Archive for March 2010


March 22, 2010

Some people had condos in Baja. Some in Hawaii, some in Florida but we were able to take our condo everywhere we went. The COW was our Condo On Wheels. Life with the COW began with the purchase of a Dodge Cummings Diesel truck in 1990. The goal was to pay off the truck and then buy a fifth wheel trailer before I retired. We already had the list of the National Parks where we wanted to volunteer. We subscribed to Trailer Life magazine so we would have some idea of what we wanted in a trailer. Our parameters were thirty feet long and a slider (something new at that time). 30ft. was the maximum for many state and federal parks. The slider because we were sure we wanted to entertain and have that extra space. After all, we were moving into this trailer from a four bedroom house, full time.

We searched in Oregon, Washington and California. We even checked out places like Quartzite and Yuma where all the snow birds hung out. The deal was made near Disneyland. We bought the COW with the understanding we would stay on their lot the first night and do all our cooking, showering and etc. The next morning, having never towed a fifth wheel, I pulled our brand new thirty foot fifth wheel onto the Santa Ana Freeway. Our first stop was Camper’s World.

Any time you take up a new hobby or interest there are always those minimal expenses required to be a groupie. For full time RVers there are the sewer hoses and their leveling tracks. The decal that has you fill in the states you visited is another requirement. My wife made a flag that gave our home town. There are electrical adaptors, water pressure controls, bubble levels on three corners and a very large one front and center so you can see it through your truck rear window while backing into you place for the night. If you are not level all kinds of bad things happen. First is no sleep. The coolant in your propane/electric fridge will puddle and cause great expense.

Our second stop was supposed to be Tip’s Restaurant. When I pulled into the parking lot and around the back, they had blocked off the far end where I had expected to park and pull out. I was now in a long narrow parking lot with a right angle bend and impossible to back out. On the other hand, that was the only way out (how many have backed any kind of trailer?). My wife had to jump out and give me hand signals. It is amazing how difficult it is to keep someone in your mirror when this mammoth trailer keeps getting between her and the mirror. This is when I found out it was a mistake to not buy walki-talkies. This was reinforced when we pulled into a RV campground in Bakersfield and people in lawn chairs watched and listened to the entertainment my wife and I produced while trying to back into a space. This was the last time we would be the evening’s entertainment. Of course, we were often in those lawn chairs waiting for other RVers to entertain us.

Another lesson learned was when, in a hurry, I forgot to chalk the wheels before yanking the release on the trailer hitch. Unfortunately there was a slight up hill and the trailer immediately rolled backward and landed on the sides of the bed of the pickup. Ouch! The hurry was for a doctor’s appointment. When I arrived late and he checked me out he claimed that I had high blood pressure and prescribed a medication. That charting follows me to this day and every doctor asks me about it.

In short time we had seconds of everything for the kitchen and minor repair tools. There were still times when we wanted a spice or tool and remembered it was out in the trailer. There were many shake down cruises with a group of others with the same interest.
Soon I was volunteering every other weekend at Redwood National Park, taking the COW and spending Saturday night up there with a view of the surf on one side and Fresh Water Lagoon on the other side.

In Feb. of ‘98 I retired and in March of ‘98 we were on the road as full time RVers. Our word for it was homeless. Our second National Park was Rocky Mountain National Park. There were two big surprises with the COW there. Our first morning there was no water. The supply hose had frozen. On June 19th we got three inches of snow. The snow piled up on our awning and bent the rods. The solution is to leave one end down and let gravity keep the awning clean of snow.

The water was also frozen the morning, September 13th when we took off for our third volunteer position, Padre Island National Seashore. When we got there the water temperature in the Laguna Madre was 82 degrees. We arrived a day ahead of schedule so we pulled out on the 65mile stretch of free camping beach and were pleased that we were self contained. We woke to the sound of surf. I peeked out the window and the salt water was coming up to about four feet of the COW. WOW! Vicki was not even fully dressed when I had the truck running and trying to do a quick U turn to head back up the beach and the only driveway. You guessed it. I turned too sharp and got stuck in the sand. We ended up unhooking the trailer and dug a trench in front of the tires and filled them with our leveling blocks and dirty clothes and managed, in four wheel drive, to drive out. We then hitched the COW back on and drove the wrong direction till we found a blow out to turn around in. A blow out is a place where there is a space between dunes and high tide washes all of the trash that arrives along that part of the gulf coast, but that is another story. And that is just part of the first year of six and a half years with the COW.

