Sunday, September 30, 2007

Destiny's Child

Well, we swore we would never have a cat in the RV even though we'd usually had them before. Before a miserable excuse for a human being thew a tiny kitten from a moving car near the cavern on Thursday.

A young girl on her way to work in town, rescued the bleeding baby, probably 7 weeks old, from the road and, sobbing, brought her in to us. One of our staff, who works with animals, determined that despite abrasions on it's face, the kitten had not broken any bones. Ironically, the girl who rescued the kitten was named Destiny. Destiny's Child, aka: DC slept most of the day in a basket next to the register, hoping someone would bring her home.

Someone did.

Around 3 PM I brought Clancy into the store for her daily stint as greeter, wondering what she might think of the kitten. Although Clancy, who was spayed soon after we rescued her, has basically raised two non- related pups, Mystik in California and Annie, in Texas, she's terrified of cats. Her first brush with one was when she was sleeping innocently in the gift shop at Moaning Cavern and Smokey the store cat launched herself onto Clancy's back with all claws extended. Here at Cosmic Cavern, the resident feline, Cat -yep that's her name, hisses and spits whenever Clancy comes into her view.

Clancy does NOT like cats! She does not attack them, she runs!

Once things got quiet in the store we put the basket on the floor. She sniffed the kitten, backed off and circled again, hearing it mewling, hesitated a bit when it sneezed in her face and then set in grooming it and cleaning the last vestiges of blood from it's little face.

After about 10 mintues we let the kitten out on the floor and Clancy would not let it out of her sight. If any customer tried to pick it up she got nervous. She knows she's not allowed to bark in the store so she whimpered when anyone got too close. Then she lay down under a table and the baby snuggled right up to her. At the close of day, our manager asked, "Who's going to take the kitten home for the night?" before anyone could say anything Clancy started barking!

One bag of kitten chow, food dish, litter pan, sack of litter and oh yeah and a mouse on a cord later( Big Jim is such a sucker) and Destiny's Child seems to have been adopted - by my dog! She has turned her little nose up at the small basket I fixed for her and taken over over Clancy's bed. ("Move over Dog, I'm cold.") She has made it known she gets to eat first, cat food or dog food whichever she chooses, while Clancy stands back and watches like a proper mama. (Clancy is such a pushover.) DC (nick name is my idea -can stand for Darned Cat, Dopey Cat, and many other appellations I have yet to have need of) has figured out how to crawl into almost every inaccessible place in the motor home and keep her location a deep secret.

Heck! even as I type this she is curled up in my lap all tiny and fluffy and cute, purring away. What can I do? I've been out voted by a sucker and a pushover. Off to the vet this week for shots etc. Sigh.

See Ya Down the Road,

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Small Towns Charm Us Off the Interstate

Big Jim and I both come from fairly small towns and are always drawn to them. We have been through some that definitely meet the criteria . One town in Arizona, years ago, had a hand made sign that read

Population 4
Until Jody’s Baby
Is Born Next Month”

Some of what we’ve learned about small towns in the past three years is worth sharing with those who have spent their lives in the cities and feel that the Interstate highway system is the best road to travel.

1) The first gas station off the Interstate is more expensive than the one three blocks down on the right.

2) Small towns have big hearts.

3) The smaller the town the more waves you’ll get as you drive by.

4) There’s usually a place to buy propane on the outskirts of town.

5) Stay for coffee after church services. Those folk know where to go next.

6) Old people in parks love to talk to you. Ask them about their secret places and about local legends.

7) If you see several police cars, an ambulance, and a fire truck in front of a restaurant with no emergency lights-go have lunch!

8) Try the dish that sounds the strangest. In Sonora ,Texas ~ Blackened Alligator bites -so good!

9) Pie Town Café’s Apple Jalapeno pie is fantastic! In Northwest corner of New Mexico.
10) Boiled peanuts? Try ‘em you’ll like ‘em! We had them in Arkansas.

11) Explore the small stores on the town square. Buy jars of local preserves or relish to enjoy later-consumable souvenirs.

12) Shop the oldest store in town and chat with the owner.

13) Staying for a few days? Check the library for local history sites.

14) Read the bulletin boards to spot local festivals and spaghetti feeds.

15) Get out and walk! Smell the roses or the fall leaves.

16) A cute dog on a leash is a great letter of introduction.

17) Miss the grand kids? Sit on a bench on the square, blow some bubbles, and see how many children show up.

18) Search out the city park. You may be able to stay overnight for free.

19) Drop a donation in the jar at the local museum.

20) Remember, God grew up in a small town! Look! His house is right down the street!

See Ya Down The Road,


Thursday, September 6, 2007

Everything but the Hillbillies!

While I try not to stereotype people. I think I was expecting to find something different when we got to the Ozarks. Brought up on Lil’ Abner and Daisy Mae, I came to the Arkansas hill country looking for Dog Patch.

Oddly enough, we found it! Down on route 7, on one of the most beautiful (twisty- winding -steep) drives our faithful Winnebago has been on. But Dog Patch USA , a once popular non-technology laden theme park is all closed up and Pappy and Mammy Yokum and Lil’ Abner himself are no where to be found. We didn’t even catch sight of a single Schmoo!

Following signs up the road, we decided we’d have to make do with buying our four sophisticated offspring tasteful gifts imprinted with their place of purchase- Booger Hollow. Sadly, Booger Hollow is also a thing of the past. Looks like the Ozarks have moved into the 21st century. I knew we should have bought the RV 25 years ago!!!

We’ve spent the summer at Cosmic Cavern in Berryville, Arkansas, located on Highway 21 North, 8 mi. out of Berryville. Technically, the cave is in Maple but the town sign is actually here in the garden and there are apparently only 3 houses. It has been a very restful summer in this laid back area. Business, while good at this interesting cave, is not the frenetic pace we’ve been used to at our previous Workamping positions.

