Saturday, December 31, 2016

Birthday Thoughts and Happy New Year!

What a CRAZY year 2016 has been!  Though things didn’t always go as I had planned, I’ve felt really blessed this year. I'd like to share how I've experienced that prayers DO get answered . Here’s some of the things I prayed for.

I actively prayed to “see new sights”  and travel more. Didn’t happen as I had expected – but glad it did. Don’t really have the time or money, but GOD gave me the opportunity! Since my company was bought out last year, this year I was able to travel (expenses paid) to the following for my new employer.

  • Birmingham Alabama – Worked with a great team, and had some delicious BBQ!
  • Los Angeles California – First time west of the Mississippi! Met other team members, Could see the Hollywood sign from my workspace, and tried Korean BBQ and sushi for the first time!
  • Hackettstown New Jersey – Had an amazing drive to and from on some backroads of Pennsylvania and New Jersey
  • Columbia Maryland (twice) – Learned the joys of Jimmy Johns and a Phillips Crab Pretzel
  • Buffalo New York – Smallest plane I ever had flown (prop, not jet) Took a trip to see Niagara Falls, with a bonus of fireworks! Buffalo has best wings ever!
  • Chicago, Illinois – Did “The Loop” Hiked along Riverwalk, The Navy Pier, and Millennial Park. Ate authentic Deep Dish and first time for Poutine. Was blessed to meet friend Dina and family – and her new granddaughter  - enjoyed a meal together - found out we had the same flight home!
  • Jacksonville, Florida – Was able to take a road trip along the coast to St. Augustine, hit the beach, hike an estuary, and enjoy conch fritters!

I actively prayed for better connections with my family. God allowed me to see how parenting has changed for us. I’ve learned that I’m a “father of adults”. Discussions are better, and time together is now less about moulding our girls into proper young ladies, and more about allowing them the discovery of who they themselves have grown to be. With less stress to worry about raising two ”little“ girls, this year Amy and I spent some quality time together – even if some of that time is lounging in our living room, Netflix on the TV, snoring with each other J
It’s a blessing that even at 19 and 24, our daughters still love to travel with Amy and I. We love to spend time in our motorhome, revisiting old haunts, and adventuring into new ones. It’s one of the ways I love to reconnect, and recharge together. Places RVed in 2016:

  • Lancaster – A regular favorite, but having snow made it extra pretty.
  • French Creek State Park – Relaxing and hiking in the place my parents loved.
  • Amherst, New York – Emily’s choice (two thumbs up!) – to visit the town that poetess Emily Dickinson lived her life in. Some cool hiking and a side trip to the Eric Carle museum made it even better.
  • College Park – Planned to hit Washington DC - didn’t - and glad we hit some new sights instead!
  • Jonestown Pa – There is something calming about setting up camp next to a stream.
  • Central PA  “Guys Trip”  with Ed and Kev - great travel partners as usual.  New Traveler Little Liam caught SO many fish! Got to tour a coal mine and walk around Centralia. Went to Knoebels for the rides – stayed for the food!
  • Man Caving – So it may seem counter intuitive to have alone time, but it is really healthy to do. Sometimes I enjoy doing work on our RV, making her more homey, or just sitting and enjoying some quiet time in my “mobile mancave” to revive on my own.

I actively prayed to have time to help others more. I had to step away from serving with Roxborough Church Youth Program, and the ASH Theater Group for kids because of  my responsibilities at work. I missed helping them, but could not devote the time needed for those outreaches. Amy chose to start a new job – at the church, an outreach to those with food insecurities. “The Table” serves neighbors and families that need good food – The Table provides not just canned and boxed items, but fresh produce, meats, and baked items too! Pickups of those items many times occur on weeknights, or weekends after the donating grocery or bakery closes. Perfect timing for me to lend a hand. It’s been a blessing to know we are helping families in our own neighborhood that are in need. It’s been both challenging and fun helping by my wife’s side when I can.
I’ve also served as an elder at Roxborough Church for two consecutive terms of office. Per the by-laws I need to take at least a year off. Though I’ll still serve as I can, I’ll use the time to discern details of what GOD has planned for my path as I am getting older. There are ideas and possibilities that come before me as clearer, and I want to be faithful to what I believe I’m being led to.

Do I feel some prayers went unanswered? Of course. Some situations in my life are still not as I would like. There are still many wrongs in this world that need to be corrected. I ponder and question how those who should be leaders are acting, or see our world as something that is to be theirs to take, with no giving in return. Why some I know have so little compassion. That some people I pray for have a differing perspective of what is important. But I need to remind myself that it is “In His timing, not mine.”
Looking back at 2016, there were plenty of surprises in my life. I’m thankful for each opportunity that was given, every challenge met, every win, and every failure I need to learn from.
Wishing you a Happy New Year, and that you can find the blessings you’ve experienced in 2016.
I’m looking forward in 2017 to what GOD is bringing!

