Friday, May 31, 2013

Next Trip

Shortly after getting back from our trip to Casa Grande, Arizona, the Grand Canyon and The Valley of Fire, I started thinking about our next trip.  I knew we wanted to get the house ready for the market as soon as possible, and going off in the Alfa for two or three weeks at a time was not the best way to accomplish that.  It seems every time we take a trip, many days are lost in preparing for departure, and then when we get home again, in getting settled and back to work.

So we decided to do as much as we can and look at somewhere to go in a few months.  We may take a short weekend trip in July, or do some driveway camping and sleep in the Alfa for a night or two, but our next multi-week jaunt will not be until mid-August. 

Looks like a cool place to visit in August (picture from web)

We will be going up to Olympic National Park in Washington.  

There are a number of  campgrounds operated by the park service, but none with hookups, and most of them have a 21' length limit for RVs. 

I did find one that did have hookups inside the park. It is run by the park's concession company much like the ones we stayed at in Death Valley and the Grand Canyon.  It is at Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort.  There are only 17 RV sites.  I actually made the reservations in April, and at that time there was only one spot available big enough for our 35' Alfa for the week I wanted. I'm glad I looked into it then and didn't wait. There are other RV parks we could stay at in the area, but they are outside the park and we would have to drive in each day.

Although we are not averse to boondocking for a night or two when we are traveling from place to place, we do like to stay at established campgrounds with hookups when we want to settle in for several days. I think it's good practice for full timing when we will probably plan our stays for weeks in one place. We dry camped in Yosemite for five nights last fall, and I found it disturbing that we had to run the generator for several hours every day.  I respect the people who are tent camping and want to enjoy a quiet, clean air environment.  I know if I was a tent camper I would not appreciate a big Class A running a smelly diesel generator at any time of the day. So, until we get solar, I guess we had best stick to places with power. Water and sewer are less essential.

I suspect we will drive up there in two days, stopping overnight at a Walmart or Lowe's.  I'll be looking into other interesting destinations on our way back south, but leave the plans very open.  If all goes well, the house will be on the market by then and we will be free to take our time getting back.  Or better yet, we will get an offer while there and have to hurry back to finish getting rid of stuff before a closing!

Well, we can dream can't we?

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Another Needlepoint Project

I feel very stressed these days. When I'm stressed, I make things. I also happen to make things when I'm relaxed.  

I really started selling the animal heads I made so the house wouldn't fill up. I'm trying to find something on the small and useful size so the Alfa won't be stuffed with my handywork.

Recently, I've been working on a number of 4" x 4" needlepoint squares using the colors from the Pendleton blanket we have on the couch in the Alfa. Fun, relaxing, but what to do with them?

This is my next construction.  Can you guess what it is?

The back looks a little saggy because it has been padded with a layer of foil insulation.

One side of the front view,

And the other. 

The inner surface is foam-core board to give it stability without adding much weight.

It was designed to sit on the counter space behind the kitchen sink.  

It is a caddie to keep my cooking oils and balsamic vinegar accessible. I found that when I had them packed into the cabinet, the one I wanted was never in front and I had to unpack many of them every time I cooked.  

Because it will sit in front of a window, I made it with a tall back to protect the oils from the light. The inner foil padding is to reflect the sun's heat. When we are moving I will slide my cookie tray in front of the larger bottles to keep them from tipping forward. I may have to put a sheet of paper towels between them  to baffle any rattles. 

I plan on putting some nonskid shelf liner on the bottom of it and if necessary I'll add some clear plastic cubes anchored with museum putty to also help keep it in place.

I remember when I learned to cook, in my mother's kitchen, there were only three fats: butter, bacon grease, and Crisco! I remember her telling me that olive oil made things taste funny. I know I could get by with just one small bottle of canola oil, but this collection is what I've grown accustomed to having on hand. I also have canola oil and peanut oil in the cabinet.  

What should I make next?

Monday, May 27, 2013

It's Shaun The Sheep

Craig and I are both fans of a rather silly but delightful British animated character called Shaun the Sheep.  We have watched all of the available episodes on Netflix.  Craig's ring tone on his cell phone is the Shaun the Sheep theme song.

What can I say, we try to be grown ups, but this is one of our small digressions.