While there are two usable RV pads here, we are currently taking up one of them. Motor homes (1 or 2 at a time) can make the turn into the parking lot and you’ll enjoy the cave, history area, and gift shop, but we strongly recommend staying in another park and visiting in your toad if possible.

We’ve worked with some wonderful and funny fellow staff members. Rand and Anita, the owners, work right along with us much of the time and they are great, generous folks. Rand’s also a deputy sheriff and there’s not a person in 50 miles who doesn’t know and like him.

Angie is a local gal who recognizes when visitors are expecting to find a “real hillbilly.” She can deliver when that’s who they are looking for! She does make a point of reminding people that the crooked and uneven stairs in Cosmic Cavern were built by those hillbillies- her way of ensuring they use the handrails. April can get a group of kids oohing and ahhing and laughing with her as they see this strange underground world for the first time. Lisa is a walking Chamber of Commerce and not only tells you exactly which restaurant to go to but what’s best on the menu as well.

Dorothy will convince you that when she rubs your back with magnetic hematite stones your aches and pains disappear. She’s so good at it she also makes the stones disappear at $6.50 a bag! They do work too- she's used them on me and Big Jim and even Clancy, she was a massage therapist in another life.

Mike is another person who got tired of doing what he was good at and decided to go looking for what he enjoyed one area at a time. He dropped off the radar about a year ago and spends most of his off time hiking and exploring caves. He’s been here for about eight months. He’s not in an RV but his lifestyle is pretty similar to ours.

A usual perk in this area for Workampers is free or greatly reduced show tickets and admissions to the many attractions both Eureka Springs and Branson have to offer. We thought that would be fabulous but we find that we really aren’t that into shows after all. We still spend more time driving around looking for a great picnic site, preferably one with a stream for Clancy to paddle around.

Our 39th honeymoon was spent in the little town of Mt. View AR, listening to wonderful blue grass and mountain music both on the town square and right on the pickin’ porch at Fiddler’s Valley RV Resort. Lunch at Joy’s Main Street Café was delicious and made even more so when we discovered our server was a fellow Workamper, known far and wide as B-Bop. She and her hubby have also fallen in love with this area and will be staying for the winter.

As things wind down for the season we are in the process of securing our next piece of the big backyard. We’ll probably end up back in Texas for the Winter. We may stop to say “hi” to our new friends the musicians once they open their new Music Valley RV resort in Mission.

A few of my patient readers here purchased copies of my childrens' novel The Tree at the Top of the Hill, and I thank you for that. If you write and tell me what Molly did all summer, I’ll be glad to send an autographed bookmark to go with it.

The relaxed pace has allowed us to get a good start on our next writing project and I’ll let you know how it’s coming along another time.

Guess what? I finally caught up with myself! Unbelievable!

See ya Down the Road!


Sunday, June 24, 2007

With Apologies to MS Spears

OOOOOOPS! I did it again!

How many of you noticed there was a 10 month gap in my diary of our first years on the road? Probably no one! But here it is anyway. This one shold have gone between our Reincarnation and Life's little circles! I'd skip it but you have to meet Clancy!!!!!

A Different Road and Clancy Joins the Family

When last we saw our newly hatched fulltime RVers they were heading north out of Sacramento, CA. The original plan was to earn an adequate income telling tales Under the Story Tree, reality, however, altered that plan.

The Spring of 2004, brought us our new home on wheels, freedom to roam and the highest gas prices of 2 centuries! Being fledgling Storytellers it would take quite awhile to be able to build a reputation that would ensure us enough story sessions to make a living. But along with a Second Life comes a willingness to be flexible.

In preparation for departure, we had discovered the seemingly all-knowing Jaimie Hall (Bruzenak). Jaimie had written a book entitled Support Your RV Lifestyle. It was replete with the voice of experience and designed to help newbies like us avoid some mistakes. Within the first 40 pages I’d already hollered, “I never thought of that!” at least six times. We treated the book as a bible and did almost everything she suggested.

(Ironic note #1: The two things we didn’t do her way were things we really regretted!)

(Ironic note #2 :Jaimie has published the 2nd edition of Support Your RV Lifestyle and guess what two fledgling storytellers are on the cover!)

The most useful thing she pointed us to was Workamper News. A subscription service aimed at fulltime travelers, Workamper helps put great people like us into great jobs all over the country. We’d written a joint resume and it was on line at for employers all over the country to see. Soon the calls came in.

To make a long story short - something you may have realized by now I don’t do very well- We had been hired for our first job on San Juan Island, near Seattle, as camp store managers. Fun, scary, stimulating, hard, confusing, and satisfying. Our summer was one long learning experience and the best thing we learned was how terrific other Workampers could be. We still correspond with another couple we worked with and hope we can find a place to work together another time.

Off to Omaha, Nebraska to house sit for #3 son, Sage Words and #1 DIL (Daughter-in-law), Sparkles while they were deployed in different directions. What fun we had exploring a part of the country we never expected to enjoy with #1 DIL’s mom.

We led the first storm of the winter down to the South Eastern corner of The Land of Enchantment (New Mexico) to spend Christmas with Old Newsie and his bride, Grandma B. Naturally, we went mostly to visit the folks and my brother and sister-in-law, but we were also adhering to the first rule of full timing. North in summer, south in winter.

Yeah right - we have a picture of us snowed in by Dad’s house!

:>) :>) :>) :>)

We had just finished dinner and I had these big meat scraps left. “We need a dog”, I told Big Jim. He wasn’t too sure about the idea but off we went to the Lea County Alternative Humane Society. We were living a second life and we knew our dog was hoping for her own second life.

German Shepards, Bloodhounds, Beagles, Terriers and Poodles. All wonderful dogs, but too big or too noisy. We told Craig, the caretaker, what we were doing and that we needed a medium sized dog with personality to travel full time and maybe even help with the story sessions. He’d see if he could find one the following week.

“I think I have the right dog for you, he said when he called, I just picked two more up at the pound who were scheduled to be euthanized today.”

