Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Day Two of our Caravan/Rally

Yesterday was a busy day, any way you cut it. Our last member arrived at 7 AM (did they get up early). So we have all five of us present. Success number one.

Our first order of business was to visit the Vesterhiem (Norwegian) Museum here in Decorah, which we arrived at about 5 minutes too early. Standing out in the cold was no treat, any way you cut it. But finally they opened the door and we started our touring of the 4 floors of artifacts and relics and recreations. There is an old saying about the mind can only absorb what the seat can endure in church. Well, it is a similar thing when touring a museum. My legs, especially the hips really complained, but we kept going. We finished touring at 11:15 and ended up back in the lobby sitting on the chairs, only to find just about everyone else either their or they arrived shortly. It was interesting.

After lunch, we headed north to a garden market that sells only perennial flowers and plants. It is about 15 miles north of Decorah and back in the hills on a dusty, hilly, curvy, gravel road. But it was very interesting and I think all enjoyed it very much. If one was bored, we could always pick up a tennis ball and give it a heavy for the family dog to chase down. She could retrieve two balls at once. Finding one, leaving it and finding the second and then bring both back in her mouth. (A real mouth full.)

Our third tour was at a unique place about 3 miles north of Decorah called Seed Savers. Their non-profit mission in life is to save all of the genetic variations of garden plants. They have hundreds of apple trees, grapes, onions, and on and on. The seeds are kept in sub-zero storage and periodically regrown to insure that they have a viable seed bank. We spent about an hour on a tour, learning the history and what they have. Again, there is a limit to what one can learn when the legs start to complain. But we lasted it out.

Our final group activity for the evening was eating dinner out at a local restaurant. Eating is always fun!

Back at the motorhome, we watched most of the video on "Our National Parks". A highly recommended historical chronology of our parks.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Day One of our Caravan Rally

Monday was our gathering day and what a Monday. The north winds started blowing Sunday night and continued all day Monday. Thankfully, we're parked, as are two other couples that came in Sunday (or sooner). One couple came in from Des Moines and was kind of wiped out, very bad driving. One couple had step problems and was delayed. They eventually called in again and were fifty miles out and pushing severe winds. They didn't want to park in the park at night and were headed to the Walmart. However, the Decorah Walmart does not allow overnight. (I'm sure it is a city ordinance, and since the city owns the campground, why allow any competition.) They are going to stop earlier some where.

Our beginning event was a potluck, outdoors, which we moved to inside of our rig. We had 8 people and it worked well. The caravan is part of the Iowa Chapter of the Escapee's RV club. It is going from Decorah, Iowa to Warrens, Wisconsin, where we're going to learn about cranberries. On the way, we're taking in the apple orchards of Gays Mills, Wisconsin. Our other highlight is stopping at the Kickapoo Valley Reserve, which is a Corps of Engineers project gone bad and finally resurrected as an outdoor nature center. There is lots of camping, but mostly by walking, canoeing, or horseback riding. We think RVs are kind of left out. We'll find out in a couple of days.

Tuesday is touring, first to the local Norwegian museum, then to a perennial gardener/seller north of here, then to a Seedsaver operation north of town. It will be a busy day.


Thursday, September 24, 2009

It's Mid-Week Already

I recall years ago (many years ago) when some of my aunts and uncles used to comment that time was going so fast. Well, I'm of the same opinion today. Here it is Thursday and we leave on Sunday already.

We finished the battery install Monday, sealed the connections and called it done. Now we're looking forward to doing real boondocking and not depending upon the generator. Yes, we'll have it along (it's built in), but I hope there is no need for it. However, we do have some challenges ahead. We had turned off the charger so that the batteries are only being charged by the solar system. That has worked well until the last couple of days, when we've had very cloudy, overcast skies. So last night we broke down and turned the charger on.

About 10 days ago, I ordered some LED lights via eBay. I'm still patiently waiting for them. My next goal is to reduce the load on batteries by using more efficient lighting, like LEDs. The kicker is that I'm not certain I'm ready to spend the dollars to do it up right. Today I bought one CFL for to see how well they work. Actually, it's not for me, but it is for daughter's house. Tonight after dark, we'll see how much light one bulb puts out. The bulb I purchased is equivalent to a 60 watt incandescent bulb in light output and it only consumes 12 watts - I measured it. I wish I could find a similar bulb for our rig.