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

RoadAbode Fall Project - Adding a Fresh Water Tank Access Port

RoadAbode Project - Adding a Fresh Water Tank Access Port
We are always looking for ways to improve the quality of living RV life with RoadAbode. One item I always wanted was easier access to our fresh water tank. RoadAbode does not have a gravity fill spout like some RVs, so water needs to be either pumped into the fresh water tank or come from a pressurized source while boondocking (dry-camping). I've always wanted the ability to clean the inside of the fresh water tank. Currently it is a sealed system, so the only way to clean currently is to run a few capfuls of bleach thru the city water connection into the tank, and then let that slosh around as we drove down the highway. I usually would do this procedure by putting some bleach into the hose, and then connecting to the city water inlet on RoadAbode, then to a water bib (faucet) and set my water system in RoadAbode's basement to be able to fill the fresh water tank. Not hard, but I was never sure how clean the tank really was - with no visual or other inspection.

Boats that have self contained fresh water systems have watertight access ports, why not RoadAbode? I found a few RVers (who were also boat owners) that had added their own ports, so I did some reading on boating forums and planned how to do this project.

Parts List
Below are the parts I purchased on Amazon, had at RoadAbode, or purchased at our local Big Box Hardware Store:

Water Tank Access Port

Prep Work
First I had to access the fresh water tank. RoadAbode's is under our queen bed in the back, so even though the under storage is hinged with hydraulic lift arms to hold it up, it was easier to get the mattress and bedding out of the way. I just pulled the whole mess forward to the living area and leaned it against the refrigerator.
Bed without mattress. Plywood not finished in any way!
I used one of our LED lanterns to provide lighting to see my work area. The under storage is split front to rear down the middle. One side holds the water tank, the other plumbing, electrical, and the water pump.  There is a protective piece of plywood - painted black - over top of the water tank which I removed and slid to the other side of the under storage.
Once the tank was accessible, I wiped it down with a clean hand towel to remove the residual dust that was sitting on top of the tank.  I opened the access port, and using the outside mounting ring as my template, I drew on the tank with the marker. I drew around the inside diameter, knowing I would need to cut a little larger to fit the mounting ring into the hole I was going to make.
Tank marked, now comes the scary part - cutting!
I selected the spot for the hole closer to one end and not the middle for a few reasons.
First, and most important, the top of the tank sloped inward to the center. When I was testing various places to put the port, it would not lay flat in the center. The best place where it laid "flush" on top of the tank was closer to the front.
Second, to access the port while camping, it would be easier near the opening of the bed. If one person holds the mattress up, the other can even work there - to visually inspect the tank, or just to add some bleach, or a few gallons of water.

Actual Work
Cutting the hole was about as difficult as I expected, maybe easier in some respects.
The blade of my utility knife was brand new, and sliced into the plastic easily. The tank material is not as heavy as I expected. I cut approximately 1/8" outside the marker line, knowing I would have to trim a little more for a nice, snug fit. First I worked around the making slits around the mark. I just pushed the knife in for each slit, and extracted. I did not want to twist the knife, which could crack or break off the thin blade point. Then I worked to connect together the slits made using a sawing, or "old-fashioned can-opener" motion. The hardest part was thinking about "I'm cutting a hole in a perfectly good tank. Hope this is not stupid!"
Here we go!

Half way done

20 minutes later, a hole appears!
I was happy to see that the water was very clear - no film on the inside edges of the tank, and smelled good to! There are tiny "ripples" of sand resting on the bottom, which next time we winterize I am hoping to clean out  - now that we have an access port!
They are hard to see, had to darken in the photo - "sand ripples"
I test fit the port mounting ring, and noted the areas that needed to be trimmed. I trimmed this way about six to eight times - test fit, trim...test fit, trim..... and so on. I prefered to cut to little, than too much. I did this until I had the mounting ring "pop" into the hole. I also made sure the port screwed in well - so that the pressure of the tank against the mounting ring was not warping the mount in a way I could not see. Everything fit nicely though.
Hole trimmings - eww - look like toenail clippings - dime for scale.
Test Fit - Now to apply the sealant
After test fitting, now came the moment of truth - sealing the port in. I used aquarium safe sealant - figured if it was safe for fish, it should be fine for us. I generously applied it to the underside of the ring (sorry, no pictures, I didn't want silicone goop on my phone) and also applied to the tank outside the hole to help with adhesion. I pressed the ring in, and then attached and started the stainless steel screws in their mounting holes. (but did not tighten all the way down just yet) I ran my finger on the inside of the hole, and could feel the sealant oozing through more in some places than others. I ran my finger around to help it even out into any crevices I felt around the rim, being very careful not to get on the threads of the port - where the access panel screws into the mounting ring.
After that first pass, I did do again after the screws were all fastened down. I tightened the screws evenly across from each other, so the port seated nicely, and some sealant was seen coming out of the outer top edge of the ring.
The sealant needs to cure for 45 minutes, so I left the port open allowed that to set while I sat with a drink and some reading. I did check the fit of the port and felt the underside of the hole for any more sealant pushing through. (no problems)

The hardest part of the cleanup was remaking the bed! There was sealant left, but from my previous projects, I knew the tube would harden before I got to use the little bit left. Throwing it away is still cheaper than having someone else do it! I had a few stainless screws left, and used them to hold down a piece of loose moulding in RoadAbode's rear bedroom.
New Fresh Water Tank Access Port In Place!
The total job took about 2 - 2 1/2 hours including waiting for the sealant to cure and cleanup. Glad I used the utility knife, It worked fine (though slow) and my original idea of using a drill and small coping saw would have gotten plastic dust both inside and out of the water tank. That would have been messy.
Only thing I would have changed was using #8 size screws - the #6 Screws were small, but seem to hold fine. 1/2" length seemed about right. Time I guess will tell.