We hurried right over and into my arms he placed -a mop! A completely docile Pomeranian who simply lay in my arms and let me stroke his long silky fur. He never looked at me, barked, or moved as I stroked that long silky fur and thought about twigs, burrs, ticks, and mud in campgrounds.

Big Jim was saying something about “nice and quiet’ but my attention had been grabbed by another little tri - colored pup who had been jumping at her cage behind me, telepathically shouting LOOK AT ME!” from the moment I arrived.
One look, that was it. Can you believe both of them thought this dog, part dachshund and part blue heeler, was not the one for us? Craig shook his head, worrying that she wouldn’t take to travel. Big Jim just shook his head, he knew he finally had a little girl in his life.

A week later, after they had been able to treat her minor cold, we went back to pick her up. We’d thought about all kinds of names like Gypsy and Hobo, even Rover! But we finally decided on a name in honor of one of the dearest ladies I ever knew, Big Jim’s feisty Irish Aunt Mary. When we arrived with a new leash and collar and I called “Clancy!” she came instantly.

Clancy, the Gourmet Weiner Dog, is a working member of our trio. She is mentioned in our resume and is described as an official greeter, model, and tear-licker-awayer. And Craig was wrong about her not wanting to travel. She lets us know she’s been in one place too long by jumping up on the dash or in Big Jim’s seat and waiting until we finally get the rig under way!

See ya down the road,

Thursday, June 21, 2007

The Missing April & May Blogs

With thanks for the inspiration to Paula Charles, the Family Laureate.

“April showers bring May flowers”,
has something to do with the moon.
But some May flowers take many hours!
In fact, it’s half past June!!!

Yarntangler unfortunately got tangled up pretty well during April and the blog intended for the month never got off the ground. Then we took off for the month of May and discovered the joys of being off the radar so we had little or no Internet connection. We’ve now finally arrived at our newest adventure and just got reconnected this weekend!

Hopefully, the eight or nine of you who are following these Ramblings of mine will be pleased when you discover a few extra installments. I didn’t have the Internet but I did get the tales ready to tell! I even learned how to put a hyperlink into my blog! Wow! Look how far I’ve come!!!!!

…..uh…. Maybe I haven’t come that far after all. I put them all on the blog in reverse order! DUH! Now you know the real reason I'm called YarnTANGLER.

Okay , moving on...
So if you have been with me all along, go over here on the right >>>>> look for “June 5” and find the post called “How to be Reincarnated Before you Die” and read DOWN instead of UP until you come to something from March!

If you have just joined the gang you are soooo welcome. You may read the same way and then scroll to the bottom and read normally. Or you can start at the bottom like everyone else until you finish March and then go to the top and read down.... yeah that's right.

And if you are contemplating doing a blog- remember the writing is a heck of a lot easier than the tech stuff!


(<: oh okay you can laugh. :>)

See ya down the road,
How to be Reincarnated Before You Die

A whole lot of somebodies once said, “You only get one chance at life.”

Big Jim and I thought that was totally unreasonable and decided that the Good Lord meant us to have all the chances we could handle. So after Big Jim worked his butt off informing folks of what was going on for 33 years as a radio news guy and I worked almost as hard raising kids, teaching other people’s kids, and trying to make a contribution to various communities as a volunteer, we decided one day that our first life had almost run it’s course.

After the astonishingly non-catastrophic morning upon which Big Jim was downsized, we realized that we were pregnant with our Second Life! Since there were two of us making the transition, the pregnancy lasted just about 18 months.

Our Second Life began as a dream way back in 1978 when we saw a brand new Winnebago pull in next to the Circus Tent (See previous blog about the Circus Tent). The plan was that someday, after we got rich, we’d be able to take off in a motor home and just see this beautiful country of ours before it was completely paved over. On that October day in 2002, we knew it was time to stop dreaming and start getting ready to go. Obviously, after 33 years, radio wasn’t going to make us rich (wish we’d figured that out in 1978!), we’d wasted an awful lot of time.

So we cobbled together several part time jobs -five at one time for a little while- in order to better prepare for an eclectic future. We worked in tourism, Jim at a museum and me at a cave. At the same time we read everything we could find about RVs, life on the road as fulltimers, and the kinds of jobs available. Big Jim had begun telling stories to both kids and adults as a sideline and I’d even lent my lesser talents and untrained voice to the effort. It was fun. We thought we could manage to make a go of it by gathering families Under the Story Tree. (check that part of our lives out at )

We shopped for the first home we would ever own; one on wheels. Unlike the majority of full time RVers, there was no house to sell to finance the Second Life. We checked out scores of motor homes, made up a shopping list and sent it out to our sons around the country. Everyone began looking for Mom and Dad’s escape wagon!

In January 2004 we picked a day when our first life would be finished - June 14th, - we told everyone we would be quitting our jobs that day. We did not have a motor home yet.
On June 14th we quit our jobs, going away parties in both places insured lots of leftover cake to see us on our way.

On June 15th, Big Jim flew to Omaha where #3 son, Sage Words and #1 Daughter-in-law (DIL), Sparkles had found us a pre -loved Winnebago complete with every single thing on the shopping list right down to the blue fabric!

On June 17th, Big Jim and Sage Words each took a deep breath, climbed into the RV and turned it West toward California, learning how to drive a motor home as they enjoyed some long wished for father /son bonding time. What went on along the way, the mishaps, embarrassing mistakes, first time black water dumping experience has remained private; memories too sacred to share with anyone else even-oe especially me

On the morning of June 21st, the three of us said goodbye to sons #1 ,Lone Duck and #2,Jugglesorcerer, boarded the enormous vehicle (that I never expected to be able to fill) and took off into the great - traffic mess that was the Sacramento International Airport to allow
#3, with only a few last minute sage words, to fly home.

On the afternoon of June 21st, 2004 having left the confusion of Sacramento behind, Big Jim and I turned to each other, let out enormous sighs and simply grinned. We had been Reincarnated and our Second Life began.

