Saturday, April 15, 2017

Happy Easter and Happy Birthday to Me! PoPo's Birthday Story

For Christians, Easter is a celebration of Christ's resurrection, giving them eternal salvation, a rebirth, a loving gift from God.  I wish a Happy Easter to those who celebrate.  Like Easter, my birthday is a celebration of rebirth and love.   I know most of you probably look at me and see a scruffy, tattered, over-sized stuffed rat.  But what I really am is a love story...

For many years, I just sat in a toy store.  I was the store mascot, which made me more important than all the other toys.  But I was so very, very lonely.   I was tucked away high on a shelf, hidden away from all the potential families who might take me home.  I never felt the warmth of a hug.  I never heard the joyful sounds of laughter.  And most importantly, I never experienced love--until one wonderful day more than 30 years ago!

One Spring day, a young man with fine blonde hair (and nice workout pecks, too!) strolled into the store.  He went immediately to the stuffed toy section.  He scrutinized each toy like a drill sergeant reviewing cadets during boot camp.  He picked up each toy—a cuddly teddy bear, a playful dog, a persnickety-looking cat, a pink-nosed rabbit—but after careful review, he discarded each one.  By the look on his face, they just did not meet his requirements.    He obviously was intent on finding one very special toy.

I watched the toys as he turned away.  They were very upset and insulted.  They were not accustomed to such rejection.    Once someone held and cuddled the toys, they usually were brought to a new home!  I looked at them with empathy—no one knew better than I did the feeling of being rejected and unloved.

The fellow headed for the front door, obviously to continue his search at another store.  Suddenly he stopped in his tracks and cast his gaze upward to that high shelf on which I sat.   No one ever really looked up here since the shelf contained just additional inventory of the toys down on the floor.    I was so excited to be noticed!   As my eyes met his, I could tell he was a kind and gentle spirit!

In a flurry, he looked around and walked again to the back of the store.  Suddenly, he returned with Beth, the Sales Associate, and was pointing up to me on the shelf!   My heart was fluttering!  Could it be he might want me!   I saw Beth look up at me, and watched in horror as she shook her head “no” and mouthed the words “not for sale”.  Beth was such a nice girl—how could she deny me a chance at true toy happiness?  My heart was heavy with sadness as I realized this toy store would be the only “home” I would ever know.   I turned away and crawled to the back of the shelf as I wiped the river of tears rolling down my chubby cheeks.Fortunately, this young man was very persistent.   He said he needed the perfect gift to tell his “special” girl that he loved her for the very first time, and that I was the perfect gift!  His romantic plan must have touched Beth’s heart!  The next thing I knew, she climbed up a ladder to my shelf, pulled me from the back corner, and placed me in his outstretched arms!  As he held me, my heart filled with gladness!  As our eyes met, he broke out into a huge smile!   My tears of sadness transformed into tears of joy as my new Daddy carried me out of the store!  My sad, lonely life would be no more, for I now would have a loving family and a permanent home!  That was on April 15, 1983, the day we celebrate my rebirth!

Someday I'll tell you more of the story, like the day I met my Mom.

But right now, I've got important business to undertake--eating a feast fit for Templeton the Rat from Charlotte's Web! Yes, Mom cooked up a storm for my birthday and Easter weekend.  From roast beef with mashed potato pie and sauteed portabello mushrooms to a pork roast with cranberry-nut stuffing, to baked ziti.  And most importantly of all, cheesecake squares, my favorite dessert!

Talk to you soon!

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Our New Workamping Gig on the South Rim for the Grand Canyon Association

The last two weeks have been a whirlwind, but loads of fun and excitement.  We left Quartzsite around 7 a.m. on April 1 with Mom at the wheel.  Dad took over right after we reached Congress, which made Mom very happy.   She would much rather indulge in the amazing, breathtaking scenery of the Bradshaw Mountains than deal with the ascending, winding, hairpin-turn roads with snow still hugging the rocks.

Like life, we endured and overcame the hardship of the mountains and arrived at the peaceful Peebles Valley, a true paradise with lush horse and cattle-filled pastures surrounded by colorful hills. 

As the elevation climbed again to 6000 feet, the vegetation changed.  We saw more Boreal forests with Ponderosa pines and conifers rather than cacti and desert flora.  

Prescott, the territorial capital for Arizona before it moved to Tuscon, is a really cool town.  It’s got five lakes, lots of pubs, taverns, and restaurants along Whiskey Row, and Big Nose Kate, significant other of Doc Holiday and Tombstone’s best known call girl/gaming hall dancer, is interred in its Pioneer Cemetery.

Watson Lake in Prescott

We arrived at the South Entrance to the Grand Canyon about 2 p.m. and were greeted by lines of cars waiting for entry.  The popularity of our National Parks has grown tremendously in recent years!