Thanks for reading, hope this description of the install is helpful if you are planning to do the same job. Happy and Safe Travels, see you down the road!

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Is it Ever TOO Hot to RV? RoadAbode RoadTrip August 2016

Too hot to RV? In a word - No. You just have to plan some different activities.
It was suppose to be DisneyWorld for August. But we found our house heating/cooling system needs to be replaced. So to save money, we opted for a "mini-trip." Right now I'm in RoadAbode relaxing at the beautiful Cherry Hill Campground in College Park Md. As I lie on the bed typing this, Amy is doing some work for The Table food pantry next to me and our girls are watching cartoons. It's 10 am and already it's over 90 humid degrees out.
I understand "it's not the heat, but the humidity" but each day's heat index has been over 102F.
The east coast has been in a heat wave for five days, and relief is not coming for a few more. Last night was the first time walking around the campground at twilight I've ever seen not a single soul sitting outside, or speaking with neighbors. A small troop of boy scout left early this morning - the heat just too much. Kind of glad we didn't do the expense of Disney this time!
So we are huddled in RoadAbode, a comfortably 79 degrees, doing things we want to do. Maybe not first choices, but definitely different than if we were home. So even though this weekend is not enjoying outdoors, we can still enjoy some "downtime". There are other things to do in this heat.
Cherry Hill Park Entrance
Yesterday, we treated ourselves to an IHOP down the road from Cherry Hill PArk, and then we stayed out of the heat and enjoyed a roadtrip to the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Virginia. This annex of the Washington DC Air and Space Museum displays some of the hundreds of planes the Smithsonian has in it's possession. And most important on this overly hot day - air conditioned! Some of the more interesting large craft include a Lockheed Blackbird, the Concord, and the Space Shuttle Discovery. Other smaller craft that I found interesting were World War Two craft, including a wooden glider with a swastika on the tail fin. I found this interesting because my father told me of his memories as a boy, seeing these craft being pulled up into the air in farm fields by motorcycle. The enormity and variety of aircraft to see was almost overwhelming. One I did not expect to see was the Red Bull Stratos Capsule - which parachutist Felix Baumgartner used for his free fall from space.
The Red Bull Stratos
One that evoked mixed feeling was also on display. Though I know the Enola Gay is part of history, seeing this plane that had a part in the death of over 150,000 civilians saddened me. From the first floor viewing area, it almost seems as if the plane was on pedestals, looming over us. I understand that this is to help view the plane from the second floor catwalk. I hope we citizens of earth become smart enough to never repeat the decisions that led to what occurred in Hiroshima.
The Enola Gay
Other interesting craft included a section dedicated to helicopters, balloon flight, and stunt planes. A separate wing is totally devoted to spacecraft and rocketry, both from the United States and former Soviet Union's military and space programs.
The histories told and type of aircraft to learn about was almost overwhelming. We did not even make it to see the wide variety of military aircraft on display. Another trip is in order.
We did get to the mock air control tower they had setup. It provides a bird's eye view of it's next door neighbor, Washington Dulles International Airport, and the surrounding area countryside. Pretty cool to hear the radio chatter between the real air tower and pilots landing. The expansive windows in the viewing area allow you to see the planes take off and land.
The last stop we made was to the gift shop. We purchased a few sew on patches to add to our collection, and the girls got a few interesting trinkets and books
On the way back to Cherry Hill Park, we located on Google Maps a few thrift shops enroute. Two seemed pretty close to each other in the Silver Springs area. It turns out they were next to each other! Side by side, Unique Thrift and Value Village Thrift Store, and sharing space between these two stores, some interesting small retailers selling everything from electronics, phone accessories and apparel. There was even a small cafe/eatery in one corner. It was an odd setup, and from the signage found inside, the two stores must have the same owner. They were in the midst of a sale, so all summer type clothing was 50% off! I didn't need anything, but the girls found some great bargains on things that were already great prices. The preschool teacher of the family found plenty of books to share with her students. If someone was starting a first house or apartment, this would definitely be a great place to hit.
Once back to RoadAbode, the girls hit the pool, I took a nap and then we convened together at the Star cafe near the pool for dinner.  Cherry Hill Park has a great cafe, and from previous outings in years past I was looking forward to an authentic handmaid broiled Maryland crab cake. Alas, the cooks must have changed, as a crab cake was no longer on the menu, but the burgers, pulled pork and gyro we all had were very good, and not overpriced. They also  have a great list of breakfast muffins and pastries, and some very good selections of ice cream for your sweet tooth. Everything is fresh, made to order, and their kitchen prep areas are noticeably very clean. I'd say it's the best campground cafe we have ever been to!
After dinner, we opted to watch some tv and play some card games. If you've never experienced Exploding Kittens, I'd suggest adding it to your repertoire of "games to play for all ages."
A card game about Explosions. Kittens. And sometimes Goats.
Overnight we had a pretty intense thunderstorm. This was according to the girls and Amy, apparently I slept through it. Today was a "swim day" so we had breakfast, and relaxed by surfing the web (girls) doing some work (Amy) or reading (me). The pool opens rather late - Noon - so we had plenty of time for these activities.  Once we got to the pool, I was surprised how few were taking advantage of a dip during the heatwave. Then I remembered that many people come here to hit Washington DC, and were probably sightseeing. It was great to have two pools almost all to ourselves! It was also nice to see they had a lifeguard positioned between the two pools, actively scanning the waters for trouble. So few campgrounds have lifeguard staff anymore, and rely on "swim at your own risk" signs. We stayed in the pool for a few hours. The water could have been a few degrees cooler, and felt warm. I did cool off once I stepped out for a bit. Not sure if the pools are heated, or it was just the action of the sun warming up the water.