Today we made a quick trip to Cedar Rapids to allow the blood suckers to draw their yearly sample. I guess the worst part is that I had to fast since last night. On the way back to the rig, I stopped in to see my mother in the care center. Since she has moved from the assisted living section to the full care section, I think she has really done better. In the assisted living area, she had very few residents in similar circumstances. In the care center, most are in a very similar condition and thus she has many more social opportunities. Don't they say "its the little things that count?"

We've had some rain here in Iowa in the last week, but nothing serious. The ground is still very hard, so no problem when we leave on Sunday.


Saturday, September 19, 2009

It's Saturday Again (So Soon)

It is hard to believe it, but we're into another weekend already. How time flies (don't they say that when you're having fun?). The good thing about it being Saturday is that our being squeezed or poked is over. Now we await the results of the blood tests so that we can get real serious about running out (i.e. south). (ups, we need our teeth cleaned, scheduled in two weeks.)

Last Thursday, I spent a good two hours cutting brush along the road in one of the fields. I was hoping to finish the job, but my estimating skills have really gone wacky. I've got two more days (2 hour stretch) of cutting. The trees are not big, typically about an inch in diameter, but there is one every foot or so. My plan is to cut them this fall before they drop their leaves and then use a gas torch next sprint and kill the new growth and all of the very small trees. If we get back in time, we'll burn the whole road bank which would be the best solution.

I was to go back today and cut some more trees, but I've chickened out. Sandy is doing the laundry and I'm doing the final touches to a computer for my uncle. We fixed him up with a computer years ago and periodically, I have to do something to get it back to speed. Usually it is running Ad-aware, Spy-Bot and CCleaner and we're good to go. This time, I decided to reformat the drive. Good idea, but it has some inherent risks, like did I save everything.
I think we saved it all, but now my problem is putting it back. Outlook Express tells me where everything is stored, but the folder is not there. I'm missing something.

Also on Thursday, we went into a friends place and he used his torch to help me solder the terminals onto my new ground wire for the batteries. For reasons unknown, my torch refused to put out enough heat. So in the next day or two in the afternoon (when I can work in the shade), I'll replace my temporary cable, seal all of the connections with a sealer and say it is finished. I'm anxious to see how they perform this winter when we're boondocking.

Isn't it the joy of expectations that keeps us going?


Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Fall is in the Air

Here it is Wednesday already and we're slowly working our way towards the end of the month. Yesterday was a big day for Gene, his yearly medical exam, otherwise known as "getting the finger from the doctor". But we're happy to report all is well. (For years I didn't understand the purpose of the exam, but now that I know the reason and the outcome if ignored, it is a lot easier to accept, but never fun!)

We continue to keep tabs on our solar and battery system. The charger is turned off and the only method of recharging the batteries is via the solar panels. They are doing very well. About a week or so ago, we had two or three days of overcast cloudy conditions. As a result, the batteries were not getting back to the fully charged state by 5 pm, when we start draining them again in the evening. On the second or third day, I broke down and enabled the charger for 30 minutes, which put us into the fully recovered state.

I noticed this morning that while it is bright and sunny out at 7:45 AM, the panels were not charging. I finally did some looking and found that there is a tall slender green ash tree between the panels and the sun. So we don't get any solar output until about 8:15 AM when the sun moves over or around the tree. At that hour, the charge rate is very small, but it is always nice to see amps going into the battery verses out. To solve the problem, it is either cut the tree or move the motorhome. We'll probably do neither!

Fall is definitely in the air now. Our farmstead is in the middle of a soybean field and the beans are starting to turn yellow in spots. At this time of year, the fields are almost blotchy with areas of yellow among the green. Obviously, the slight soil differences make a difference in how things grow. In other cases, the yellow is in strips, indicating that something wasn't done right years ago. But in another week, all will be hidden again.

It is morning and another beautiful day here in the heart of America, God bless this wonderful land.


Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Lazy Days of an Early Fall

Okay, Labor Day has just passed us by, the summer is over and it is now Fall. The problem here is that I've lost most of my go go incentive. In short, I'm not being a good steward of my time. Yes, we keep busy, doing little things around the motorhome, things that need to happen before we hit the road and especially hit the road for points south.

