles come in from Michigan and Florida.

We learned the difference between fresh pack pickles, (processed in a vinegar solution, which is primarily how they make pickles in the summer), and processed pickles (think mom’s canning in a pressure cooker).  Would you believe they have 100 year old cypress wood tanks to process the pickles (just like a fine wine, lol) and that, even though we are one cold winter climate, the pickle tanks sit outside year round as the brine is salted water and it will not freeze?  The pickles outside will sit in this brine 2 or 3 months, before being pulled inside to continue their pickle journey to someone’s mouth.

Brining tanks outside of the factory. Can you imagine that these are almost 100 years old and still going strong?
Brining tanks outside of the factory. Can you imagine that these are almost 100 years old and still going strong?

Next up was the copper kettle room where great big kettles sat to process the pickles.  Here they also make candied pickles (yum) and pickle relish (double yum).  It just takes a couple of weeks in this room, before moving on.

The pepper relish cures in these big bins in the
The pickle relish cures in these big barrels in the copper kettle room. Over 50,000 gallons of vinegar are used in this plant a year.

Then it’s off to the packing room.  Not modernized and sleek by any means, but it was thoroughly refreshing to see real people packing real pickles.  After packing, the fresh packs sit upside down in the box for two weeks and then ship while the processed pickles sit longer before going out the door.

Processed pickles coming off the line.
Processed pickles coming off the line.
Pickles waiting to finish. Notice the boxes are upside down so these are fresh process pickles.
Pickles waiting to finish. Notice the boxes are upside down so these are fresh process pickles.

The parking lot isn’t large by any means, but I would guess if you were out by opening time (8:30 a.m) they might even let you boondock in their parking lot.  That’s only a guess but the factory is the only thing around and not particularly huge.  A picnic table sat by the parking lot for an enjoyable picnic with your newly purchased pickles.  (The tour was totally free with no mandatory pickle purchase.)

It’s worth the detour if you are in this area or even cruising by on the 80/90 Toll Road.  You’ll have to detour south about 45 minutes on I-69, and then east a bit, but you’ll be glad you did.  It’s worth the time.

So ended our pickle adventures and we were back in the Roadtrek and on the road.

Here’s where we found Sechler’s Pickles: 5686 SR 1, St.Joe, Indiana 46785.  They’ll ship to you too if you order at http://www.sechlerspickles.com.  Here’s their Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/sechlerspicklesinc.  Their Facebook says they are open 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily but I would call first to make sure they are processing, especially if it’s in the winter. No pickle payment was made for this post.  We just really enjoyed this free tour.

Out the door and into the wild blue yonder!

There’s this nervous excitement in the stomach the days leading up to a trip.  Must be all the possibilities swirling around.  As we spontaneously travel (i.e. no set schedule but just a general idea) maybe it really is just nerves:  will we find places to boondock?; will the travel funds last until we are satisfied we’ve done what we set out to accomplish?; will the weather turn and it end up stifling hot/freezing cold?  This and many other questions stick with me as we (read Mom) preps the van, preps the food, and preps the clothes for another adventure.

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Jonah, our 1996 D190P.
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These little baskets fit perfectly in the shelves and keep things from rattling around. $1 each!

Jonah, our big white whale of a 1996 Roadtrek Popular, has had a lot of things done to him since we made our Canada trip last March.  Some involved fixing the poorly done winterizing job (which we paid a pretty penny for) as we made our way out of Florida 8 short months ago.  Spring came and so did the time to de-winterize.  Panic postings on the Roadtrek Facebook group for support brought a very kind offer to assist.  It was then we found three leaks and an improperly installed water heater bypass.  Oh my!  No wonder de-winterizing wasn’t going as expected.  So now with a properly installed hot water bypass and a water pump bypass (and three leaks resolved) we are good to go if we run into an unexpected cold snap, though that really shouldn’t be a concern even if we are heading north this time of year.  The fridge has been pulled and thoroughly cleaned up and now we have propane working to keep everything cold.  This was a big plus as previously we only ran on 12V and electric as the propane would work 10 minutes and then go out.  Since we boondock and don’t have solar, electric doesn’t do much to assist.  So we can plan to take more of our food, resulting in savings but also allowing location flexibility.