Cherry Hill Park "mushroom" water feature in one of two pools
Checkout is a little early - 11am - (but then check-in is early too at the same - 11am) than usual for us, so we just lounged a bit and slowly readied RoadAbode for departure. The ride home is almost all freeways. I mentioned to Amy we should come more often - the ride is really only about three hours from RoadAbode's home - depending on time of day traffic of course.

More About Cherry Hill Park - This is a top park to visit. This is the first time we stayed more to "home base" and relaxed than go visit DC. There is plenty to do in the area besides Washington DC. Cherry Hill Park is also close to area restaurants, and a great pizza place and a large grocery store is only about a mile up the road. The office staff are very knowledgeable and helpful for getting around to the various attractions. Think of them as more of a concierge service that just someone to check you in, or ring up a sale. The store itself has plenty of Washington DC souvenirs for sale, a small grocery aisle and a large RV parts department. While there I picked up some some items, a nice sewer cap with a handle I'd been wanting to replace (lost when we had a tire blowout), and some washers with filter screens built in. I did a price comparison and they were about the same as Amazon or less (not including shipping) In fact, if you needed work done to your RV, you could make an appointment to have that done by an onsite tech while you are out sightseeing for the day. Check them out at
Decorative Pond at Cherry Hill Park at sunset
Yours truly with lazy summer beard and the college-bound youngest at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Guys Trip 2016

One weekend a year three of us get together to camp for a weekend. We try to pick a place that has a good hiking spot, perhaps a winery, or some interesting places to see. Good food is always high on the list too. This year, we had a fourth join the crew. The "littlest man" was one buddy's son. To make it interesting for him, I made reservations at Lake Glory in Catawissa, PA. Lake Glory is owned by Knoebels Amusement park, and is only a mile or so away from all the rides, games and great food Knoebels has to offer.
I've been coming to Knoebels with the family for years. My family loves this free entrance amusement park. Centralia, the town that's burning from underground is close by, and we found a new attraction to check out.

The ride up was pretty laid back. Not much traffic or issues. Our trip up went so well even Ed was able to catch a nap while our young guest watched movies on my Chromebook once we reached "cruising altitude" on the PA Turnpike.
Nap time on the roadWatching a movie on the road

When we arrived at Lake Glory shortly after check-in time, there was actually a lineup of trailers and popups checking in. We waited our turn, and within another 15 to 20 minutes were at our campsite. We were in a corner spot - across the road from a small pond (no fishing in this smaller body of water) and across from the showers. A playground was in full view from our picnic table and I barely had pulled into the spacious site when I heard "Can we go to Knoebels?" And that was from the adults! Actually, hitting Knoebels for dinner was the plan, and I WAS getting ready for a good pizza. So I quickly leveled, hooked up water and electric, and jumped in the toad to zoom over to the park. Since we were arriving late in the afternoon, we were able to score a reasonably close parking spot to the entrance. We headed right for Cesari's Pizza. There are other places to get a pizza in Knoebels, but Cesari's has more options, more seating, and I think better pizza. Once the guys saw the options, my hopes for a large plain went out the window. They opted to get a large "Taco Pizza". I was just along for the gastronomic ride. We got our drinks (all local "white" birch beer) and our number, and found a shaded picnic table to sit upon. And waited. And waited. And Waited. This was the longest I had ever waited at Cesari's, and in my mind blamed it on the topping heavy taco pizza. And these guys were hungry enough to chase down staff asking where the pizza was. It wasn't just us - there were others that were waiting for food to come out. Don't know what happened back in the kitchen, but we were sure happy when the pizza finally arrived. The pizza was good - and hot, but because of the level of piled on toppings - hard to eat. And there was so much of it. I could only eat a piece and half, and collectively we couldn't est the full pie. I felt a little guilty of not doing "my part" to finish it off. Just was too full!
We walked the park a bit. We wanted to give Ed the lay of the land, since he had never visited Knoebels before. Where the kiddie rides were (like for his daughter) the eateies, the museums, and then over to the Twister. The mammoth wooden roller coaster is a favorite of those who seek that sort of thrill. For Ed and I was a good time to catch up waiting for Kev and his thrill-seeking son to do the ride. Had some fun people watching too!
Thrill-seeking Father and Son after riding the Twister
After wandering a bit more and a few rides, we headed back shortly before 8pm to set up camp. We just popped out some chairs and erected the shade room. a few interconnected foam pads for a patio and we were all set. After our first day out, we decided to just get our bed areas in order and watch some television. We didn't pick up any over-the-air channels, and there is no cable setup at Lake Glory. Fortunately I had put a few movies on a larger thumb drive. I was able to connect the Chromebook to our TV's HDMI port and watched a few recent movies (and cartoons) through it before heading to bed. I even was able to activate my phone's hotspot to view a few You Tube videos about the movie. Only did a few - not wanting to eat up all my data.