Chuck Mills


*Friends are……………..*

March 22, 2010

Generally speaking, life is good; very, very good, as a matter of fact. But “sometimes sadness is all there is”, a partial quote borrowed from Rick Bragg’s recently read memoirs entitled _ All Over but the Shoutin’_. Sadness overcame me during the month of February, 2010, for within a two week period, three long time friends passed away. One was a gentleman who had been part of a cluster of family friends dating back to the early 1960’s. The other two gentlemen were also long time friends, but even more crushing was that they were mates of two very close girl friends. Ouch!

These happenings stirred me to reflect on friendships over the years that have certainly helped bring richness to my life. Webster defines a friend as a person (or persons) whom we know well and are fond of; a close acquaintance; one who is helpful and reliable. I go on to add more personal definitions of a friend throughout the following passages.

“Friends always have a special place in the heart, have special understanding and are thoughtful; one who shares and cares”. Enter *Elaine. B*ack in 1962 she came into my, I should say our, lives with her husband and two young children around Jill’s age (then two years old). Our family and hers seemed to have so much in common: loved our kids, attended a newly-formed dance club in town, participated in church activities, hosted dinner parties, sun-bathed, picnicked on the beach; you name it. We moved to San Jose in 1964 after Harvey’s Cal Poly graduation, had our second child, Jodi, in 1965, relocated in Santa Maria and returned to Morro Bay in 1968, stepping right into our life of four years previous. Then things changed drastically for her and her husband (and, consequently for us too). They separated, reunited, separated again and finally divorced. A totally contented stay-at-home Mom was forced to plunge into what turned out to be a successful career, but not without some very difficult times that brought us even closer together. To this day, no matter the miles that separate us, we are able to continue right where we left off from the last contact. One of our very close long-time mutual friends is one whose companion of thirty years passed away in mid-February, as mentioned above. Our shoulders are there for her to lean on through this troubled time. After all, isn’t that what friends are for?

“It’s the friends we meet along life’s path who help us appreciate the journey.” Enter *Mary*, dating back to the late1960’s. We first met when a large group of stay-at-home Mom’s congregated at a neighborhood vacant lot to play volleyball three mornings a week after the kids were sent off to school; except for Jodi, who was still a preschooler. She became very adept at amusing herself along the sidelines during the games! An off-shoot of the volleyball group was our own Weigh-in Club, of which Mary was also a part. Any resemblance to the popular Weight Watchers meetings was purely coincidental, for we rushed into a member’s house, removed every article of clothing short of indecent exposure, hesitantly stood on the scales, cheered as though we had won a million dollar jackpot when we we would eek out even one-eighth of a pound loss from the previous week, reluctantly placed $1.00 into a kitty for every pound of weight gain, and hastily gathered around the table for, you guessed it, refreshments! I shudder to think of the collective number of pounds gained and lost over the period of the two or three years we went through the motions of dieting. No matter, we all have fond memories of that time in our lives.

The outgrowth of the weigh-in group was the formation of a Birthday group, if which Mary was a part. To this day, we gather to celebrate each of our six birthdays over lunch, we break our necks to find the best “You are special” cards and bring small token gifts to replace the lavish gifts we once exchanged.

It was Mary’s husband who became quite ill before this past Christmas, was whisked off to the Hospital Emergency several times, but was ultimately sent home to be surrounded by his family before losing his fight against lung disease in mid-February. Helping her get through one of the most difficult journeys of her life by listening, caring, and attempting to bring cheer, love and kindness to her has been, and will continue to be, my mission.