Dollar Tree has become our friend as we continue to find small, inexpensive hacks to assist with organization.  Yesterday’s finds included a plastic soap dish and a plastic cup and toothbrush holder, both with suction cups.  Plus three sunglass holders that fit perfectly over the ledge above our heads.  For a dollar an item, if you don’t like the hack or it doesn’t hold up, no worries as you haven’t broken the bank.

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Love these cheapo hacks. This holds hats, sweaters and all sorts of things. Though made for a door, they fit perfectly in the van.

Then there’s the question of am I bringing enough things to do?  Not knowing where we’ll end up or what we’ll be doing makes it hard to judge what to bring along.  So I settled for a book I’ve been needing to get to and some recipes I need to look over and make a menu plan with (as we’ll launch into school mode when we return).  Man child is bringing a small fishing pole and some tackle, a baseball and a small scooter that folds down.  We’ve also got lots of audio books on my smartphone to listen to as the miles go by.

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Go Sun Solar oven. Pic from their website.

Also making the cut is the Go Sun solar oven we received after posting a picture of Jonah on the Roadtreking website.  We are bringing things that can be cooked in this long, narrow tube solar oven and plan to experiment around with it.  We found the perfect place to transport it under the back driver’s side bed.  Win!

So it’s T-minus 12 hours until take off.  Hip, hip Hooray!  We’ll keep you posted.

Ottawa ~ A capital idea!

I have a confession to make. I had no idea where Ottawa was or that it was Canada’s capital until I felt the nudge to visit. So I looked it up and, low and behold, it was in a perfect location to stop by on our tour through a bit of Ontario and Quebec. And I must say we thoroughly enjoyed our quick visit.

Actually both the man child and I were totally impressed with Canada, except maybe the fuel prices, which were a good 50% higher than what we are paying at our home in the Midwest. But adventure is out the door and not here, so it is worth the price of fuel. Besides, with a Class B RV you don’t worry about hotel rooms or eating out constantly, so fuel is really the biggest expense.

We left our visit to Old Montreal (Blog post here:  http://wp.me/p4VhkU-k) and headed toward Ottawa. Only 200 kilometers (124 miles) to the west, this town was easy to arrive at. We were surprised there were no rest stops between Montreal and Ottawa on Highway 417 (The Trans Canada Hwy), as we had been thoroughly spoiled on our trip to Montreal, but the gas stations were plentiful. We also located a Tim Horton’s, and, I am so sorry Canada if Tim Horton’s defines who you are, but we loved them. I am convinced in 20 years as man child looks back on his Canadian spring break trip, it’s going to be with a fondness colored by Tim Horton’s doughnuts.

For those new to traveling Canada, make a note that you’ll want to fill up in Ontario where gas is much cheaper than Quebec. By a lot actually! We noted a difference of about 20 cents a liter, which equates to about 75 cents per gallon.

We travel very spontaneously and I had my eye out for a place for us to boondock as we drove into and through Ottawa. I am new at this game, boondocking and traveling with your bed in your van, so I am constantly balancing looking for a safe looking area to park overnight along with our need for a restroom before we head to bed, the van being winterized at this point. Push come to shove it wouldn’t be the end of the world to use the toilet in the van, but, given this is our first year with our Roadtrek, I am still really unfamiliar with the systems.

My happiness in arriving turned to shear joy when I spotted an Ikea just off the Highway 417 in Napean. Living in the Midwest, we only see these as we traverse big cities, so stopping is a given. Plus I have an older daughter who just moved into her own apartment with a birthday coming up, so it was a win-win situation: Mom shops and knocks a birthday gift off the list. Plus I had heard that Ikeas are often friendly to overnight camping and thought we could ask if we decided to stay. But I really became elated when I realized my American dollar was worth more, at this juncture, so everything was going to come with a discount. WooHoo! This turned out to be the first of two visits – another one made on our way out of town – to outfit the van with a mattress that can be rolled up when not traveling. Our bed just went from suitable to comfortable and it was worth the money. We passed on staying the night at this Ikea as it was right next to the highway and we didn’t want highway noise all night.