Saturday got a quick shower and then headed over to Knoebels early to grab breakfast. On the way out of the campground, we saw a horse trailer stopped near the campground office. Inside was what looked like a reindeer, but ended up being a Red Deer. The owner was there advertizing his Deer Farm not far from Lake Glory. We stopped and learned about the farm and got to feed the deer. The multi point rack still had velvet on. Pretty cool being close to such a large animal. At Rolling Hills Red Deer Farm, not only can you feed the animals, but buy meats and participate in hunts on their property.
We continued on to Knoebels and headed into the empty amusement park. Breakfast is served at one of the food pavilions for guests camping at either Lake Glory or the campground attached to the park. We enjoyed a leisurely breakfast, then headed back to the campground to relax.
Playing on the old coal train at Knoebels after breakfast
Our next trip out for Saturday early afternoon was to Pioneer Coal Mine, with a short stopover in Centralia - still burning underground. I enjoy sharing the amazing, yet sad story of the underground fire of Centralia with friends. Click here for thoughts from my first visit to Centralia
On the Abandoned Route 61 in Centralia 
Though not as prolific, we did find a few vents from the mine fire burning underground. No bigger than to fit a hand in, they still emit hot gasses and water vapor when you pull your hand out. We also walked along Abandoned Route 61  - Centralia’s Graffiti Highway - and found a few families in the act of tagging. Must be a rite of passage in these parts after high school graduation. Quite a few people were wandering the area looking around, and a few riding quads. Someone even had a makeshift hot dog stand setup in the trunk of their car.
We continued on to about 10 or 15 minutes to Pioneer Tunnel Coal Mine Tour, located in Ashland PA. This tour takes you 1800 feet straight into the side of Mahanoy Mountain on actual equipment used in the 1920s when the mine was operational. There is also a ride on the Henry Clay, a narrow gauge steam locomotive, which takes you into the mountains surrounding Ashland to the location of a "bootleg mine". Our tour guided on both tours were very informative and able to answer our questions about the area and coal mining in general. Very cool! Will have to take my girls here the next time we head to Knoebels.
Waiting to go down into the mine 
Steam Locomotive Henry Clay
Learning about some of the various jobs and the dangers of working in a mine
After our tours, we headed out of Ashland, and were ready for a late lunch. We decided to check out Big Dan's BBQ located at Rohrbach's Farm Market. We got a rack of ribs and some sides to share.  Dan actually use to live near Philadelphia and moved to the area to help with her family's farm stand. With their help they are growing the business - and the BBQ is a great addition right up the road from Knoebels. We also stopped into Rohrbach's and picked up some homemade baked goods for dessert - and were lucky enough to find them on the discount table. Both places are worth a visit! We took our delicious finds back to RoadAbode and enjoyed everything at our picnic table.
Now back at camp, we relaxed, watched a movie or two, napped and strolled around the campground, stopping by covered bridge and over to Lake Glory.

Kev after much thought  decided to buy a fishing rod at the camp store. They have one, but forgotten I mentioned there was a lake to go fishing.  First test told us something was wrong with the reel, and Kev went back to the store to exchange. Once we saw it was working, we took a small cooler of drinks, some chairs and all of us went over to "help out" with fishing. Things were pretty slow, while a "Nana" with her grandchildren were catching a fish every few minutes. They left and she stopped by and offered us her leftover bait - hotdog rolls! Sure enough it was what the fish were biting on. By the end of the weekend the little man had caught more fish than I remember the count. (at least fifteen)
One of many

Ed help pulling one in

Relaxing lake-side

Toward Evening, we headed over to Knoebels to catch the lights of the lights, some rides and dinner and dessert. There is something memorable about having a warm waffle ice cream sandwich while enjoying a summer evening.

Click here to learn about a previous RoadAbode trip to Central PA, including Knoebels and Centralia