We've tidied up a few things more on the new batteries. I'm really very happy with my solar/battery combination. Of course, we're not really over working them at the moment either. We only use about 50 to 60 Amp-Hours in an evening of the allowable 220, out of the total 440 A-H in the batteries. In other words, we could load them much heavier, and from the looks of the recovery, the solar would get them back to fully charged before dinner. Presently, the recharge is complete by noon at the earliest and usually by 1 PM. On cloudy or overcast days, it has been as late at 2:30 PM. (In other words, if I loaded them heavy for a couple of days, we might not get them back up in a day or two.

Today we pulled the batteries out and redid some of the cables. At one time, I was going to make 4 new cables, but after looking at it again, we only are making one new cable and reusing everything we took out. I also got out the steel brush and polished the terminals so that we now have very good connections.

We've also had fantasticially nice fall weather!


Saturday, September 5, 2009

Pigeon Release Day here on the Farm

Today was a very big day, especially for Sandy and a little bit for Gene. A friend that is a member of a Homing Pigeon Club from eastern Wisconsin brought 200 homing pigeons to the farm early this morning. We had offered the farm location as a suitable release point before they fly home to eastern Wisconsin. Another of Gene's brainy ideas was that we'd provide an "eggs in a bag" breakfast for all that came to witness the event. (It was easy for me to say and as Sandy says, "She had to do all of the work".)

So, yesterday and even earlier in the week, we spent much time preparing for the big event. There were muffins to bake, the lawn to mow, the house (mh) to clean, table to set (my hayrack) and a kettle to setup and check out. All went well and we were ready this morning for the big event. Gene was up at 5:30 and fired up the boiler at 6 AM. He also stoked the tree stump fire so that if any one was cold, we could have a blazing bonfire (not needed).

The pigeons arrived at 6:30 AM and were very quiet as Bob opened the doors to the trailer to give them some sunlight and fresh air. By 7:30, we had 24 people in the yard in anticipation to the big event. We gathered on the north side of the trailer as Bob opened the cages inside of the trailer. There was a rapid beating of wings as the birds hurried to the edge of the cage and took flight. They climbed for elevation, circled to the southwest, circled again and the last we saw of them was then they headed to the northeast behind the trees. (No one was ambitious enough to run out and see exactly where they went.) Then all was quiet.

We then walked back to the lawn and everyone made their own "eggs in a bag" omelet. All went well until we attempted to roll them out onto the plates. We had purchased Ziploc Freezer Bags with the optional vacuum opening. Big mistake. The vacuum bags have a very textured interior surface and the eggs don't just roll out. So instead of having nice rolled omelets, some of them looked more like scrambled eggs. (But one has to learn. So if anyone wants to try it, get the regular ZIP lock bags.)

At 8:30, we did a second release of another 100 birds. All went well. Since they were from the east side of the trailer, they flew out, circled east and climbed for elevation and again headed for the northeast, disappearing behind more trees. Bob said that the birds have from 240 to 270 miles to fly to reach their individual lofts. On a still day, they can travel at 45 mph. Any way you cut it, they have a big day ahead of them.

We then returned to the lawn and finished breakfast. It was a beautiful day with hardly a breeze and lots of bright sunshine. We had plenty of space on the lawn so we could spread out and visit very comfortably. Slowly some of our guests departed for parts unknown. Finally all were gone and it was clean up time. However, Sandy and some of the other ladies had already pretty well stripped everything so there was little for me to do.

As usually, Sandy is very tired (more from the mental strain of worrying that everything would go right) and Gene is ready for the next party, after his long afternoon nap of course.


Thursday, September 3, 2009

It's almost Friday again

Here it is Thursday and we're ready for Friday again. We especially love it because the weather man has been very positive that it is going to be a great weather weekend. I normally wouldn't care, but we're expecting 25 to 30 people Saturday morning here on the farm by 7 AM. When we planned this event, Sandy was very concerned about the weather. My response was "we'll deal with it when it happens!" Once again, no need to worry; obviously, we can't change anything anyway.

It is hard to imagine that we can come up with something so interesting that people will get up and in some cases, drive 50 plus miles to be here by 7 AM. But they are. The reason is that a friend we met at the park in Florida is driving here from Fond du lac, Wisconsin with a utility trailer behind his pickup. In the specially built trailer are cages for 200 homing pigeons that he is going to release here on Saturday morning, some at 7:30 and the rest at 8:30 AM. Two years ago, we witnessed a release at a park in Waterloo, IA. The pigeons charged out of the cage when he lifted the door, rose to about one to two hundred feet, made a wide circle and then headed east (the right direction.)