In the end we realized we were about 10 minutes from a hotel, free courtesy of Dad’s hotel points, and as it had been 3 days with no shower and we really needed some do some laundry, this was probably the best option. Additionally everything was turning to ice on the roads as an icy drizzle started, which later turned into two inches of snow, and if seemed like we just needed to be off the roads for the night. All in all it was a good night to stop. I did notice the large back parking lot of our hotel as we pulled out the next morning and thought that might come in handy if we needed a second night in Ottawa.

The Parliament building.
The Parliament building.

The next morning we were out the door to visit Parliament Hill. Coincidentally this was a Sunday but we discovered that is the perfect time to go. Street parking was free and we quickly secured a spot just about 4 blocks from Parliament Hill on Albert Street in front of another Tim Horton’s (doughnuts not sampled this day). We parked and walked over to Wellington St. amazed that in a major city there is still free parking downtown. Parking restrictions seemed geared to Monday through Friday during work hours so this could actually have been a good boondocking site during the weekend, anywhere along the city streets south of Parliament Hill.

This was the highlight of our visit to Ottawa. I was amazed that the visit to Parliament Hill was free. Tickets are now available at Parliament Hill itself (not across the street as shown on their website). I thought their system was super efficient – you show up and can get tickets to upcoming tours at the hour convenient for you, provided they still have them.

We arrived too late to see the changing of the guard at Parliament Hill (9:45 am) but early enough to still get tickets for the day. Note you’ll go through double security to get in and the size of bags is restricted, but we checked through easily enough. While waiting for your tour, there is plenty to see and do. We took the elevator up to the Peace Tower. It took about 20 minutes of waiting (on a cold March day so add to this if you are going during peak times), but eventually we made it to the front of the line and were sent up an elevator to an observation area high up in the tower of the Parliament building. From here you can see all of Ottawa, plus across the Ottawa River into Quebec. There were interesting historical facts posted throughout the tower and it gave you a great view of the various parts of the Parliament building and the grounds. We also saw the U.S. Embassy from up high.

A view of the U.S. Embassy.
A view of the U.S. Embassy.

After we were done viewing, we took the elevator down and then entered the Memorial Chamber, which houses the Books of Remembrance bearing the names of all those who have perished in the wars Canada has fought in since confederation in 1867. Each morning at 11 am a page is turned in each book so that each name is seen at least once in the year. The Chamber was beautiful and a fitting tribute to those who have died in their nation’s defense. We spent a good deal of time looking at each book and the year it was completed. Man child was intent on locating a family name, as family on his dad’s side came out of Quebec in the 1800’s. No similar names were found and I just enjoyed looking at the beautiful calligraphy and wondered how much time it had taken to prepare each book.

A focal point in the Memorial Chamber holding some of the Books of Remembrance.
A focal point in the Memorial Chamber holding some of the Books of Remembrance.
Man child reading one of the Books.
Man child reading one of the Books.

After we viewed the books, we went back downstairs to await our tour time. I will say I really loved listening to the young tour guides switch back and forth between flawless English and flawless French. Some had slight accents, but all were fully functional in English and, I imagine, French also. After two years of high school French I can only conjugate one French verb and am not fully functional. I redeemed myself in later years with Spanish, which was so helpful in figuring things out on this trip, since both have the same language roots.

Queen Victoria at attention in the Parlimentary Library.
Queen Victoria at attention in the Parlimentary Library.
Inside the library. This was built separated from the main building and with iron doors to protect the contents in case of fire. In fact, those design features did save this library after a fire started. One of the librarians had the presence of mind to shut the iron doors, thereby saving the documents within.
Inside the library. This was built separated from the main building and with iron doors to protect the contents in case of fire. In fact, those design features did save this library after a fire started. One of the librarians had the presence of mind to shut the iron doors, thereby saving the documents within.