Friday, July 01, 2016

RoadAbode June Trip 2016

There is lots happening this year for the RoadAbode Crew.
New position for Amy coordinating "The Table", a food pantry located at Roxborough Church. Kimberly "graduated" her first class of preschoolers. Emily herself graduated from High School. I have a new position of Infrastructure Support - focusing on creating and maintaining the backups for hundreds of virtual servers - and tweaking a few "bare metal" ones. Add in other daily demands, volunteer opportunities, a few social engagements like weddings and we were MORE than ready for our annual June roadtrip. Even so, it was two days shorter than usual, just because of individual logistics and commitments.
Prom Time Fun!
Since this was Emily's graduation year, she got to pick where we were heading. Months ago we discussed and I "helpfully suggested" a few points we haven't visited. Lake Erie or Lake Michigan, perhaps the Outer Banks of the Carolina's. Emily had already a place in mind. Amherst Massachusetts. What's in Amherst? More than I expected!
Amherst MA is the home to the American Poetess Emily Dickinson, one of our Emily's favorite writers. Emily D was born and raised in this now college town, and is buried only a short walk from her family homestead.
Now that I'm a "father of adults", schedules become more crowded. Not only do I and my wife have work obligations to take care of, but so does our now teacher daughter. The day we hit the road, we ordinarily like to be at RoadAbode by 10 or 11am, earlier if possible. Because it was last day of classes (graduation day) for our daughter's preschool, we couldn't leave until 2pm. Drive time (without stops) was six hours.
As usual, there was plenty of road construction, and a short harrowing piece I thought  we were ending up on one of New York's parkways.  We called ahead and had the office of the campground leave our paperwork on the front door. Even though we rolled in around 9:15pm, at least it had not been raining, and had no mishaps.
Campground KOA
Setting up camp is always pretty easy with RoadAbode, a fact I especially appreciate in the dark. Setting up at Northampton/Springfield KOA was no different. We had a pull thru site, that we only needed two blocks under one front tire to level. Hooked up water, cable, electric, turned on gas - and we were set! The rest could wait till morning.
Molly our 7 year old Lhasa-poo pup loves to explore new places, and at first light was already poking and prodding me to take her out for new "sniffs." I got to stay in bed until 5:30a, and had to take her out. Who am I kidding - I wanted to get moving too!
A leisurely walk around the park let us discover a nice dog park with doggy exercise equipment, a newer playground for kids, and smallish pool (right across from RoadAbode). The roads were gravel, and in many places a new coating would be a good idea.
Back at RoadAbode, I began brewing a pot of coffee on the stove, and was able to relax. I sat outside to read more of the book by Ron Chernow that inspired the Tony award winning musical, Hamilton. The true history of the man is in some ways more incredible then what is dramatized in the play by Lin Manuel Miranda.
I was able to get in a few hours reading, then a shower. Shower house was disappointing at this KOA. Only one shower and in need of updating. At least it was clean.
The girls were soon up and getting hungry. We decided to do an all American diner - and we sure found one! Blue Bonnet Diner located in Northampton was exactly what we were looking for before touring Amherst. Great food, great service. A short drive from there we were in Amherst proper and found what we came for - the Emily Dickinson Museum.
There was plenty of metered parking out front, but a side street across from the museum had free spots available, so we took advantage of a spot - with shade to boot.
The homestead of Emily Dickinson has been wonderfully restored, and the grounds have homey small gardens, similar to what Emily would have had during her time there. The first floor of the home is a welcome center and gift store, with some photos and memorabilia to see before an official tour. The tour is the only way to see the other areas of the interior of Emily Dickinson's home. Many of the volunteers are college interns, and of course fans of the poetess. Our guide was a retired resident of the area who knew a few poems by heart. She was well versed in the history of  the town of Amherst, the college, and the family tree of Emily. One special treat was near the end of the tour. We were sitting and looking at how variations of Emily Dickinson's poems came to be, when she asked for anyone who had a personal favorite. Our Emily, usually reserved in open forums, quickly raised her hand and discussed her favorite. Our guide pulled out a concordance of Dickinson poems, found the particular prose, and invited our Emily to read for the tour group. To my surprise - she did! One of the highlights of the visit for me.
After the tour, the girls did some shopping in the museum shop, then we wandered thru the gardens. I checked my smartphone, and found we were a short walk from Emily Dickinson's grave. We exited the gardens on an opposite corner, and walked past some of the beautiful homes of Amherst to the gates of West Cemetery. We were not sure of the exact location of the grave, but since the graveyard was small, it was easily found. Gated along with her family in almost the center of the cemetery was her tombstone, adorned with gifts from her admirers. Pens and pencils, scrawl
ed notes, even jewelery were placed upon her final resting place.
We left the West cemetery and walked along North Pleasant Street to Judie's Restaurant to have some drinks and pop overs with apple butter. Pop overs are a great mid-afternoon snack. If you have never tried one, pop overs are similar to very eggy, overgrown muffins. We first encountered them on our 2012 trip to Maine. Slather them with locally grown jam or apple butter and they are even better.
After touring town a bit (should have checked out this part of the college town even more) We headed back to RoadAbode to relax. On the way we stopped by what appeared to be a family run farm stand near the campground. Outlook Farms had lots more going on! Set next to to an orchard of heirloom apples and other fruits, Outlook Farms also holds a bakery, small cafe, butcher and produce stand. They also have an in-house cidery, which I picked up a bottle to try. Great stop if you visit the area.
The Three "R"s ~ Relaxing, Reading and Recreational Games
Rest of our day was spent reading and playing games. That relaxation part of a vacation that we sometimes forget to do. I was continuing to read Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow and Amy was reading something on the problems and solutions for food security in our neighborhood. We also got to play some great games the girls had along. Kimberly had Game of Phones, where each player participates in a scavenger hunt using their smartphone. The "judge" for the round picks a card, and the others need to scour either their smartphone folders or internet and find the best answer on their phones and show the judge, who gets to choose a winner for that round. Emily brought out Rory's Story Cubes, a set of dice with different symbols on them. Create a story using the symbols you roll. pass on the story or shift it around from player to player. Great game to dust off the cobwebs in your brain and use your imagination.
The next morning we opted to grab breakfast at the Outlook farm and head to the Eric Carle Museum. For the uninitiated, Eric Carle is a children's book author, who is known for his colorful art work. The pictures in his books are created using a collage technique with hand-painted papers. The author/artist then cuts and layers these to form bright and colorful images. His most famous and award winning book - The Very Hungry Caterpillar - has been translated into over 40 languages.
The museum itself showcases the artists and artwork found in children's books. According to Wikipedia The museum includes three rotating galleries, each housing picture book art. The West Gallery is devoted to the work of Eric Carle, the East and Central galleries present the work of numerous picture book artists. Though we did not stay long, we enjoyed learning about the creation process. I especially thought learning about story development and seeing preliminary sketches for the books were intriguing. Such great detail and imagination!
After our time at the museum, the girls thought some shopping was in order. They love perusing thrift stores, so with the help of Google Maps, we found some great stops to check out. One in particular The Cancer Connection thrift shop in Northampton MA, had some great buys at low prices. Kimberly even found some items to use in her classroom. We stopped into one of our favorite grocery stores - Aldi - for some provisions, and a look around at a Salvation Army Thrift (I stayed in the car and took a nap) 
Since Friday is pizza night, we got a recommendation from the KOA office for a local pizza joint. Pisano's Pizza was pretty good, though pickup was a bit away in the town of Hadley. 
We closed up our evening with more games, and watching the farmer next door cut, bale and cart off his hay. 
On our last full day in the area, we wanted to check out the Amherst Trail system Some are maintained by the University, or the Township of Amherst, with the help of volunteers. Many are converted "rails to trails" .The girls decided to check out the shortest trail because it was named for Emily Dickinson. The trail formerly known as the Misty Bottom Trail, is one of Amherst's "Literary Trails." It starts in Groff Park and follows Amherst College land, meandering along the Fort River.
Along the way we passed a small community garden, and found what we first thought was a bird house, but turned out to be an interesting home for some wee little rabbits! The Trail connects with some larger paved biking and hiking routes. We opted to reverse and head back to Groff Park rather than investigate these. Some of the bikes going past on the larger trails were moving at a good clip, and Molly our pup is not too keen on sharing space with bicycles.
As we headed back to RoadAbode, we noticed an interesting sign that we had past a few times in our travels in the area. "Grey Matter Books 2/10 ->" 