See Ya down the road

Life’s Little Circles

As we drove West again in late February, 2005, we watched with some trepidation as streams of motor homes, 5th wheels, and trailers hightailed it East on I -10. What did they know that we didn’t? The only thing that had never worked in the Winnebago was the radio and given Big Jim’s disenchantment with that world, we’ve never gotten around to doing anything about it.
We finally got to Quartzite, AZ, a place I’d always longed to go, about a month late for the biggest flea market in the world but right on time for a rain of biblical proportions. We camped on the famous free BLM land one night, woke up in a lake and headed out. Every single booth along the road was buttoned up tightly against the torrential rains and we missed out on the whole shebang! As we traveled farther into the West, the stream of RVs became almost bumper to bumper as hundreds of Snow Birds fled the wildfires in Southern California.

: >{ : > { : > { : > {

Northern California, a lovely campground, lovely town, not so lovely job as it turned out to be nothing like we’d been promised. (We had not taken Jaimie Hall’s advice to ALWAYS get it in writing!)

We left amicably after 3 months and ended up right back where we started from - at Moaning Cavern in Vallecito, (off of Highway 49) the place we’d spent our last few days before hitting the road a year before. I went back to work in the same gift shop I’d left on June 14th, 2004! We became the first Workampers the company employed and hopefully, there will be more in the future.

But what a difference! Big Jim, who was well known there as my hubby and #2 son’s Dad became a knowledgeable and respected guide and discovered a passion for caving hitherto unsuspected. Moaning Cavern is the deepest chamber,open to the public, in California. RVers are welcome to dry camp overnight for a small fee. Jim took hundreds of people into the cave by the famous spiral staircase while hundreds of others entered via a 165 foot rappel. Jim also served as night security and even took off on ten minutes notice to lead tours in another of the company’s caves, Black Chasm, near Volcano. Interestingly, he’d only been in that cave once before! He occasionally made deliveries to the other locations and soaked up all the cave lore he could.

There we sat, parked in the employee parking lot, able to “go home” in less than a minute from work. I was able to perform the merchandising job I had advanced into right there, at a picnic table, in the shade. Clancy sat with me near the picnic area and began her career as comforter to children who became frightened going into the cave and having her picture taken hundreds of times with school groups.

The staff loved taking their breaks and chatting with me under our canopy, away from the store. Since I also worked occasionally in the office we all got to know each other better. I was called on to host cookouts, and pot lucks and then wonderfully, an engagement party for #2 son, Jugglesorcerer and #3 DIL, Buttercup.

Ahhh, there’s a story… The woman who finally stole the heart of our confirmed bachelor and showed him the way to HIS new life!

Are you ready for this?

She was my BOSS!

She was also HIS boss!

But she’s an intelligent woman; she was well aware of the rules. She told me what to do until 5:00. At 5:01 I was the MOTHER-IN-LAW!!!

Also a writer, someday Buttercup will tell her own story but in another Ramblings I’ll share the story of their beautiful wedding - 155 feet below the earth at Black Chasm Cavern!

But now we are almost caught up to the present so I’ll tell you about what we’ve done in the past six months and where we’ll be starting in June when next we meet.

See ya down the road,


Rambling for a Month Out in the Boondocks

We ended up staying at Moaning Cavern for a full year! We’d come for a summer job, stayed for a fall wedding, wintered over because it was too late to find a job down South, dealt with a few medical ickys, and agreed to one last summer season. Then we told the owner it was time to move on. When he reluctantly agreed to let us out of his parking lot he asked what we wanted to do next. We surprised him by telling him we wanted to explore more caves!

With his blessing and recommendation we headed to the beautiful Caverns of Sonora, Texas. The irony that amused many of our friends and us as well, was that the first time we escaped the area we had been living in Sonora, California!

We took a month to get from Northern California to West, Texas. Believe me it takes a dedicated scenery watcher to make that happen! We took the least traveled roads, of course, and if there was something to stop and look at we stopped and looked. We saw every historical marker, funny sign, oddly shaped cactus and anybody’s homemade pie! We certainly didn’t hurry. This was our down time and there are not many areas that can produce much less stress than I-40 and Route 66! (Well, if you don’t worry about what the awful crumbling road might do to your vehicle that is.)

Some RVers pride themselves in how far they can travel in a single day. They wake up at dawn, pull out of the KOA and hit the interstate. Ten hours later they pull into another KOA and go to bed. At the end of a month they go home and add a series of states to their window map. Those folks seem to have missed the meaning of the words RV stand for; Recreational Vehicle. We take a very different view. We like to brag about our shortest day.

We left an overnight at Wally World and headed for the highway debating whether the bumps on I-40 might be less than the bumps on RT. 66. We were sitting at an intersection a mile from Wal-Mart when we spotted a sign reading “Calico Ghost Town - 8 miles”. No questions asked, we headed for Calico.

Maybe the rest of the year Calico was a ghost town but not that Sunday! That was the second day of their annual festival. Thousands of people had come from as far away as San Diego and Oklahoma City to take part in dog shows, watermelon eating contests, dirt digging contests, and Strong Man competitions.

Then there’s the Mule Race. This has to be the funniest race you’ll ever watch. Rules say no riding them but you can push them, pull them, bribe them, coax them, sweet-talk them, not-so-sweet-talk them (but only when there are no children present) or anything else you can think up to get them around a course that covers the entire town. It goes down hills, through rocky areas, through a mandatory water obstacle (mules HATE water) up a steep hill and then down the main street past thousands of cheering onlookers!

But the best part: THE BEARD Contests.

I never knew that there are men (and the women who love them) who follow beard competitions all over the country and, in fact, all over the globe ! They seem to have a competition for every form of facial hair. Best Mustache, Curliest mustache, Longest mustache, Neatest, Thickest, Funniest .

And then the real thing- The Beards: Fuzziest, Grungiest, Neatest, Most Distinguished, Curliest, Wildest, Shortest beard, (won that day by a teenager who had begun a soul patch 3 days before) and Longest.