The tour ran about 50 minutes and took us by the Commons chambers, into the Library of Parliament and then into the Senate chambers. The architecture is stunning, at least to us Americans, and reminded the man child and I we have yet to see Europe. The tour was highly informative and gave so much information about how government works in Canada. It was even fun to see the large chairs with red velvet for the Governor General and his spouse and imagine them sitting in them, as the Queen in absentia, presiding over the working of government in Canada. Okay, so maybe that a little fanciful, but it was grand to see and hear how it all works for our Northern neighbors.

Could this be bonnie Prince Charles? I believe this was called the Monarch's area outside of the Senate Chambers.
Could this be bonnie Prince Charles? I believe this was called the Monarch’s area outside of the Senate Chambers.

We lunched in our van after leaving the tour, still parked in the same spot downtown, as there are no hour restrictions on the weekend and then made our way to an ice skating rink man child had spotted from way up high when we were on the observation deck. He wanted to skate. While the Sens Rink of Dreams was free, there were no skates to rent.. We watched the families skating while sitting in front of Ottawa City Hall and then made our way over the Laurier St. bridge to see the Rideau Canal, also a skate way and an UN World Heritage site. Unfortunately, it had closed for the season as the ice had started to melt so there wasn’t much to see here.

Sens Ice Rink in front of Ottawa City Hall.
Sens Ice Rink in front of Ottawa City Hall.

About this point it was time to warm up and Mom noticed a shopping mall so we headed off that way, arriving at Rideau Shopping Centre just as the stores were starting to close. But it was nice and warm inside and packed with people on this chilly Sunday. We thought about getting haircuts at the salon spotted in the mall but the quote of $30 for the man child and $60 for mom, even with the great Canadian to American dollar exchange rate, was far more than we normally pay.

With that we headed back to our van and thus ended our visit to Ottawa that day. Driving out of Canada on Highway 416, we were surprised to see we were just one hour away from upper New York State. We tracked the Rideau River down, as our highway paralleled this waterway, and it was fun to relive the small geography and history lesson we had gotten on our Parliamentary tour and think of all those people in history that had followed this waterway into the United States. Not so different from us, all these years later, following a highway down in our Roadtrek.

Stealth Camping in Montreal’s Old City

To be honest I didn’t know how it was going to work. The plan was to go and see and I wasn’t quite sure where we would park the van, much less camp in it. But things always have a way of working out and worrying about it before hand doesn’t help that happen, so off we went to Montreal, lickety-split, after our quick tour of Niagara Falls.

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Niagara Falls viewed from the American side. The falls and river were just beginning to break up and flow well. Canada is across the river.

It was quite the drive to Montreal from Niagara, about 8 hours all told. We were determined not to stop, unless for gas & potty stops. There were some really nice rest stops along the way. Food was a great value, especially with the great current exchange rate, but even without it, the fresh pita pocket sandwich that was lunch was priced at $4.95 Canadian. The counter girl at Tim Horton’s was delighted when we asked for the “Tim-bits” (donut holes) just as it reads, but, for some reason, in Canada they say, “Tim-bites”. The only snafu was my debit card was declined as I had forgotten to let my credit union know about the travel and they are apparently sticklers for this. No worries though, I had backup and hubby was still in the U.S. of A. and could handle unfreezing my card. So we refilled our tummies and our tank and continued on the way.

The roads were, frankly, impressive. Nary a pothole in sight and well marked and well signed. All of the signs were in English, and in Quebec, in both English and French.   Man child got to work on math skills calculating mileage from kilometers to miles so we had an idea really how far we had to go. Mom got to revisit her rusty high school French on those road signs.

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Surely we weren’t in Kansas anymore.