This is a web picture of Shaun and two of his friends:

Shaun is on the right.

I've been having fun creating many small 4" x 4" needlepoint panels. They are just the right size for coasters.  

The other evening I created a special one for Craig.  He encouraged me to post it here.

Now that I look at the web picture I see I could have been more accurate, but when I created this I only had my memory to go on as to what he looked like.

If you need a bit of fun in your life and you get Netflix, check him out.

Monday, May 20, 2013


We have been very busy lately. House projects seem to multiply, the number of good books we want to read is growing faster than we can turn the pages, and my new obsession with needlepoint makes the evenings fly by.  I've been keeping up with reading blogs, but I find it hard to write interesting new posts myself.

On the other hand, tonight we had a very nice "hot weather" salad for dinner. 

Food is always a good subject for a post!

Picture from the Tasty KitchenBlog

We had a lovely smoked whitefish as the main course, and I had planned to make a coleslaw, but then remembered I had a cauliflower in the crisper.  I did a Google search and came up with this raw cauliflower salad from the Tasty Kitchen.

As usual I didn't have everything the recipe called for, but with some substitutions I came up with my own version.

If you check out the recipe, this is what I changed. I didn't have fresh parsley, so I substituted fresh cilantro.  I didn't have any sun-dried tomatoes, so I tossed in a handful of golden raisins.  I also had some fresh corn on the cob, so I stripped the kernels from one and added them.  Raw sweet corn is really good.  Finally, I didn't have a fresh lemon, so I used bottled lemon juice and some dried lemon zest. Much like this ...

Dilbert - 1980's

I love the expression: "Cooking is an art, baking is a science." I rarely mess with a baking recipe. But I did today. I made a yummy loaf of rye bread in the bread machine, and added extra caraway seeds for more flavor.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013


We met with a realtor today... 

No, we are not yet ready to list, but it is a first step...

We still have lots to do, but it was a very positive experience.


Saturday, May 11, 2013

Better than Prozac

Before I explain what could be better than Prozac, I want to say hi to Anne and welcome her as a follower. Anne is an old high school friend of my daughter, and lives in Massachusetts. I haven't seen her for years, but I've seen pictures of her charming daughters on their Christmas cards. When the girls were school pals, she was like a second daughter around our house. I'm not sure how she found my blog, but it's great fun to have renewed a connection!

Before getting to the Prozac, I want to tell you a true story about my daughter as a small child. She has always been a project-oriented person. When we were young, Craig brought home large listings on greenbar paper (11" x 24" computer printouts) that I would separate and give to the kids for drawing paper. One day, when she was about four or five, she sat at the coffee table and began to draw picture after picture, carefully stacking them up as she went. She continued this for a couple of afternoons. She drew elephants and giraffes, bears and boats, kitties and kites, people and houses. Finally she handed me the stack and said, as only a five year old could, something like "Here, now I have drawn everything. I don't have to draw any more." She has always been a very creative person and this was not a rejection of art. But at that point she felt like she had done it all and was ready to move on! 

It took me a lot longer to feel the same way. But when I closed the studio and shut down the web site this spring, I felt like I had created everything I was ever going to create! For years I had not had time nor inclination to do crafts "just for myself". Everything I did was because someone else wanted it and was willing to pay me to make it. Yes, I did do some speculative pieces, but I always had the market in mind. 

What next? Would there be a next? Did there have to be a next?

During the last few months I have done a bit of sewing, helped with work on the house, and made a few things for the Alfa, but my creative force has been stuck. Nothing has called to me. I have a degree in art, but I'm not a painter. I like fiber, but am not a knitter, or weaver. I am not drawn to following patterns or kits. 

Neither my eyes nor my fingers are much good for really small close work anymore. 

I think I found it. When I say it is better than Prozac, I really do mean it. Since I have taken up this new craft I have been much calmer and more relaxed. 

So ... what is it?

Needlepoint. Not the small picky needlepoint. Not the "buy a printed canvas picture of cute kittens and fill in the stitches" type of needlepoint.

Big needlepoint, done on plastic canvas with a big needle and regular 4 ply knitting yarn. I'm having fun creating my own designs and images. 