Big Jim didn’t need a lot of coaxing to enter the contest. His last day at the radio station in 2002 had been his last day to shave his then neatest and most distinguished beard. So he got up there with 11 other men, one of whom had come from San Diego to claim his 4th annual rosette for the longest beard.

Big Jim won by ¾ of an inch! His 11 ½ inch long winner had knocked out the 4 X champion!
Then, since it was 5 PM and the festival was over, we drove down to the bottom of the hill and camped at the Calico camp ground, right next to the Calico Cemetery. We had gone exactly 9 miles!

See ya down the road,

In the Middle of Nowhere Texas

Much to my amazement, in November of 2006, I found myself returning to the state of Texas, a place I’d bid a firm adios to many years before. This time around I brought a more mature point of view and was prepared to find only the best. Our six months at the Caverns of Sonora was a time of many contrasts. Dry, dusty, heat, and typhoon like storms; meanness and heartbreak, generosity and laughter; disregard for material things and respect for the wonders around us.

Caverns Of Sonora

We were lucky enough to begin working at Caverns of Sonora (Texas) on November 1st. It ranks among the top 4 most beautifully decorated show caves in America (the exact pecking order depends upon which one you are working for at the time). Only a few miles off I-10 at exit 392, they also have a small very affordable, campground with water and electric available for RVers and tenters too.

Like everything created by God, Caverns of Sonora is unique; every cave is different. There is a reason to visit as many as possible to see what Nature has done with the same idea in various places. Visitors who stopped by weren’t always sure they wanted to go on the tour. “We just went to Carlsbad.”, they’d tell us. I’d answer that “Carlsbad Cavern’s really big thing is that it’s a REALLY big thing! While the Caverns of Sonora are a more intimate work of nature and 90% active. You need to see both caverns to appreciate their individual beauty.”

My personal favorite part of the cavern is the Christmas Tree Room. Hundreds of tree-shaped formations, decorated with sparkling crystals, make me imagine snow fairies might be hiding behind each one.

Tears in the Desert

One thing the Caverns of Sonora had to show off was it’s trademark Butterfly. A rare formation made up of two fishtail-shaped helictites, it was a strange, translucent, and wonder filled thing. The Butterfly took thousands of years to form and brought breathtaking moments to thousands of people who stood in awe of it’s delicacy.

And then in a few seconds, just before Thanksgiving, it was destroyed forever by a selfish, thoughtless, ignorant vandal who thought nothing of snapping off and taking away a wing for the heck of it! This supposedly privileged young person, attending a prestigious college, apparently never learned the first thing about respect for what has been given to us all to enjoy. Where were his parents when he should have been learning that we are all the stewards of these natural gifts?

The Caverns of Sonora has scores of sights more awesome than the butterfly, and they will not suffer from it’s loss - any more than we will all suffer from the loss of one more bit of beauty in an increasingly unbeautiful time.

Bob Cats and Pea Hens and Armadillos-Oh My!

Clancy discovered and protected us from rattlers on 3 occasions in California, whimpered longingly at the sight of horses as we drove, survived vicious attacks by Smokey the Guard Cat at Moaning Cavern. She was even able to withstand the unstoppable energy of Mystic the Wonder Pup, son #2’s terrier mix, while trying to nap in the shade, For the most part, however, she had led a fairly sheltered Second Life of her own since joining our adventures.

Then we arrived at The Caverns of Sonora! In a dog’s world a terrific place to be is where there are new sights, sounds, and smells. At the beautiful Caverns of Sonora, Clancy was afforded an embarrassment of riches!

Our site was directly across the road from a solar powered deer feeder that spewed corn out for the gentle creatures twice a day. At dawn the release popped open and Clancy jumped up on our bed. She managed to push the accordion shade up a fraction of an inch with her nose and one of us would oblige her and open it all the way. Then she sat on our pillows and watched Deer TV on her wide screen.

Big Jim and I never tired of watching them either, and one morning I saw a doe teach her baby how to get a drink from a frozen water station right behind our Adventurer.

“Put your front paw on the hard water. Now raise it and bring it down sharply. Ha ha, I’m sorry, Sweetie, did I forget to say you might get your nose wet?”

We tried to let Clancy have some freedom, and at first allowed her to run around with the other 4 resident dogs who had grown up on the ranch surrounding the caverns. Unfortunately, she simply couldn’t figure out why the deer wouldn’t stick around and play tag and she’d follow them far out onto the range. There she took the opportunity to chase sheep and goats being raised for wool. She went wild with the exhilaration that a good chase involved - until she ran into a cactus, anyway. There were also cows, and her beloved horses but chasing any of these animals was simply against the rules. We also worried because there were snares set all over the ranch for bobcats and we were afraid if one of the cats didn’t get her, the traps would.

Gophers, prairie dogs, mice, squirrels, and even a skunk were considered fair game in her mind. Luckily they’d been there longer than she and knew the bolt holes so she never did catch them.
Then there were the armadillos! These funny looking armored rodents drove her crazy. She quickly learned to avoid the pair of pea hens that spent their days on the porch as these birds, which were bigger than Clancy, would, when backed into a wall, simply turn around and chase her! It was funny however, when they would fly up to the roof top to see her take a flying leap expecting to go with them. She finally met her match when she cornered a porcupine! At that point and since the only command Clancy simply ignores is “come”, we reluctantly attached her to a tether once more.

Meanwhile, back at the cave, Big Jim was delving ever deeper into cavern lore and soaking up all the experience he could at the feet of Bill S. one of the smartest and most knowledgeable men I’ve had the privilege of knowing. (he is also one of the all time great raconteurs and practical jokers as well as one of the best BBQ cooks in the southwest! ) Bill is the center of a great crew with a heart as big as Texas. His goal in life is to be a Desert Rat and spend his time exploring caves and studying artifacts.