The last stop along the road before Montreal was in Quebec (Route 20 in Quebec which is 401 in Ontario), and featured a tourist info booth inside the rest stop. It was easy to know you were not in Kansas anymore as all the stop signs now said, “Arret”. That and all the posters on the windows of the rest stop and other instructions too. It was here the young lady handed me a map, in English, with her pen markings showing me the exact roads and even an “X” on where to park when I got there. I didn’t think until later I couldn’t take the van through the tunnels under the city in the way she routed me, but with her map I quickly found an alternative route, that, while taking a bit longer to get us to the Old City, helped us stay legal. (Quebec doesn’t allow propane-equipped vehicles in tunnels without turning it off, and I wasn’t chancing I could get it off and on, though simple, as with temps in the teens, we were going to need that heat even if we were trying to stealth camp. This was our first real trip with the van and I was trying to keep it simple.)

Off we went and in a short time found ourselves at Old Pier in the Old City just where she had recommended we park. No signs telling us we couldn’t overnight park and a sign charging by the hour, with 12 – 24 hour increment noted. No attendant on duty, probably as it was the off-season. It was perfect. And close. And simple. Done.

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Part of our parking lot, which was really huge, in the Old Pier.
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Ice fishing shacks in an area off our parking lot. This parking lot shown in a lower level, which would make a good sheltered place for the night.

We basically had the lot to ourselves. Not many head north as the Midwest thaws, and it was still wintertime in Montreal. We pulled out the warm gear we would need and took off to explore the Old City area.

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The Old City was really old and looked what we would imagine is very European.

As night fell it really took on a magical look – snowflakes falling and lights glistening. We walked blocks and blocks, the man child and I just looking at the historical architecture and reading the signs, most in English and French. The obligatory Starbucks was in the Old City, for a Wi-Fi catch up, as was a McDonalds across the street. It was late and most of the shops were closed, but the Starbucks stayed open until 11 p.m. and the McDonalds even later. There were still many restaurants open. Man child found a Five Guys for a late dinner.

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Historic old church in Montreal founded by Marguerite D’Youville, the first Canadian Saint. It was splendid!
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Everything glistened in the cold, nighttime air and it really was like a movie when the snowflakes began to fall.

Back to the van later that night we settled in with our sleeping bags determined to only use the heat if needed so the security men in SUVs didn’t think we might be camping in the van. We made it through the night only running the heater for an hour or so. It was a perfect place; if you didn’t mind hearing others enter their cars as the bars emptied, some singing or talking loudly as they went by. But this tapered off and settled down.

In the morning time we got up, breakfasted in the van and headed out to finish our exploring. Old Montreal does look different in the day. I will say it was a lot more magical seeing it at night for the first time. It is a tad dirtier in the day, but a lot of this was due to the snow having melted a bit leaving the hidden trash exposed. The signs all over the buildings to watch for falling icicles were fun to see although we must have been a bit late in the season in mid-March to see any icicles.

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Looking up toward Rue Notre Dame from Rue Saint Paul. Not much was open on this street yet.

We paid for entry into the Basilica of Notre Dame, looked through it, and came back later for the guided tour portion in English. It was only $9 to enter, $5 for adults and $4 for kids. Bring lots of singles and small bills to pay here as you pay in American and receive change back in Canadian. They don’t accept credit cards at the Basilica. It was worth the entry fee. A most beautiful church and it was worth waiting for the tour.

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Basilica of Notre Dame, Montreal.
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Looking from the back toward the altar. This area of the Basilica holds 3,500 people. We were told Celine Dion married here.
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Gorgeous doesn’t begin to describe it.
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Various paintings were around the sides of the church.

After our tour, we wandered down Rue San Paul and found an adorable café with fondue and crepes. To my surprise, the man child tried both and decided he really liked those French pancakes. He was decidedly certain also that Canadian maple syrup is better than ours here in the Midwest. Lunch prices seemed a bit steep in the restaurants along the Rue San Paul, with most in the $15 range. We managed to get out of the Crepe restaurant for $28 Canadian, but that was with ordering off the child’s menu. I had Fondue for lunch and the portion size was more than I could possibly eat. Simple fondue with a Caesar salad was $18.

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This was an adorable 3 story restaurant. We just thought it was a tiny little place as we were seated downstairs, but were directed upstairs to use the restrooms. We then were surprised to find this restaurant was 3 stories tall.
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Fondue in the Swiss manner. There were three different kinds of bread.
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French crepes with scrambled egg and ham. It really helped the man child to have identifiable foods.