Lynne, an Alfa owner, shared some needlepoint placemats she has been working on during one of the Happy Hours at the Alfa Rally. I just had to try it.

I bought some plastic canvas and yarn in colors similar to the Pendleton Blanket we bought at Crater Lake and use to cover the sofa in the Alfa.

After a couple of frustrating starts and pick-outs, I settled on making some small sampler squares using Indian-like motifs and geometrics. 

My first project was to sew six of them (plus a separately cut top) together to make a Kleenex Box cover. 

I have a bunch of ideas for squares. Beetles, butterflies, fish, dragonflies, and birds to name a few. It's fun to just do geometrics too. 

I will probably get tired of it by the time we go on the road, but if not, it meets the size, weight, and cost requirements of an RV hobby.

I know many of you are wonderful photographers -- what other hobbies do you have?

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Update on our Son, some house progress, and a wildlife sighting in the Valley of Fire

Our son's name is Gil, but ever since he was an exchange student in high school, his chosen nick name and his internet identity has been Joko.  I'm sure he has told me what it meant,  but I have forgotten. I asked again before he left. It seems "Gil" is very hard for many Southeast Asians to pronounce. Joko is the equivalent to  "Joe", an easy name to say and remember.

In his blog Leaving Amerika, he has been chronicling his new life in Thailand. Both good and bad things have happened to him, but he has carried on as only Gil would do!  Even if I was not his mother, I would recommend his blog and his videos as interesting and amusing reading.  If you check it out, leave him a comment.  We all know how important it is to know someone is reading what we write.

Tell him his mother sent you.

We've been home for almost a week, and we have made good progress on a couple of big jobs.  We have selected and ordered new vanities and cultured marble sink tops for both of the remaining bathrooms. Making decisions is hard work! We were a bit distressed when we found out that the company, from which we bought the sink top for the first bathroom that we remodeled last spring, had gone out of business.  Craig wanted all of the vanity-tops to match.  Fortunately with a bit of research and phone calls, he was able to track down the original manufacturer.

The vanity in the first bath came from Lowe's stock, and the new two are being ordered from Home Depot.  We couldn't order what we wanted from Lowe's. The ones from Home Depot are similar in design, but a slightly different shade of wood.  

A funny thing happened when we were ordering them.  It seems that if your purchase is more than $1000 and you open a Home Depot card, you can get 10% off.  Since we intended to pay for them in full on delivery, this was an option that appealed to me.  I will just pay the bill when it comes instead of writing a check when we get them. We saved $200 by opening an account. 

So what was funny?

To process my credit card application the sales representative swiped my American Express card to transfer the information on it. When she had me check the information, the phone number was wrong. It listed our old second line which was also our fax number. I told her the correct number. When I was reviewing the print out of the order, it listed me as Merikay Fax MacKenna. I now have a new middle name. She claims she didn't do anything to my name, so perhaps American Express also lists Fax as my middle name. 

When I wrote about our days at theValley of Fire, I didn't include a most interesting (to me) wildlife sighting.  

On our first evening we took a walk shortly after sundown when it was cooler. I noticed there were some rather delicate looking white flowers along the path that we had not noticed during the day. Years ago my sister had grown some Moon Flowers that opened in the evening and I thought these were the same type. As I started to photograph them I heard a loud buzz. 

If you look closely you can see a pink and brown blur just above the lower blossom.  

It is a White-lined Sphinx Moth. 

I kept snapping and got one better image.

Its body was substantial, and its wings were moving so fast you couldn't really see them. I learned about these moths during my butterfly collecting days as a child, but I had never seen one before. It was unexpected and exciting.

This is what his wings look like.
image from the Web

Don't you just love seeing new things?

Note: I've put a link to my son's blog Leaving Amerika on my side bar under "Other MacKenna Blogs."  Perhaps one of these days we can convince Craig he needs to write one too!

Thursday, May 2, 2013

We're Home again

When we drove to the Valley of Fire we came through Las Vegas and entered the park through the West entrance.  We decided to leave by way of the East Entrance and drive through part of the Lake Mead National Recreation Area. We didn't see much of the lake, but the surrounding mountains were quite interesting if you like a muted earth-tone pallet of color. We liked their names: to the East were the Black Mountains and to the West were the Muddy Mountains.