Living in Sonora amongst some of the most open and honest people I’ve ever known, gave me a new appreciation for the Great State of Texas. There is little pretense and each person is welcomed for who he is rather than what he is.

See Y’all down the road!

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Happy Kittens?

While I was going to begin writing about our travels in the motor home this week, I'm still trying to recover from Spring Break at a tourist destination (Caverns of Sonora in Texas), so the muse has been sleeping for the past week. I'll get to that topic next time. This morning a two word email woke me up and produced a bit of whimsy, I hope everyone will be able to share the vision.

(Necessary background: my #1 son, Lone Duck, is seperated from his step daughters by most of a continent. But he tries to keep in touch. My grandaughters ( I don't believe in steps), Honey and Sweetie, also occasionally remember to write to me. So here's what happened. )

Lone Duck sent Honey an email ending with the tag line, "May your house be filled with happy kittens." Honey sent me an email showing me the tag line and asking the two word question, "happy kittens?"

So thanks to the colaboration of my eldest son and his eldest daughter, I offer the following:

Happy Kittens

He said , "May your home be filled with happy kittens."
You asked, "happy kittens?"

Actually I love it! What a lovely blessing!

Think about it for a minute, you come home from school in a lousy mood, you got a C- on an important test, you ripped your favorite green shirt, you fumbled the ball and lost the game. Whatever, you come in the house and flop down on the couch hating the world.

Then, out of nowhere comes a brilliant orangey gold streak, chasing a dust bunny, he loses control on the polished hardwood floor and slides to a stop in front of the couch. Then he stops as if frozen. This tiny ball of fluff has just spotted dust motes in a single sunbeam cutting through the Venetian blind. He leaps into the air contorting his tiny body into an impossible twist trying to catch the magical being.

Suddenly from the back of the couch a black and white kamikaze hurtles through space to attack his orange brother. Connecting in space they plummet to earth, landing near you on the couch. Except for the colors mingling and twisting beside you, it's hard to tell where Goldie stops and Penguin begins.

As they roll around precariously close to the edge , a tiny white face pokes out from under the pillow on the other of you. Snowflake, peers around your knee to observe the fracas her brothers are creating. Calmly, and with a definite air of superiority she watches their antics knowing, the way sisters do, exactly what is going to happen. Patiently she licks her right paw and smoothes back the fur next to her bright blue eye.

One wrong turn and a mixture of black and orange fur slips off the couch to land in your open back pack. Dazed and confused they examine the contents and after turning around three times settle down for a nap, wrapped in each others fuzzy embrace, in the soft folds of your green jersey on top of your shameful physics test.

With a final swipe at her left ear, Snowflake looks at you, shakes her head and daintily hops off the couch to chase the dust bunny that began the whole thing.

Now don't you just have to feel better?


See ya down the road,

Sunday, March 4, 2007

The Circus Tent

I was seven years old when Mom and Dad packed us all up and took us camping for the first time. Two leaky pup tents for two parents, three kids and a one year old baby. I remember absolutely nothing about that trip except that it rained and the baby was the only one who slept.

Around 1958 they bought a huge Army surplus canvas mess tent. Round, with a high center pole, the roof was green and tan striped. We flew a little flag from the pole where it protruded through the roof and called it the circus tent.

That tent traveled from Pennsylvania to Canada, Massachusetts to Wyoming and Texas. We took it to Ricketts Glen, Cedar Lake, Tippy-Canoe and Stinky Too (not the real name but what we called the park with the distinctive sulpher aroma) And Hundres of other wonderful spots.

Everywhere we went from Pugwash, Nova Scotia to Mt. Rushmore, from Yellowstone to Diamond Acres, that tent made us new friends. The fathers wanted to know where Dad got it while the kids asked if we were really part of the circus.The moms all envied the fact that we could actually stand up to get dressed. Even after dark, there were always extra hands available to help put the 75 lb behemoth up.

The Circus Tent housed entire troops of Girl Scouts, or Boy Scouts and their leaders, usually Mom and Dad, in it’s 12 man interior and kept us all dry. It served as back yard accommodations for visiting friends, cousins, and rock hounds as well as for sleepovers most of the summer as long as there were still Hoye kids to use it.

Then, one day, Mom and Dad ran out of kids. We had all grown up and left the nest. They had no use for a tent. Dad stowed it in the attic with so many memories and went out and bought a tiny Scotty trailer from my best friend and her new husband. The four of us just harrumphed. We’d had to sleep on the ground all those years! Now they get a trailer.

They took off for a long weekend in the rain and discovered the trailer leaked like Niagara Falls. We felt a little smug as Dad muttered about the $700 he’d paid for it, applied sealants, fixed it up and then used it until Mom insisted on more room a year later.

In 1973, just before we moved across the country, Big Jim, (who had never been camping) and I took our three sons, and went camping in Vermont with Grandma and Grandfather. Dad made us a present of The Circus Tent.

It rained like mad for 3 of the 4 days and Grandma was worried about the kids getting sick, so they got to sleep in the trailer! Big Jim and I didn’t really mind.

In August of that year we moved to El Paso, and the tent went with us. It served another generation of Scouts, albeit with several patches sewn to it’s well worn canvas. It survived a sudden wind storm that saw all six of us and several other campers chasing it to the very edge of Bottomless Lake in New Mexico. It heard it’s share of scary ghost stories for more than 28 years. I wonder how many times it also heard someone say, during a rain storm, “Don’t touch the ceiling” just before someone did, causing a drip onto their sleeping bag.

The Circus Tent was our shelter and our friend until one day when we all watched in awe as the tired, sun-rotted canvas simply began to split from the tip of the center pole to the side wall with a tired rrrrrip. Since it was only the second day of our vacation and a new tent was not in the budget, we improvised. The center pole, separated into it’s two components, became the end poles of the world’s longest pup ten constructed from our utility tarp with half the tent at each end.