After looking in some touristy shops, trying some gelato, and looking at the poor cold looking horses that pull around the carriages, our visit came to close and we were on to the next stop. We paid our $24 Canadian at the parking exit and were off. Not a bad rate for a sleepover in a major city.

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Looking down Rue Saint Paul.

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The never-ending meal quest ~ the 11,104th dinner that needed to be made – give or take a few

I have a confession to make ~ maybe I really haven’t been on top of things.  That number of 11,104 dinners since I married is quite a bit too high if you factor in vacations, days when I just cannot make another meal, days when I was out running with my teens and we pulled through somewhere since we weren’t home at dinner time.  But EVERY SINGLE DAY another day gets added and even if it is half, optimistically, that’s still 5,552 meals that have needed to be on the table EVERY SINGLE NIGHT.  It’s weird, but my tummy likes to be full and if it’s going to be that way, I need to HAVE A PLAN.  And whether it’s from fatigue (Not ANOTHER meal that needs to be made!), other projects that are way more interesting, or planning too much going on in my life, I have consistently found that I have to have a plan if we are going to eat.  It’s just that simple.

I am really not quite sure why, during this Epic Journey called life, it was designed that we have to eat so many times during the day.  It seems to me that filling up once a week, like in my car, would have made a whole lot more design sense.  So there must be something to stopping, sitting and eating that has a whole lot more meaning than just a fill-up.  I am still processing this one but I’ll let you know if I answer that question in a profound way.  Also planning to put that one on my list of “whys” to be asked at the end of this journey when I am standing in front of the big G.

So I noticed things were not working really well on this end – eating out budget being blown out on a regular basis; I had been skipping meals, which is a real no-go for my metabolism; 11 year old boy child was definitely not being fed good food consistently (Wow – Aldi’s has gluten-free pizza – my latest discovery!) so I knew it was time to HAVE A PLAN.

So this was the plan:  cook one 12 lb. turkey in my freezer from the holidays (Butterball All Natural – less garbage injected into it than the typical store-bought version).  This is what I did with it:

1.  Ate dinner first night off said turkey.

Lots of meat off a 10 - 12 lb. turkey
Lots of meat off a 10 – 12 lb. turkey. This is what was left after eating various meals.

 

2.  Ate two lunches off said turkey.

3.  Pulled the turkey off said turkey carcass and made a rice and turkey casserole for dinner tonight, which I found at this website:  http://www.hellawella.com/18-comforting-casseroles-use-your-leftover-turkey

This was probably the best Turkey & Rice casserole I had ever had!
This was probably the best Turkey & Rice casserole I had ever had!

4.  Ready what turkey was left after making above casserole to make turkey enchiladas from the same site as soon as we eat through the casserole or freeze what’s left when we grow tired of it.

5.  Throw in the bones, skin and a little meat with some veggies to make more turkey stock as I am almost out.  Rebooted the turkey stock with more water over the same old meat, bones and veggies so I got double the stock.

Turkey bones into stock. I pressed down the carcass after it cooked a bit and softened. Then cook for 12 + hours to make healthy, rich stock.
Turkey bones into stock. I pressed down the carcass after it cooked a bit and softened. Then cook for 12 + hours to make healthy, rich stock.
After cooling the stock, I put it into zip lock bags in the winter as my outside fridge freezes everything in cold weather.
After cooling the stock, I put it into zip lock bags in the winter as my outside fridge freezes everything in cold weather.

6.  Made Turkey Fried Rice (no recipe to click to, just google Fried Rice and throw in turkey basically) and this, 9 days after cooking said turkey.

I am thinking I need a couple of go-to ideas like this that involve a large piece of meat that can be used in multiple ways.  Even if I only prepared them twice a month, (one hunk on one weekend ~ eat through the week) and another hunk of meat on the third weekend (eat all week), then I could continue to creatively pull together on the other nights, as needed.  I know it’s not a perfect plan, but at least I will stopgap the eating out and deal with the other two issues in front of me (my metabolism & better meals for the 11 year old man-child).