We decided to stop in - though half our crew stayed in the car "to keep Molly company" Grey Matter Books Was what a used bookstore looks like in the movies. Off the beaten path, with just a little disarray, but a helpful clerk that can probably find just about anything. Kimberly again found plenty to share with her preschool class.
After a bit of literary shopping, we headed back to RoadAbode. Emily cooked some hamburgers over the fire - she's a pretty good cook - and we settled back for another evening of reading and games. Except - we had the excitement of some police activity right in the campground!
Seems that a domestic dispute of some sort broke out, and the KOA staff became involved, as did Massachusetts state troopers. A few conversations and walks around the pool, and a family was packed up and escorted off the property. 
After the evening's live action soap opera, we settled in, watched some TV, and prepared for coming home.

Our trip home was easier navigation-wise than travelling to the area. We only ran into heavy traffic as we approached the Tappan Zee bridge, and that was partially due to all the construction going on. What we gaged as being five and a half hours only stretched into six and a half. 
Another great June family trip in RoadAbode!

Monday, May 30, 2016

The Case of the Missing Catalytic Converter and Repair Drama

Actually, not much of a case. Someone took it, and we didn't catch them. So this is more of the story of discovery, Working with Good and bad mechanics, figuring out what to do, and getting replaced.
Yup, something's missing
In March, we visited RoadAbode to get ready for our first trip of the season. We are always excited, because, well - first trip of the season, and we almost always head to our "home" campground. We call Country Acres our home campground because it's only an hour away, and we usually camp there first and last trips of the season.
We have a basic checklist of things to do. Check battery, look for leaks or pest infiltration, and start RoadAbode up. Usually when I start RoadAbode, even first time of the season, all I do is walk up from the house part, bend over, stick the key in the ignition and give a turn. Don't even need to touch the pedal and the fuel injectors do the rest. This time instead of the usual low throaty rumble we usually hear when I turn the key, we were greeted with a terrifyingly loud roar as the engine came to life. LOUD ROAR. Amy was putting linens away in our bedroom. Our eyes met and said everything in that knowing couples look. "THAT ain't good!" I quickly shut down the engine, fearing something was wrong with it. Hopped out and laid down on the ground and took a look. Sure enough, something was missing. "Hey Am, someone took part of our exhaust pipe!"  I bellowed incredulously from underneath RoadAbode. I laid there on my back , ticked, wondering why someone would cut a four foot piece of exhaust pipe out from under an RV. The other part that was upsetting is that though I had not visited RoadAbode In January and February as I usually do (busy at work with travel) Our storage place is behind a gated facility - with codes to get in.
We packed up and headed home still thinking why someone would cut out a four foot piece of pipe when I came to realization someone had not cut out just exhaust pipe - it was our catalytic converter!
What's missing? A Catalytic Converter!
I was not totally aware that removing catalytic converters from vehicles was a "thing" , but a quick Google confirmed the the metals found in the part are what make it an easy target for unscrupulous scrappers to make into quick cash.
Now that I identified what was missing, I had to find out if we could get it fixed before the next weekend. Then I remembered "hey, there is a truck repair place right next door" - convincingly called Jim's Truck Repair - they could probably fix it, and I wouldn't have to drive too far either. I called and spoke to what I believed was the owner, and though not 100% thought he could do the repair, but not by next weekend. So still a plus, I asked for an estimate. He asked for the Make/model, and would get back to me by end of day. Next day, I called in the afternoon since I had not heard back. An older, perhaps gruff sounding gent answered the phone, told me to hold on - and sounded like he threw on the counter - maybe even clattering to the floor. The owner got on the line after some time, and apologized for not getting back, but that he needed the VIN number as well. I said I needed to hunt that down, and asked If we could meet up at RoadAbode so he could take a look. He stated the next day at around noon or 1pm would be good for him. I let him know I needed to check with my boss, but would call back as soon as I got the VIN. Later that day I found the VIN in some paperwork, and called back. Mr McGruff answered. I had to repeat to him a several times the long sequence of numbers, either because of my speech impediment (I don't have one) or a bad phone line, or perhaps his short attention span to inane things like letters and numbers. I let him know that I still didn't know what time I could meet up with Jim (had not heard back from my boss yet) Mr McGruff bellowed into the phone "I don't know what's the BIG DEAL about meeting and gettin' him to look at this thing? It's sittin' RIGHT NEXT DOOR!" Taken aback I stopped for a moment, then proceeded to let him know that I work during the day, and to meet on Jim's schedule I needed to get approval to get the time - does that make sense?!? He grumbled yes into the phone and hung up. Later I called that I could meet the next day, Jim answered, and said no problem.