We are thrilled with our “new home”!    Our RV site is HUGE (it housed a double-wide trailer previously), backs up to a wooded area where elk and mule deer come to dine, and has plenty of privacy.   The site is provided to us for a nominal monthly fee, and we pay our own electric bill.  There is a nice, clean, FREE laundromat just for workers in the housing community, with huge front loading machines.  Typically, we use our Splendide in the rig for most things (thank goodness, the surgery Dad performed seems to have corrected the problems we were encountering.)  But it would take 3 loads to clean our work pants and shirts, which all fit into 1 load of these washers.  So depending on our work schedules and exploring plans, we might take advantage of this perk during our tenure at the Park.  There is also a library with free WiFi (although our Verizon MiFi and mobile hotspots are working great here), church, bank with ATM, post office (at which we receive a free box as part of our compensation package at GCA), and school for the children of parents who work here all year round.

Elk Eating in a Neighbor's Yard

We worked like beavers to get the rig all set up, cleaned, and organized.  We zonked out by 8 p.m., but arose early on Sunday to begin exploring and to re-orientate ourselves to the lay of the land.  Thankfully, we visited Grand Canyon last April for 5 days, so things came back to us quickly (even Mom the sieve-head didn’t have to dust off too many cobwebs in her brain).  They have lots of walking/biking paths and a free shuttle service.  So between hoofing it and riding the bus, we can get most places, including our work locations, quite easily.

Dawn From our Campground

We stopped at the General Store to check out pricing.  Most things are more than double what we pay normally.  We stocked up on meat, paper products, snacks, cereal, canned goods, etc. before we arrived, so we will only use the General Store for produce and dairy (like my cheese), which weren’t priced as exorbitantly as we would have expected.  There is so much exploring to do and beauty to see, we don’t want to waste our days off driving 1.5 hours to Flagstaff or Williams for Sam’s/Wal-mart/Safeway.  Instead, we will do what we did at Crazy Horse Memorial in Custer—order non-food and non-perishable food items from and Amazon with free shipping (a perk of Prime Membership), and only do a run to a major shopping area about once every 4-5 weeks.

We arrived for our “onboarding” on Monday morning, which consisted of the usual paperwork and overview.  While Xanterra and Delaware North are for-profit vendors at the Park, The Grand Canyon Association  (GCA) is a nonprofit organization, which endears it to our hearts (my parents and I were active volunteers for many nonprofit organizations in our “other life”.  With our new traveling lifestyle, volunteerism is not as easy to do.  So we feel fortunate when we land seasonal workamping gigs at nonprofits, like we did at Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation back in 2015.  We provide a vital service to assist in achieving the organization’s mission while getting paid at the same time.  It’s a win-win situation in our minds).  The GCA partners with the National Park Service to provide funding for education, trail restoration, and wildlife preservation, among other programs.   Through the proceeds of its 8-store retail operations and donor members, it contributed more than $4 million to the Grand Canyon National Park in 2015.    

Since asking customers to become members will be part of our function while working in the retail stores, we thought it only right to become members ourselves.  We are firm believers of putting our money where our mouth is.  If we enjoy something and want it available for future generations--whether it pertains to the arts, culture, National Parks, historical buildings, you name it--it is up to us, as individuals, to provide our financial support.  We shouldn't rely solely on the government and tax dollars, and we can’t expect someone else to support something if we aren’t willing to do it ourselves.

Yours Truly, with my New Member Welcome Gifts!

As employees, we were treated to a back-stage tour of Kolb Studios (something we were not privy to on our tourist visit last year).  Emory and Ellsworth Kolb were entrepreneurial brothers who built a photography studio at the trailhead to Bright Angel Trail in 1904.  They would take photos of hikers and mule caravans before they descended down the canyon, process the prints, and have them available for their patrons upon their return to the South Rim.  They were the first to make a motion picture of a Colorado river trip, a pretty big deal since their trip of 1911-1912 was only the 8th successful canyon river journey until that point in time!  Their movie was shown twice a day for tourists for 60 years, from 1915 until 1965.  Ellsworth left the business in 1915, but Emory continued until his death in 1976, at which time the GCA acquired the building, renovating it to a bookstore and art gallery.  It is a real treasure!  Between its absolutely spectacular views, gorgeous original family furnishings, and intact photo studio and movie library, it is so very deserving of being on the National Register of Historic Buildings!

The Views from Kolb Studios

You Can See the Bright Angel Trail

Can You Believe This Fridge Still Works!  Wish RV Fridges Were As Reliable!

Original Photo Studio

We learned early on that the weather changes dramatically here on the South Rim.  We went from cloudy skies, to snow, to a beautiful sunshine in a matter of a few hours.