This is the only problem with large batch cooking! Large batch dishwashing
This is the only problem with large batch cooking! Large batch dishwashing

So that’s the plan, loosely, at this point.  What do you do to solve the planning, eating, creating meals dilemma in your house?

Hallelujah moments by the highway

Have you ever been in the middle of a situation and then, just for a moment, gotten a flash that something beyond the moment was occurring? Something bigger than you, bigger than the situation?

That moment came for the man-child and I, sitting in van in the right lane of a busy Orlando boulevard, completely broken down and waiting for the promised tow truck. It came as I looked at him and said, “I think we should get out of the van and wait by the side of the road.” This after a good while of sitting in said van. To which he replied, “I was just thinking the same thing.”

How does that happen – two folks thinking the same thing at the same time? Is it a random coincidence or can we all agree, it’s not? Oh, in the moment it seems it might be random but it has happened far to many times and I’ve figured out, nothing random about it. And events coming after that confirmed to me that random it wasn’t.

So we wait, about 5 minutes, on that side of the road, and then hear a far away voice yelling, “Can I be of some assistance?” See, here’s the thing. If we hadn’t exited that van, we wouldn’t have been asked because this sweet man talking his daily constitutional wouldn’t have seen us sitting by the side of the road.

So over walked M to see what we needed. We shared the story – brake failure (as in completely) but how we were safe and waiting for a tow truck to come. I could see the way M intently watched my lips and quickly surmised there were some hearing challenges for M. The device behind his ear confirmed that to me.

The man-child, still mostly child but on his way to man, gave M a tour of our van, which we had owned a total of 4 days at this point. It’s a pretty nifty van, complete with potty, shower, bed and kitchen and it will be taking an Epic Journey with us as we strike out to points known and unknown. But I digress. Back to the story at hand.

Inevitably, when there’s more at hand than meets the eye, we get to the part we’re supposed to get to. Turns out the three of us, me, M and the man-child, are all God believers. The big G to us – the same God who sent Jesus. So we were on the same page as it amounted to that. So we spent some time having a real hallelujah moment beside that busy Orlando road. Not everyone appreciated that, I’ll tell you.   Quite a few folks were honking and shouting as they needed to bypass the van and it’s flashers. But when you don’t have brakes you are there for the long haul and so we passed the time very agreeable like having a hallelujah moment and all.

Midway through this time this idea kept popping in my brain – pray for M and his hearing to be healed. Well, I’ll tell ya. This kinda stuff always makes me a bit uncomfortable. But since we were already on the same page (same God, remember?) I didn’t think M would be too uncomfortable. So I asked, “Can I pray for you and ask God to heal you?” And M said yes and well, God showed up. Right there on that busy Orlando boulevard. By the time I had prayed everything that was on my heart, M said he felt he could hear better. Even removed one of those hearing aids to test that premise and, yes, it was so. It was pretty awesome actually but then we serve a pretty awesome God.

We got to know M a bit better as we spent two more days in Orlando getting those brakes fixed (and a bit more besides). M took us to his church. They were an awfully nice bunch of folks who welcomed us right in and even had a couple of Christmas gifts for us. (I know, right?)

It was hard saying goodbye to M. He shared his heart with me. He has had a life with a lot of struggles and the fight isn’t over. We prayed some more in the hotel lobby after he dropped us off after church. But I know God is with M, just like He’s with you and me. And his story isn’t over. There’s more healing there for M. In fact, I think a big part of that story is just beginning.

The humble beginnings of an Epic Journey

Three months. Nothing. Not a post. There has been nothing really concrete enough to post on. Oh, a lot has happened – the minutiae of a daily life. Victories, defeats, pushing through. Celebrations – sweet and otherwise. Getting up and getting on when one really doesn’t want to. Putting things in order – the never-ending mom chore. Just why does this task fall to moms? Or is it a task we take on and then, one day, find that we have kept a system in order that wasn’t ours to keep?