We didn't stop to take pictures. We had many miles to cover to get home.

We drove south on I-15 and west on CA-68, and stopped for the night at a quirky little place called Bakersfield RV Travel Park.

Being somewhat new to the RV world, we were surprised and delighted taking an after-dinner walk down the shaded lanes of this small, vintage RV community. Almost every space was occupied. At least 90% of the rigs were occupied by long time, permanent residents. 

Craig regretted that we didn't have the camera on our walk, but by the time we thought of it, it was already getting dark. The above picture is a quick shot of our nearest neighbor taken in the morning before we pulled out.

By looking at the renewal stickers on a few of the license plates, we were able to guess how long some of them had been there.  They were probably old even then. The oldest sticker I saw was 1992. Twenty-one years since it was legally registered. Who knows how long it had been there before that! But the amazing thing was that most were very clean and looked "loved." Many had attached tent rooms like the one at the left in the picture above. Most had collections of chairs, grills, and plants in their yards, but not a lot of junk. As we passed by, one couple was removing a tarp from over a very nice, full size pool table for an evening game.

We were the strangers, but everyone we passed by nodded or greeted us. We stopped for a chat with one nice man who noticed Craig's Oakland A's hat. After the usual exchange of "where are you from?" he asked if we were planning on staying there permanently. It felt a bit unreal.  A bit like something from a Ray Bradbury book.

This trip sure was a potpourri of stops: Walmart parking lots, a gated golf resort, a national park, a state park, and finally a vintage park.  

Home is where you are parked.

Tonight the Alfa is once again parked in her place on our land, waiting for the next adventure.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Sunday - Tuesday, Small Repair and The Valley of Fire

When we were preparing to pull out of Grand Canyon National Park on Sunday morning, we had some trouble with getting the bedroom slide to come in. Craig tried pushing it in from outside, but that didn’t help much. We had the engine on fast idle to provide more voltage to the slide motors, but then turned it off. Craig kept trying the “in” switch lots of times, and was about to give up when one activation made the slide twitch a bit inward, the next made it come in a little more, and the next depression of the switch brought the slide all the way in. We were thankful that we didn’t have to get a mobile fix-it man into the Park to fix a balky slide.

But this was the second time this slide had problems coming in, and it was definitely time to do something about it. We were headed toward Nevada, so we looked up “Las Vegas” on the Alfa repair forums. This yielded only references to “Johnnie Walker”. No, they weren’t about drowning your repair worries in Scotch, there is a company called “Johnnie Walker RV” in Las Vegas.

We drove to Las Vegas and boondocked at a nearby Walmart.  It seemed a reasonable idea after cuddling through a bunch of cold GC mornings, but the Vegas heat quickly got to us.  It was about 95° Sunday afternoon, and Walmart hasn’t gotten around to providing hookups so we could run our AC. Going to an RV park was mentioned, but lethargy had set in. We opened all the windows and enjoyed a few breezes along with the sound of the many 50 MPH vehicles on the road that was 20 feet away.

But we like to think of ourselves as tough, like when Merikay said at about 4 AM “I don’t know when I’ve slept so well!”.  We were up bright and early and pulled into JWRV at 7:30, which put us second in line for service.

They got right to work and had our problem solved by 9:30. The switch was bad.  If you ever have an RV problem in or near Las Vegas, look up Johnnie Walker’s RV. Their price was reasonable and the fact that they fit us in so quickly was very nice.

While we were on our last trip to Death Valley in January, Cyndi sent us an email suggesting we make our way up to Valley of Fire State Park, north of Las Vegas. Unfortunately, our reservations conflicted with getting there at the same time she and her husband were there, but we put it on our “someday” list as a place we wanted to go.

Thank you Cyndi. We spent two days there, and were delighted by the unusual rock formations.  You would think that after almost a week at the Grand Canyon we might be tired of looking at rocks, but each park has its own specialness.

Here is a sample of the sights in the Valley of Fire Nevada State park.  


Our RV spot was $30 per night with water and power hookups. A dump station is available. Sites were first come first serve, no reservations, cash or check only. There were only a few sites with hook ups, so early arrival is recommended.