“Bestest” buddy. Favorite memories wrapped up in our friendship. Our paths crossed; forever grateful”. Those and similar phrases appear on greeting cards or face-to-face frequently from *Cindee*, a friend since the 1980’s, when our paths crossed at Morro Elementary. She was working as a clerical aide and I was teaching. Harvey and I had just started getting into bicycling and I encouraged her to venture out… and the rest is history for us. What adventures we’ve had! A couple credit-card bike touring trips with our husbands to San Diego, a week long Pedal the Peeks tour in Colorado to celebrate her 50^th birthday, a week’s tour looping around Idaho, Utah and Wyoming with another friend Maureen for starters. Cindee and I were also instrumental in organizing a group of six other Bike Club gals (named ourselves Wild Wacky Women) who were interested in loading our touring bikes with all the necessary gear for an annual four or five day camping trip, pedaling as far north as Carmel and down Highway #1 on one trip and south to Ventura and back on another trip. In the past two or three years, the Wild Wacky Women trips have been greatly reduced to a day ride, without packs, followed by a nice lunch, where we can catch-up with each other’ happenings. Cindee and I continue to bike as much as her full time job schedule will permit and we also are two of a Morro Elementary alumni group of six, self-named the *Sexy Six*. Who but ourselves would bestow that title upon us? Periodic get togethers keep our friendships alive and well.

Another group of seven Morro Elementary alumni, again self-named the *Nymphs, *also add dimension to my well-being. If laughter is good for the soul, and I truly believe it is, it’s no wonder that I have these “laugh lines” a.k.a. wrinkles as a result of our gatherings throughout each year. Truly a terrific group!

“You know, we are the luckiest people in the world to have a circle of friends who get together almost every Friday night for food and fellowship!” Truer words were never spoken than by one of our *T.G. * (short for Thank God It’s Friday) *Group* last Friday night as we were sitting around our dining room table; a fire blazing and several lively conversations swirling around over dessert and coffee. This group is comprised of nine people; three couples and three widows and for most of us, dates back to the early 1980’s. The idea was born while we were all still working and looking forward to unwinding at the end of the work week. We are all retired now, but still look forward to getting together almost every Friday night at someone’s house to unwind, as some of us lead almost as busy a life as we did before retirement. We’ve been there for each of our widowed friends, one whose husband passed away in 1996 and the other two who lost their husbands in 2002. But we’ve also shared many happy times. Our relationships are even further strengthened through involvement in organizational and fitness activities.

“Friends always seem to go out of their way to make other people feel special”. This statement certainly holds true with the *San Luis Obispo Bicycle Club*. The Club’s mission statement is to promote safe and legal bicycle riding for recreation and transportation. But in all the years I have been involved in the Club, I have witnessed a much broader unwritten mission; that of being there for our members in times of need, whether it be a death, a major injury, a surgery, an illness, an accomplishment or any reason to make someone feel special. Connecting with members through choices of daily organized rides, special rides, lunches, bi-annual potlucks and volunteering for our big fund-raiser rides helps build friendships. Gatherings with a small intimate group is an added plus!

“Friends are fun, fantastic, fabulous, warmhearted, free-spirited, amazing, amusing, extra-special, super sensational…. and a whole lot more!” This message came to me in 2008 from a wonderful eighty-six year old gentleman, Walter, who was one of the participants on my *2003 Cross Country* bicycle trip. He passed away last year, but this was exactly the same feeling I had for him and the other cyclists on that trip, particularly Elizabeth, my roommate; Daniel, my riding buddy, Steve, Bob and Peter (who succumbed to a heart attack last October).

“A Friend is one who listens and cares”. Relatively speaking, the *Life Story class members *are the “new kids on the block” of acquaintances for me. For two and one-half sessions, I have had the privilege of listening to a member who has shared about her growing up in Hollywood (a sharp contrast to my early years on an Iowa farm), the trials and tribulations of traveling cross country with toddler twins in a Volkswagen bus, the wife’s exacting memoirs of a husband who unfortunately was unable to write his own story, a daughter who has patiently, but happily, recorded dictated stories of her mother’s life, the on-going debate of whether the toilet paper should roll over or under the roll; to name just a few of the heartfelt interesting readings that I have had the privilege of listening to each week.

Sadness *had *overcome me when I started to labor over this segment but by the time I finished, I took to heart the belief that friends have a gift for seeing the sunny side of things. They have a natural enthusiasm for living that flows out to warm the hearts of those around you. My heart has indeed been warmed through the many friendships over the years. Hopefully your heart has been warmed in the same way!

Joan Petersen