It is kind of amazing that those birds can find their way back to their respective coops by sundown Saturday. That is about 300 miles of continuous flying in one day. Bless their heart.

Since I finished the house battery installation mostly last weekend, I've been relaxing kind of. We picked up some new terminals in Cedar Rapids so that I can finish the project the right way, perhaps next week after this big weekend! In the meantime, we can use it and measure its performance.

What have I done this week? Mow the lawn (twice) and burn my stump on the lawn. Perhaps one would say even "not much". But then one needs a few days like that. Okay, Cedar Rapids one day, field day at the seed corn supplier and watch my Ampere-Hour meter. I'm happy to observe that the solar panels completely recharge the batteries by 1 pm every day. Now I'm ready to see what happens when we have one of those gray-overcast days, all day. The solar will recharge some, but I doubt if I'll get a full load. (With the batteries I have now, I should be able to go for 3 days with no sun.) Since we have electric here on the farm, the only load on the batteries currently is the lights. The computers, microwave, TV etc are all plugged in and using electric from the power line.

Sandy has been going in circles, getting ready for Saturday (we're providing breakfast) and planning a rolling rally for our Escapee's RV chapter the last week of September and working on the Iowa Chapter Newsletter. Yes, she has her schedule and I lay low or stay out of the way (or try to).


Tuesday, September 1, 2009

September 1st and Time Marches on

Our plan for sometime was that we would go to Cedar Rapids today to do some shopping and get a prescription for Sandy. But we hadn't agreed upon the time. (I assumed it would be in the afternoon and on the way back, we'd stop at our custom operator for his field day showing off his corn and beans.) Well, Sandy said that we would have to return to the motorhome before field day to get the food put away. So when she asked when we were going at 9 AM, I said after lunch. She disagreed and of course, we left for Cedar Rapids shortly.

Our first stop was to a trucker's general store on the SE side where we did find some crimp connectors that we needed to finish our new battery installation. Okay, mission one done. Then on to SAMs on the north side of town, where we got Sandy's membership card (with grainy photo) and then did some minor shopping. Of course, while there, we did some comparison shopping for some groceries. Nothing was purchased, but I wrote down about 6 items and prices. One item I fell in love with was a package of 4 boxes of Brownie mix. I was ready to buy it. Sandy disagreed and felt that we needed to check prices at Walmart. (Of course when we were at Walmart later, we saw the brownie mixes and I didn't get to keep any brownie mixes there either.) That was a bummer, as the box printing made it look so good!

It was then on to Walmart, and a quick stop for lunch on the way. In Walmart, Sandy filled the grocery cart with lots of stuff, especially for the Saturday morning breakfast we're serving to many friends. (Of course, the big bill was because of my bottle of wine!) Sandy does the shopping and I push the cart, which is about as exciting as watching wet paint dry on a rainy day. We almost had a problem when Sandy realized that Walmart is apparently no longer going to stock her favorite Cheer laundry detergent. Eventually, we finished and we headed out and on to Amana to see my mother.

We arrived back at the farm by mid afternoon. It took a while to store all of the stuff. One of the problems with buying at SAMs is that it comes in large packages. Sandy's kitchen is too well organized and there is only room for so much (and no more.) When flour is needed, it is with the 10 pound sack, which then fits into the flour container. If we could buy the larger size for less money, it creates a major problem and upsets the apple cart because there is no allocated space to store the extra stuff. (And SAMs sells stuff in larger quantities.) So shopping at SAMs might be a challenge!

With all of the stuff stored and a little time to catch our breath, we headed out to Larry's field day and a free dinner from Barb. (The dessert was a double brownie, finally!) As usual, we got a tour of the beans and I was impressed with a new hybrid. It was about the same height as the rest, but it had a much larger stem and many more beans pods then the rest. Then they told me the price per bag! Sticker shock might be the way to describe it. But you need to buy quality seed, so the decision was easy.

Finally we're back at the motorhome to rest and catch up on the day's reading. It is so quiet and peaceful here. No TV, no radio, no highway noise and no fan noise! As I sit in my chair, I can see the lights of the east side of Williamsburg through the front window and there is no traffic on the road. Perhaps by bed time, the coyotes will sing their evening melody just to let us know that they are around.

Life is good, thanks to the Lord.