We toured the 6 GCA stores located on the South Rim, meeting tons of employees.  Mom was making herself Cliff Notes to try to remember them all!   GCA has about 100 employees, but only 30% of them work year-round.  We are fortunate that we are the very first of the Spring/Summer workampers to arrive.  This gives us more personalized training.  The managers, leads, and winter seasonal workers have been ever so helpful and patient.  GCA is very cognizant of the grueling tasks of retail sales, and therefore is very generous with breaks:  a 15-minute morning break, an hour lunch, and a 15-minute afternoon break within an 8-hour day.  If we work a 10-hour day, the breaks extend to 20 minutes!  (So different than at Amazon where we worked 10-or 11-hour days and received only a 1/2 hour lunch with 2 breaks of barely 15 minutes).

There is lots to learn here, like facts about the Canyon, directions to get to various places, running the registers, store inventory, etc, but we seem to be catching on quickly and are enjoying the learning process!  We have already been charged with opening the Yavapai Pt. store on our own!

Yavapai Pt. Geology Museum, Which Houses a GCA Store

What A Great "Office" View from the Yavapai Pt. Store in the Geology Museum!

Speaking of Amazon, they decided not to have any Texas workamping locations this year, contrary to the San Marcos and Coppell locations they informed us about at the Quartzsite RV Show in January.   Instead, workamping opportunities are only available in TN and KY.   We are disappointed--Amazon is truly a good gig.  You get paid very well for all hours worked, get a reduction in your expenses since they pay for your RV site, and you receive a $1/hour completion bonus at the end of the season.  That buys me quite a supply of cheese!  Plus you get a free workout/weight loss program since most of the positions are very labor-intensive and involve substantial walking, lifting, and bending.  But it just isn't cost effective for us to travel to TN or KY after Grand Canyon only to return to Arizona again in January.  Instead, we will remain in Arizona, relocating to our favorite desert abode for a few extra months of rest and relaxation after we finish our gig here.  Although disappointed about no opportunities to work at Amazon in TX, we are not surprised.  Although Amazon included Haslet, TX on the application back in December, they did tell us the decision to include workampers there was still pending.    This is why we took the longer term (April through mid-October) position at Grand Canyon.  Mom is the "glass half empty" analytic.  We always plan for the worse.  We never put all our eggs in one basket.  We always have a "Plan B", and usually a Plan "C".  So no harm no foul for us except we will so miss seeing all the friends we have met the prior two years at Amazon!

Well, I’ve got to get back to coloring my Easter eggs, so I’ll sign off now.  Will speak to you again soon!

Friday, March 31, 2017

LaPosa LTVAs – Alive with Beautiful Blooms, A Second Set of Snake Eyes, and Coyote Cries

Like Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz, I have learned that I don’t have to look much further than my own backyard to find true happiness, beauty, or my heart's desire.  Such is the case with my family's winter retreat in the Sonoran Desert at the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) La Posa Long Term Visitor Areas (LTVAs).  Its thousands of acres offer panoramic views, varied terrains of hiking and ATV trails, and a wonderful window through which to watch flora and fauna.

Mom joins me regularly for a 5-7 mile hike within La Posa South (Dad only comes about half the time).  It’s our 2+ hour dose of spiritual fulfillment.  It is our time to reflect, to relish the solitude, and marvel in the wonders of nature.  And the desert never disappoints!  Each day we take a different trail and witness the desert coming alive.  Unlike our prior two winters here, the earthen ground is covered with a blanket of green grasses and white, purple, and yellow wildflowers.  

Multi-colored wildflowers outside our door

White button flowers and grasses dot the earth's floor

The blooms of the creosote and brittlebush just radiate sunshine.  The ocotillo transforms its bleak, brown, dormant branches to green-leaved arms boasting blazing red tubular buds.  The desert globemarrow offers a petite orange blossom.  And there are so many more landscape treasures for which this stuffed rat knows not their names.   But each day I speak to them, complimenting them on their beauty and thanking them for sharing their wonders with me. 



Close up of an Ocotillo bloom

Ball nipple cactus



First time I've seen blooms on a cholla cactus here in Q

Globemarrow with pretty, petite daisy-like flowers nearby


The insects, reptiles, and birds also keep us entertained, from lizards sunbathing on rocks, to ants busily collecting food for their colonies, to doves singing their love songs.  A recent hike during late afternoon along Trail 565 provided us several exciting adventures.  First, we spotted a hawk sitting on her nest built within the “elbow” of a saguaro cactus arm.  She was not happy that we were nearby.  So she called out to her mate, who immediately came to her aid to protect their home and soon-to-be babies.  Just a short distance away, a grove of mesquite trees offered shade to a threesome of turkey vultures.  Shortly thereafter we were given a warning hiss from a diamondback rattlesnake just a few feet off the trail.  Obviously, he saw us before we saw him.  Unlike Dad, who finds the need to take extended video, Mom and I just grabbed one quick pic and hurried on our way.

