Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Spreading Holiday Cheer – Livingston, Lufkin, San Antonio, TX

I hope you enjoyed the holiday season as much as I did!  Texas does EVERYTHING big, and celebrating Christmas is no exception.

We participated in Livingston’s Festival of Lights kickoff at City Hall, enjoying hot cocoa and admiring the Hall’s Christmas tree in the company of a costumed Rudolph.  In addition to lights at various public buildings, the City adorns Pedigo and Penguin Parks with lighted figures, everything from jungle animals, to a full nativity, to a riverboat.

Pedigo Park is also the locale where the First Baptist Church holds “Bethlehem”, a wonderful portrayal of the Jewish town at the time of Christ’s birth.  We find attending this event is the perfect way to celebrate the true reason for the season!

Unfortunately, Livingston’s Hometown Christmas Fair suffered from reduced attendance due to the rainy, damp weather.  But at least the rain stopped for the evening Christmas Parade.  The theme for this year’s floats were gingerbread houses (last year it seemed they all had The Griswolds/Christmas Vacation).  There was not one band in this year’s parade.  Unheard of, right?  My favorite parade participants were a group of doggies dressed up in their finest Christmas outfits.  Next time we are in Livingston for the holidays, I am going to enter the parade.  We can ride motorcycles like we did in parades in NJ, decorate Big Boomer like we did in parades in PA, or ride in a decorated side by side like a group of folks do in Livingston’s parade.

Good Golly Miss Molly’s, a local antique store, once again housed the Train Village assembled by the Polk County Heritage Society.  Though a small set up, it packs a huge punch when it comes to ingenuity! I love that they “hide” figures within the train set-up, providing guests the added fun of hunting for these hidden treasures.  This year's set-up featured nighttime lighting, whereby the overhead lights dimmed on the village setups and we were enthralled with a night sky full of stars.

Village with Daytime Lighting

Village with Nighttime Lighting

We returned to the Museum of East Texas for their Festival of Christmas Trees, where local businesses, families, and schools donate a Christmas tree decorated with a specific theme.  Some of the trees are adorned with expensive glass ornaments, while other trees are dressed with hand-crafted decorations.  Either way, I love the uniqueness and cleverness exhibited.  One of these years, I’m going to donate a Rambling RV Rat Tree!  Imagine adorable ornaments in my likeness!  Or better yet, ornaments that look like all my favorite cheeses!

Tree Donated by Local Dentist Office, Complete with Gumdrops, Tooth Fairies, and Toothpaste

Tree Donated by Veterinarian Clinic in Shape of Doghouse

A Tree Donated in Memory of a Loved One and His Passions, Golf, Camping, and Football (Hook 'Em Horns!)

Chick-Fil-A "Santa Prefers Milk and Chikin"

In between Christmas activities, we hiked several times along The Lone Star Trail.  The Lone Star Trail, similar to South Dakota’s Centennial and Mickelson Trails, lets you traverse for 100+ miles throughout the state.  Each time we visited a different trail head, hiking in for 3 miles, then returning to our truck.  Although the trailheads we visited were generally only 10-15 miles apart, it was amazing how different the ecosystems were along each section.    We’d go from high growth enchanted forests of gnarly trees to areas with palms and cacti.   The Lone Star Trail may not be used heavily by humans, but we noticed an abundance of evidence that animals foraged for food here regularly.  There was significant storm damage along the Trail, with bridges washed out and many areas impassible due to fallen trees.  We didn’t see much wildlife, but did encounter a cottonmouth snake!  We found several geocaches as we hiked (Mom is always ensuring that we are multi-tasking) and I even planted a cache for others to find.  Unfortunately, the Great Geocache Grinches rejected publication of my cache’s coordinates (N30.5460500, W-95.143483) claiming it is too close to another geocache.  So what’s the big deal!!!  Is it a crime for people to enjoy finding two caches in an area!!!  (This is the second time we got rejected for cache publication.  The first one in Quartzsite, AZ was rejected because we did not provide for “sufficient maintenance” of the site of our cache (we said we go to Quartzsite each winter and would check on it.  Not good enough said these Geocache Grinches.  Sites should be inspected and maintained with more regularity.)    These rules are stunod, as my Italian friends would say.

Bridge Damaged by Storms

An Encounter with a Cottonmouth!