It was odd how much we mourned that old piece of canvass, although we had often envied other campers with their easy- up nylon umbrella tents, The Circus Tent was a safe haven that kept out lions and tigers and bears each night. Not to mention Boogiemen, ghosts, and headless horsemen. We even had a hard time breaking the news to Dad and Mom. It was as if there had been a death in the family.

Today, Big Jim and I travel the country full time in what we once thought was the ultimate luxury-a Winnebago. We are seeing wonderful sites and visiting awesome places. We are secure in heat and cold, wind and hail and certainly wouldn't give up our refrigerator,not to mention the bathroom! Every now and then, however, we can’t help remembering back in the days when we were really camping in that big old bundle of canvass we called The Circus Tent.

See ya down the road,


Saturday, March 3, 2007

Birthday Presents

Birthday Presents

Sister Mary Dolorita, at St. Michael the Archangel School, in Levittown had a way of turning ordinary assignments into something a little different. One day, instead telling us to write about what we wanted to be when we grew up, she told us to describe who, what, and where we would be in fifty years.

Fifty years? Did people actually live that long???

I described myself as a beautiful little old lady with snow white hair like my Aunt Sadie's (which I later learned came from a bottle). I was a revered writer, beloved by children everywhere just like Carolyn Keene and Louisa May Alcott. After having traveled all over the world, I lived in a tiny vine covered cottage near the ocean, on the edge of a meadow, surrounded by an enchanting wood.

Slow forward fifty years.

Today is my 60th birthday. My hair is now salt and pepper grey. I'm more of a Kathy Bates than a Jessica Tandy. I have not reached revered author status but the emails I've received from children about my first book The Tree at the Top of the Hill have been very sweet. I haven't traveled all over the world but I have managed 47 states and four foreign countries.

I do live in a sort of tiny cottage. You can't get too much smaller than a 32 foot Winnebago Adventurer-no slides(also no vines). Sometimes I live in a meadow, sometimes in the woods, often at the edge of a parking lot near places where Big Jim and I spend a few months working at campgrounds or caverns. I haven’t lived near the ocean yet unless you count five miles from Puget Sound.

But the most amazing thing about me is that - Holy Moly! People do live this long! And when they get to be sixty years they aren’t half as old as I thought they would be!

Today I am counting up all of my nicest presents and trying to figure out how to thank everyone for giving me the gifts that have helped me be who, what and where I am.
  • Thanks Mom- for believing in me and making me work harder at Scrabble so I could have a better vocabulary. You were so hard to beat! When I do grow up I want to be just like you. And Dad - for always being proud of me and letting me know it.
  • Denis and Terry, You have been there with so many answers and solutions over the years. The best brothers ever! Some of the best answers are Barbara and Bernie!
  • Little Bit… Uh… that’s her new name Folks, she forbade me to use “Boop” again. You have been my standard of strength for most of our adult lives. With your honest opinions, sense of humor, and constant support I’ve learned a lot. And you brought in the Drummer Boy to give us a different beat too. But one of these days Boop WILL return.
  • Thank you, Bernice for the love you have for my father and the friendship you’ve offered me over the years.
  • Aunt Marge, every girl needs one person in her life who thinks she can do no wrong. You are mine and I’m yours!
  • Aunt Cathy, at an age when I needed a little polishing you came along and taught me some important lessons about facing the world as myself.
  • To my incredibly, wonderful, brilliant, resourceful, funny sons ,The Lone Duck, Jugglesorcerer, Sage Words, and The Fisherman - thank you so much for always being my friends as well as my kids. Thank you all for providing me with four lovely girls to enjoy as friends as well as daughters of the heart . Then there’s that whole step Grandma and step Great Grandma status.
  • Sara, the mother of my son’s wife, who showed me how strong a quiet woman can be. Didn't make me quieter but I hope I'm stronger now for knowing you.
  • All the Cousins, we spent so long apart and now we begin to come together again.
  • And my beautiful Jessi and Lee who returned this year and filled a wounded place in my heart with sunshine once again.

God gave me the very best family. We may be separated geographically but never in our hearts.

Old friends, Rita, Peggy, Charlotte, Karen, Lori (yes you), Feanette, Joan, Rocky, Cheryl, and MaryAnn , you became my friends in different decades and have influenced my thoughts ever since. I have wished for so long that we could all have a girls night out so you could meet. Just wait until I win the lottery!

And new friends, Jaimie, Karen, Kanda, “Hardluck Lin“, Pat and so many others met along the roads of our new life. Each of you has left pieces of yourself for me to carry.

No, I didn’t forget him. But where do I place my Big Jim? Of course, he’s family, but he’s also my teacher, and my partner, and my rock. And he’s my very best friend. Thank you for loving me but even more, thank you for liking me. I like you too.

A few years ago, I was able to finally track down Sister Mary Dolorita, through yet another favorite grade school teacher Sister Dennis Mary , both were Sisters of Mercy. I wrote her a letter thanking her for encouraging me when I was so young. I was told it as one of the last letters she received. I didn’t want to wait that long to tell all of you what splendid gifts God gave me in each of you. I love you all. Thank you for being a part of my life. Thank you for the gift of your friendship.

So here I am -Middle Aged at last. Wonder what fate has in store for the second half?

See ya down the road,


Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Blossom Burpee

Blossom Burpee

My little sister, "Boop", used to accuse me of making up my dreams just to tell an interesting or funny story. Well, I only wish I were that imaginative a writer. Or, maybe I am but I just haven’t figured out how to do it while I’m awake. But that’s okay, several of my dreams have evolved into short stories and even an unpublished novel so they don’t go to waste.

I almost always enjoy my dreams and usually remember them at least for a few minutes once I wake up. If I relate them to Big Jim or even Clancy I remember them even longer. Then sometimes we try to figure out what triggered them in the first place.

Take last night. I found myself, with a quiet lady in a pink sundress, in a charming old house filled with Victorian furbelows and crammed with hanging plants and African Violets. Turned out it was the home and laboratory of the renowned Plant Inventor, “Blossom Burpee”.