Next day I picked up Jim at the front gate, and took him to RoadAbode's spot. He took pictures, and measurements saying it seemed like he could refit a catalytic converter in. I drove him back over to his garage, and he said he'd call me with an estimate. Two day's later I hadn't received a call, and called there. "Are ys' sitting down? Mr. McGruff chuckled into the phone it's gonna be $2500 dollars! I thanked him and said if I would call back if I wanted done.
Amy canceled our March reservations, and kindly Country Acres let us reschedule at no loss for April.
I Googled the part and found that the Catalytic converter alone was $350-$400 dollars, depending on what site I visited.
I decided to call Bergey Truck Center - who up to this point has done all my yearly work and inspections. Since RoadAbode is a Ford, I was referred to the Bergey Ford Shop. The gentleman there was very helpful, and told me he would get a price, but he believed that since they were a Ford Service Center, that they would have to do replace from the headers by the engine block, all the way to the muffler. He called back in a few hours with a price of $2900, and confirmed that would be from the headers to the muffler. He also stated what I was already thinking. If it was his, he's get the part and get a muffler shop or independent garage to weld the part in.
At this point, I ordered the part online including shipping for $371 and figured I would find someone who could weld it on.
Bought it - Can I get it installed?
I knew I had until April to find a place to get the new catalytic converter installed. Just needed the time to call around, get prices and find places willing (and big enough for RoadAbode) to install my aftermarket part.
Unfortunately, I now was travelling more for work, which afforded me little time to lookup and call places.
It was a bit fustrationg - and stressing too. That's When Amy came to the rescure!
While I was in LA for work, she managed to find a place that was only a few miles from RoadAbode, and could weld in the part. So without letting me know she drove RoadAbode to Dependable Auto Service in Hatboro, There, they treated her very well and showed here what they needed to do, and took pictures for her to boot. I think we found a new dependable place for future RoadAbode work!
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Sunday, May 15, 2016

How'd We Get to Here?

It's been a long time since posting. Too long. It's not that we've stopped doing things with RoadAbode. It's been that there has been a shift in responsibility and priority.

The place I have worked for as the IT Administrator for over a decade was acquired by a larger company. Now in my fifties, my job has changed. I need to learn new technology (to me), new interfaces, new software. I have to adopt new responsibilities. I now travel to other offices to help in upgrades, moves and expansions. In the past few months I've added up more flights and hotel stays than in all my previous time spent on this earth combined. It's not that I haven't wanted to write, it's the time to do so.
One of my flights. Like riding a flying school bus

Let me try to catch you up.
In 2015, RoadAbode had two blowouts - one on either side of the rear. Two different trips. The second one in November also took out the sewer gate valve. Fortunately we had just flushed the tanks for the winter. It also took out part of the wheel well trim.  Hope to write about the adventure of replacing the sewer parts soon.

As usual, we did little in December, January and February with RoadAbode, and even less because I was travelling for work across the country. Birmingham, Los Angeles, and Buffalo to name a few - but I mostly got to see the inside of airports, office suites, and hotel rooms. Not much sightseeing. Do feel blessed to be working with a good team of people. Makes working until 2am some nights bearable.

The week before our first trip in March, I visited RoadAbode to do a "pre-road trip" check. Found out when I started her up that someone had helped themselves to her catalytic converter. Bit upsetting since we keep RoadAbode in an access controlled, fenced in storage facility. Unfortunately the time-frame was so wide we couldn't catch the culprits on the storge yard camera. March's trip was cancelled since we could not get a reasonable estimate, nor the part before the trip. We've since replaced, and perhaps will blog the account how Amy got the job done.
A missing catalytic converter
My travel for work also caused my decision to step down as board member of a local theater group, ASH. I felt I could not give the correct attention to the kids outreach that I would like to.

We finally did have a great weekend out to Lancaster in April. Thrift shopping and visiting some eateries. And some Snow too!

May's trip was for Mother's day, and enjoyed a time next to the Swatara River at the Jonestown KOA.
So there has been a good bit of adventure, and not as much travel in RoadAbode - but summer is almost here!
Looking forward to an upcoming trip to Amherst, Massachusetts - home to Emily Dickinson and the  Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art. Hopefully I can share the experience here.

It took a day off to recoup and get the time to write to write. hopefully I'll be able to chronicle what adventures are headed our way with RoadAbode. It's fun to look back at the past eleven years and see how much we've enjoyed the time in RoadAbode! If not, at least I'll try to post a quick picture on Instagram or Twitter. Follow along!