Ladybugs Trying to Hitch a Ride with Big Boomer

Speaking of stupid stuff, let me tell you about our off-roading adventures.  Upon arrival in TX, we dutifully purchased our OTV sticker so we could use our side by side, A.K.A. Rat Patrol, for off-roading.  Well, after purchasing the sticker we learned that Sam Houston National Forest has the only public lands in our area on which off-roading is permitted.  No problem, its within 45 minutes from home and a beautiful area.  Sam Houston National Forest boasts 85 miles of OTV trails.  What they don’t tell you is that there are only 2 main trail areas, 1 of which has been closed for over a year due to Hurricane Harvey damage!  Oh, but it gets worse!  The second trail area was “closed temporarily” due to bad trail conditions caused by “recent excessive rainfall.”  We called daily for trail updates just to monitor the situation.  Out of the 90 days we were in Livingston, the trail was “temporarily closed” for 85 of them.  We did manage to get out there for 1 of the 5 days the trail was open.  It was still VERY muddy with huge puddles of stagnate water around.  But Rat Patrol handled things well, we had the trail all to ourselves, and we had a blast!  Oh, and I forgot to tell you that Dad moved the location of the Spitz Lift on Big Boomer and added E-track to Big Boomer's behind so that we can put Rat Patrol on the back for local transport (rather than on the top of Big Boomer like when we tow the RV). This works out great!  It saves Dad the time and effort of taking off the roll cage, which is required when towing to ensure we meet height restrictions.

In addition to our usual holiday activities that I mentioned above, we added a few new ones to our agenda.  The city of Goodrich (population <300) had a drive-thru 5-acre winter wonderland of lights.   Well, we had to do a walk-thru rather than drive-thru—Big Boomer was too wide and too tall for the canopied entrance!

We also volunteered as bell ringers outside our local Wal-mart for The Salvation Army, a most worthy organization.   All the money raised in Polk County stays in Polk County, so we were happy to assist our own community.  

We also shared in the fun of decorating the Activity Center within Rainbow's End so it would be festive for the Christmas Dinner that is served each year to Park guests.

Mom was contracted to write a blog post for Escapees RV Club about how we celebrate the holidays when at Escapees Rainbow’s End RV Park.  Though she met her December 3 deadline, the "powers that be" did not post the blog to the Escapees website until Christmas Eve nor to the Escapees Facebook page until December 27.  So, as you can imagine, she was a bit bummed and felt guilty for getting $150 compensation for something virtually no one saw.  (I convinced her to take the money and run--she met her contractual agreement, so she is donating it to Misty Lee Farm to help with the care of all the rescued animals.)  If you ask me, though, Mom's writing style is suspiciously like mine.   What do you think—do I have a case of copyright infringement?   

As motorcyclists and Patriot Guard Riders, we participated in Wreaths Across America at Memorial Gardens in Lufkin, attending a ceremony and helping to place more than 600 wreaths on the graves of our unsung heroes—veterans of the armed forces.  It was a blustery morning for riding, but we were honored to participate.  Nothing that a nice, tasty early hot meal couldn't fix.  Ironically, when at the restaurant, we met a 93-year old veteran of World War II and his family.  We all thanked him for his service, and Dad gave him a special PGR patch recognizing his sacrifices to our Nation.  The old man was so happy and his family so appreciative.  It’s these little moments in life, the ones that require us to spare just a few minutes of time, that can be the most positive and most impactful.

The next day we continued the mission, this time joining Southeast Texas Chapter of PGR as they visited 7 cemeteries.  We traversed 150 miles on some gorgeous rural roads, throughout several counties to perform wreath laying ceremonies, including for 21-year-old Livingston native, Stuart Westley “Nubb” Moore, who served with honor and died in Afghanistan just days before Christmas 2003 due to an improvised explosive device (IED).  Mr. Moore’s parents joined us graveside, and the sorrow and heartache of losing a young, vibrant young man at his prime is still so evident.  Our hearts and prayers go out to all Gold Star families.  (For more photos of East Texas PGR missions, visit*F&fref=gs&dti=835217079849142&hc_location=group_dialog)

Image may contain: one or more people, people standing, tree, wedding, grass, crowd, outdoor and nature

Photo by John M. Kayes, Motorcycles and Patriots

Image may contain: one or more people, plant, tree, grass, flower, outdoor and nature

Photo by John M. Kayes, Motorcycles and Patriots

My parents continued to enjoy the company of Sherry/Matt and Nina/Jack.  Each of the three couples hosted a dinner in their rig, and let me tell ya, we ate well!  Nothing says good times better than delicious food and the company of wonderful, like-minded folks!