Youngest son and I just returned from a multi-day trip that involved flying down to sunny Florida and picking up a smaller RV that will serve as home base as we began an Epic Journey. Yes, there’s an Epic Journey coming – one that will most probably take years to complete – one that will be done piece by piece, as time and finances allow, all the while living the minutiae of a daily life. We’ll start, then stop for more celebrations, a victory party with some, walking through defeats with others, weddings, funerals, birthdays. In the meantime, youngest son will morph from man child to more man than child, and finally leave behind the childish years of youth as he strikes out on an Epic Journey all of his own.

At that point, I will move on. I know this sounds like I am all alone in my journey but I am not. Husband and I journey together, and will continue to do so, for the most part, but he doesn’t want any part of an Epic Journey at this point in his life. So that part will be mine.

I hope you’ll stay tuned as I begin to document that journey, starting with an encounter in Florida that still echoes in my heart.

But I will save that for another day.

DeterMINation: Pressing ahead

Determination

noun
  1.
the act of coming to a decision or of fixing or settling a purpose.  
2.
ascertainment, as after observation or investigation:
determination of a ship’s latitude.
  3.
the information ascertained; solution.
  4.
the quality of being resolute; firmness of purpose.
  5.
a fixed purpose or intention.

Determination is rebounding through my mind today.  I had a whole other idea of what was coming next in this blog, but, nope, determination is the next thing.  Have you ever examined determination?  Why are some folks successful in some endeavors and others not?  It’s not only a natural talent that helps fuel success.  I think for some it’s simply determination; moxie; grit; or a bull-headedness that keeps them pushing forward despite all odds.

I was one of those kids:  stuck; life out of control all around me; on a seemingly useless trajectory toward a whole lot of nothingness and I was determined I wasn’t going that way.  So it was put-your-head-down and grit-your-teeth and the moment you could flip yourself out of the trajectory you were orbiting toward, you’d do so.  Determination was my friend and the closest buddy I had in those days.

And then one day I “arrived”.  Out of the mess, running my own life, living by my own rules.  But was I really?  Are any of us, really?  There are a whole lot of pre-determined rules set by a society that thinks it knows it’s way.  Is this where it goes terribly wrong for some people?  They see the rules but won’t follow them?  Or, conversely, they don’t see those rules and have no idea what’s happening at all?  That is, until some of those rules are broken and they end up on the other side of somewhere they never hoped to be.  That could be jail, poverty, single motherhood or any number of places it will take a whole lot of determination to lift oneself out of.  Perhaps some people just don’t have it in them to fight that fight.

Or maybe they didn’t break those societal rules but they end up in a situation that just sucks the life right out of them: abuse; illness; unemployment with no job on the horizon. We’ve all known people like that. Or maybe those people were us; or a mom or a friend.

How does hope play into to all of that?  The hope of a calling, the hope of a future? The possibility of a better place than the frightful one you are standing in?  What was there in me that kept hope alive?  Is this the Vitamin X that helps some people make it out of terrible places?  Is it hope and determination, mixed together that fills their fuel tanks and, like rocket power, sends them out of the orbit of the trajectory they were on?

I don’t know these answers: I am a philosopher philosophizing and still walking out the path. Or as Philippians says, because that’s what is speaking to me right now, I do not consider myself to have attained this. I don’t even consider myself single-minded. But I know, in order to allow the fuel of determination to kick in, I’ve had to forget the things that were behind me and reach for the things that were ahead. (Philippians 3:13 ESV – paraphrased.)

So I guess that answers my musing: yes, it’s determination and hope, mixed together in a cocktail you swig. And if you don’t have these two things you better get them. Get yourself to a place to find them. Get your brain in a state to receive them. Find a friend who can help inject them. They are two things worth finding if you, too, are standing in a situation on a trajectory you’ve got to avoid.

So that’s my prayer for you tonight, my friends. May the hope of your calling find you; may you pursue it with determination. And may you never find yourself on a trajectory you’d rather avoid. But know, if you do, there’s a way out of that place and there’s hope to arrive there.   Keep up your faith, because sometimes it’s all you’ve got. Faith will lead to hope and hope to determination and one day, soon I pray, you’ll have arrived.