Apparently I was there to learn of her latest discovery; how to put juice into tomatoes! The process itself was awesome(in a dream world, of course) and made perfect sense (also in a dream world, of course). Blossom took the dry, flat, papery tomato which looked like a red Japanese lantern and attached the open end to a green tube that ended with a five pointed suction cup. The tomato was held in place by curly, tendril looking holders. Then she opened the valve on a huge vat of Libby’s tomato juice and let it seep into the fruit until it plumped up. I remember we were very excited by the discovery but then I woke up.

Silly huh? Oh well, it seems it’s the most absurd ones that stick in my mind so I have to think about them. I’m supposed to be working on Maggie’s Muffins, my next juvenile novel, this morning but here I am thinking about tomatoes.

Mom is the silent woman in the pink dress. Mom often accompanies me in in my dreams, my way of keeping her close probably, although she’d hate the pink sundress. But also she might be one of the triggers. I think I’ve got this figured out.

Yesterday we stopped at a red light next to a Sears store. I watched some men beginning to arrange an outside garden center. Ah, signs of Spring at last. We drove on and I forgot about it. But once I began fixating on Blossom Burpee today, I made the connection.

When we were kids in Levittown, PA, Mom became friends with an older lady who worked in -you guessed it-the Sears Garden center. We were invited to her home, which, as I recall it was more garden than cottage. She also had baby goats and numerous cats. She shared vintage seeds with Mom, and sponsored her for the garden club. She also got my mother hooked on African Violets, an interest that 10 years later had more than 70 varieties lining the window sills of our house in Adams, MA. Grandma Irwin as we called her, showed us how to grow carrot tops and sweet potato vines in jars. We even planted green beans in paper cups that later turned into the beans we ate for supper.

This last is significant and may explain the conundrum; which came first the tomato or the juice?

See you down the road,


Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Fabian Revisited

Now here's a funny addendum to my Fabian story. I was telling it to a man who came to visit Moaning Cavern, in Vallecito, California, where I used to work in the gift shop. We were chatting and it came out that, as a boy, he lived in East Philadelphia across the street from Dion!
When I told him my Fabian story one of our young cavern guides was listening. With a big grin signifying her associating our tale with her own knowledge Shauna said, "Oh I know who you guys are talking about! That old guy, the model with the hair, who was on the cover of all those romance novels in the 80s! "

Oh my word! She’s sooooo young! She referred to FABIO as that OLD GUY!
: >)


Well! Apparently the mere mention of his name is enough to "Turn Me Loose" to some friends! Rocky sent me the following!


See ya down the road!


Monday, February 12, 2007

Clancy, the Gourmet Weiner Dog, Fabian, and Me

Did you ever dream of simply running away from home and seeing the country? Well, believe it or not Big Jim and I did exactly that on June 21, 2004. Now, we travel the USA in a much loved Winnebago with Clancy, The Gourmet Weiner Dog, telling stories, writing, meeting colorful people and working, for brief interludes, in amazing places.

As we travel the back roads, I am usually crocheting a scarf or hat and working out ideas for the newest story in my head. Sometimes new ideas come faster than my stitches, causing me to rip them out and begin again, so Big Jim calls me the Yarntangler!

Several years ago I wrote a weekly newspaper column called Ramblings. They actually paid me $10.00 a week to write about anything I wanted as long as it had local interest. No, I did not become rich or famous by doing it but I always enjoyed the concept. So I'm going to revive that title and offer up a glimpse of what we see from our big front window as well as things that happened along roads taken in the past. If I ever figure out how to do it, I'll even post a few pictures.

I'll ask your indulgence in advance if I'm a bit hokey sometimes. I tend to let whimsy take over now and then. Some (not my painfully honest sister) even tell me that's part of my charm!

Since I've just published my first book for young people (The Tree at the Top of the Hill), you'll find that RAMBLINGS will remain family friendly and that soon there will be stories the kids will enjoy along the way.

Here's a taste of what it's going to be like:


When I was a pre-teen I lived in Levittown, Pennsylvania, just outside of Philadelphia. My girlfriend had relatives in Philly and often went to visit them. One cousin lived next door to FABIAN! (You all remember Fabian-right - pompadour plastic hairdo, those smoldering eyes, and x rated lips?) Well, Fabian had just become a household word in homes with impressionable young girls. Fabian had actually been on Bandstand!

So there they sat, my friend and her cousin, watching the house and suddenly He came out! (Apparently the cousin had never noticed him before when he was just the older guy next door). He was dressed in rolled up dungarees (for you youngsters these came before jeans) and a T-shirt. He went into the garage, pulled out a push mower and began to cut his mother's lawn!

Fabian cutting grass!

Well the two 12 year old girls were not slow at all; they ran next door and offered to help him. He said "uh… sure" and gave them each a rake. They raked the entire yard while he sat there watching them with a big Fabian smile on his face. Finally, he went in the house and came back with Cokes for all of them. That's when my friend had her brainstorm. She ran back to her cousin's house and returned with a package of paper sandwich bags. She got him to autograph the entire package. He didn't know what she was up to but I'm sure he figured it was worth it since he'd not had to rake the whole lawn.

Soon the teen idol left to do teen idol stuff. That's when my friend began collecting all the grass clippings in big grocery bags. She brought them home the next afternoon and brought them to my house along with the sandwich bags. We sat on my patio filling sandwich bags with the now drying grass clippings and sealing them with a stapler.

On Monday she took about half the sacks to her jr. high and I took the other half to St. Mikes. We sold the bags of grass clippings for 25 cents a bag! (yeah I know-later quarter bags of grass were highly prized in different circles!) We each made about $8.00 that week and sold out all our bags.

Never dawned on either of us to keep one for ourselves. I wonder what that bag would be worth now? Maybe Fabian would buy one!

I haven't seen my friend since 1961 I wonder if she went into marketing? Come to think of it I haven't seen Fabian in quite a while either. I wonder if he still cuts grass.

See ya down the road,