Quartzsite RV friends and fellow former New Jerseyans, Kelly/Bill were traveling through Texas and spent a night at Escapees Rainbow's End Park.  We enjoyed chatting and with them over a delicious meal at Joe’s Italian Grill and then back at our place for Mom’s sweets and treats.

Me and My Peeps!

Speaking of Mom’s cookies, Dad and I spent an hour delivering trays of them to our fellow ERPU leased lot neighbors, Escapees Headquarters and Mail Service, Joe the Movie Man, Park Volunteers, and a couple of folks who live in the owned lots/homes with whom we have become acquainted.

The Rainbow’s End Park Volunteers got together for a holiday dinner at Florida’s Kitchen.  It was a nice evening for everyone.  And we learned once again how small the RVing world can be:  Our fellow volunteers Tim/Linda share a friendship with our buddies Jim/Brenda!   

We spent December 24-27 in San Antonio since my Aunt Laurie (A.K.A. the Wicked Witch of the East) and Rob were “coming to visit us”.  Mind you, we were in Livingston, 4 hours northeast, not in San Antonio.  But whenever they travel to visit with us, it is rarely in the vicinity of where we actually are staying (in 2017 they visited us in Las Vegas—but we were in Grand Canyon.  You get the drift, I’m sure).  Rather than take our whole set-up which was fully decorated for Christmas, we opted just to rent a deluxe cabin at the San Antonio KOA.  This gave Mom the ability to produce delicious, traditional home-cooked holiday meals (and some plant-based entrees for Dad). 

My family generally avoids KOAs since they usually cater to families (This is one stuffed toy who hates being man-handled by kids who always seem to have dirty hands and runny noses).  But the San Antonio KOA is a real gem.  The owners take pride in their park, and constantly invest to make it better for their guests.  We noticed many improvements and additions since our last visit in Spring 2018, including repaved roads, upgraded RV sites, etc.  Our cabin came equipped with a lovely newly-installed back-yard patio, complete with full-size grill, swing, brick table/benches, and fire pit.  The staff is friendly and efficient, too.  We love the fact we don’t need to bring Big Boomer downtown.  Instead, we go to the bus stop directly across from the campground gate and hop onboard to get to the Riverwalk.  We also enjoy walking/hiking along the Salado Creek Greenway, which has an entryway right off the campground.   For all these reasons, I award San Antonio KOA a 5-cheese rating!

We revisited the Alamo, where Mom insisted we watch the 17-minute film (again), and we listened intently as a volunteer enthralled guests with a terrific narration of historic events.  Though we were just here in April, I am amazed that I learned some new facts.  For instance, Alamo means “cottonwood”.  It references the trees surrounding the town in Mexico from which its name is derived.  

The Riverwalk looked quite festive with colorful lights and garland adorning trees, bushes, and buildings.  We enjoyed some great Mexican cuisine at Acernar HotMex Coolbar, which came recommended to us by friends.

Dad's Vegetarian Meal--Pretty Good!

Say Hello To My Little Friend!

Time flew by and before we knew it, it was time to say our good-byes to my aunt and her significant other.  In what I call a Christmas miracle, Mom and Aunt Laurie managed to spent 3 days together without disagreements, snide remarks, or shouting matches.  Santa granted my Christmas wish!

Remember Jim/Brenda whom I mentioned earlier? We visited them on December 27 at Government Canyon State Natural Area, where they were volunteering.  Its a beautiful, remote area for camping with nice-sized sites.  There are many trails here, though all but one short 1.5 mile jaunt were “temporarily closed” due to trail conditions.  (Is it me or does there seem to be a recurring theme with trail availability?)  Anyway, it was wonderful catching up with them—we last were all together in August within South Dakota.

What better way to ring in the new year than with a get together at our place with Sherry/Matt and Nina/Jack.  We watched the Times Square Ball go down—twice (Eastern Time AND replayed at Central Time).  Rather than providing our guests champagne, we offered our traditional indulgences for a toast:  a shot of Petron, Black Haus, or Jagermeister. 

May 2019 bring us all peace, love, joy, good health, and prosperity!

We would like to thank the following organizations for all the great service and support they offer to the RVing community:

 Escapees RV Club



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RV Dreams

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1 comment:

  1. Wow, what a great holiday season. You two were incredibly busy seeing all the sights, visiting and attending events. Hope nothing but the bet for you guys in '19!