The diamondback snake we encountered

A close-up of Mr. Diamondback.  Then we speedily got out of its way.

Mama Hawk sitting on her nest in "elbow" of Saguaro

Mr. Hawk coming to protect her

Turkey vultures sitting in nearby grove of trees

The soulful cries of the coyotes have filled the nighttime air several times recently.  Mom and I saw their paw prints and poop specimens heading off a trail.  But we haven’t spotted them “in person” since we arrived in early January.

The desert can be unforgiving with its heat, wind, and dust.  Just yesterday we had sustaining winds of 50+ mph for the entire afternoon and into the evening.  (I thought I was back in the Poconos during Hurricane Sandy!)   Mom worked all morning to clean the rig, only to get a new layer of dust covering everything she just cleaned.  

But life is not Utopia--we must accept the good and the bad in everything.  For those of us willing to accept and tolerate these less appealing attributes of the desert, it rewards us greatly!   

Backyard Sunrise

Sunset in Dust Storm

We say goodbye to Quartzsite for another year, thankful to the great Creator for the riches and artful masterpieces he bestows on us each and every day during our seasonal visits.

We head to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon tomorrow, and expect much cooler temperatures and even a bit of snow.  We start work on Monday for the Grand Canyon Association.  We are excited to begin another chapter in our book of life on the road, exploring and experiencing more wonders of our great Country!

Talk to you soon!

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

More Tours: General Patton Memorial Museum/Desert Training Center, Los Algodones, and Celia’s Rainbow Gardens

We took advantage of recent cooler temperatures to return to Los Algodones.  Mom purchased some  wrinkle cream (she can’t have enough of that!) and a safari hat for Dad like the one he bought there last year.  Then we focused on replacing Dad’s broken knockoff Rolex watch that he bought on the streets of New York City before we hit the full-timing road.  Mom, ever the great negotiator, got the price down from $85 to $26.  She would have held out for $20, but Dad said that would be too insulting to the shopkeeper.  Our business completed in Algodones, we headed back to Yuma to do some shopping.  We needed some clothes to comply with our dress code at Grand Canyon, and Mom wanted to stock up on groceries, since we will be 1.5 hours away from “civilization” during our Grand Canyon work gig.   (We don’t like to waste time off from work running errands—we’d rather be exploring)!   We shopped in Yuma almost 5 hours, but accomplished all our goals.  For being so well behaved, I was rewarded with a hearty meal at Golden Corral, a feast fit for a king.

We also visited the General Patton Memorial Museum in Chiriaco Summit, CA.  The museum is located at what was Camp Young within the Desert Training Center (DTC), where General George S. Patton and other leaders trained over a half million soldiers for battle against the Germans in North Africa.  The Desert Training Center encompassed 18,000 square miles of rugged, desolate lands within the Mojave and Colorado deserts of California and Arizona.  The area of the DTC was larger than the states of Vermont and New Hampshire combined!  There were 12 divisional camps, including Camp Bouse, which we visited in 2015.  My maternal Grandpa served in the Pacific Theater of World War II, so I found this whole place very interesting.  We also learned there is boondocking right behind the Museum for a nominal fee (we think $1/night based on info on the Internet).  Pretty cool to have WW II tanks right in your “backyard”.

The remains of the Catholic chapel at Camp Young

"Trench Art" - Carvings/Sculptures on Artillery Shells

We went recently to Quartzsite’s Desert Tortoise Preserve.  Well, at least that’s what it is called on the Map of Quartzsite, (designed by Paul Winer) that we purchased.  The Preserve turned out to be a small caged area inside the Laze-E-Days RV Park.  Both the park and the preserve were in disrepair and obviously have seen some better days.  Long story short, I spotted only one tortoise, and his position behind a rock made it impossible to take a photo.  Another disappointing wildlife excursion.

Today we did our annual visit to Celia’s Rainbow Gardens.  Celia was the young daughter of Paul and Joanne Winer.  Born prematurely at only 23.5 weeks and weighing only 1.5 lbs., doctors had little hope for her survival.  But survive she did for 8 ½ years, until she succumbed to a viral infection that attacked her heart.  The Rainbow Gardens were borne out of her love for animals and the environment.  They are a testament to the dedication of her family to keep her memory alive and the true sense of community that support them in their mission.  Each time I visit, I walk away with a feeling of love and peace, and in my heart I know that’s exactly what Celia would have wanted.

Look at the size of this lizard who lives at Celia's Garden!

Well, the fun and games are over.  Our final days must be spent on chores.  Let the cleaning begin!

Talk to you soon.