Friday, October 23, 2015

October at Gulf Shores: Before Friends Arrive

From Gulf State Park, Gulf Shores, Alabama        Three sites (#175, #177 and #179) were reserved at Gulf State Park for our fall get together with friends. Arriving extra early, on October 15, we were assigned the middle site (#177) for our six week stay. We expect Pam and Ernie in a couple of weeks. Joyce and Charlie will arrive around November 1st.

The original campground reservation called for arrival the first of November, the official first day of "off season" rates. Because we arrived seventeen early, we paid $122.88 for the first three nights and $471.46 for the two week period that remained in the "seasonal" month of October. That total of $567.68 for seventeen nights is $33.40 daily.  Our November full month rate is nearly $35 less at $523 ($17.43 daily) with no charges for electricity. It's a weird system but we were obliged to pay whatever was charged under the circumstances. Interestingly, later we would find a rate increase was made effective on November 1st for those guests who did not pay in advance and no notice was given. Hummm. Odd system.

It's still very warm and humid here and I appreciate that our site has afternoon shade. The coach faces south so the bright sunshine comes through the windshield until well after noon.  I keep remembering how cold it was here in mid-November last year... but that seems so very long ago...

Our Gulf State Park Campground Site #177. Day of arrival.
The day after our arrival, I got word that some old high school friends were winding down a vacation week in one of the nearby Orange Beach condos. I drove over to sit with them on the beach for a few hours on their last full day.  It's always nice to renew high school friendships and I was glad I got to see Julia and Janice.

Julia (L), me (C) and Janice (R) at Orange Beach.
They were staying at Phoenix IV Condo
On Saturday Wayne visited his old boss and good friend, Frank McCarver for an afternoon of college football. Frank's wife, Beverly, is recovering from foot surgery and stays horizontal most of the time. Because of that, I stayed home and busied myself with dog baths and getting the bicycles ready to ride. Gulf State Park Campground has miles of good bike trails that I'm really looking forward to riding.

Shopping at Tanger Outlet Mall and eating at some favorite local restaurants filled several days. We especially looked forward to having lunch at Cactus Cantina, the Mexican cafe Frank and Beverly introduced us to two years ago. As always, we ate on the patio with Lexie and Ozzie in their stroller beside us. Another good lunch place was Shrimp Basket. It's a regional chain of mostly fried seafood.

One of Wayne's favorite Cactus Cantina
menu items is shrimp tacos with cactus grits and black beans. 

We got in a round of nine holes at the state park golf course during our second week. During play, Wayne mentioned his left hand index finger was locking occasionally after he gripped the clubs. The finger didn't hurt and he remembered that it had happened once or twice when we played golf in Lexington with Gary. Next day, I did some internet research and learned his condition is known as "trigger finger".  We began treating it with anti-inflammatory drugs and he slept with a splint on the finger.

Ole Trigger Finger in action.  It's the index finger of the left hand and it's not finished with him yet. 

I am in near constant communication with Pam these days. She and Ernie are at Fort Walton, Florida finishing their residency paperwork and getting their Florida drivers licenses. They sold their Maryland home over the summer and plan to travel full time for a few years. This is the couple who initiated the 2016 motorhome journey to Alaska. We met them in North Fort Myers two winters ago. Together we decided to spend this winter traveling the southwest so we'll be positioned to head north toward Alaska at just the right moment next spring. 

Pam and I have been planning our winter and early spring travel via text, email and phone calls. To this point, we have made reservations through January in Chula Vista, California. We have lots more ideas to develop and routes to select. I'm hoping they get finished with the residency matters quickly and come here earlier than planned.

We pursuaded others to join us here in Gulf Shores for November and then travel on to Abbeville, Louisiana and then San Antonio during the first two weeks of December. That couple is Joyce and Charlie from Wichita, Kansas. We met them at Seminole Campground in North Fort Myers too. Unfortunately, at this point, we've been unable to convince Joyce and Charlie to go beyond San Antonio and they will head home for Christmas - rejoining us in early spring.

Pam tells me that Linda and Dale and Fran and Mary have made a last minute decision to divert their route to Florida and will stop here to see us. 

Linda thinks our friends from Auburn, Rachel and Ned, are coming for a shirt time too. 

One other RV couple from Seminole Campground in North Fort Myers, Janet and Dennis, are camped in another Gulf Shores campground until November 11. Maybe we will get to see them too.

Seems a nice little mini-reunion might be forming.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Loafing Around The Loveliest Village

From Auburn RV Park, Auburn, Alabama     The Birmingham visit was followed by a stop in Auburn. We stayed three days at University Station RV Resort and then a week at Auburn RV Park, owned by our friend Thomas Sparrow. We always enjoy visiting with Thomas, his mom, Emily and his dad Tom, though we didn't get to see Tom this time.

Emily took this picture of us to add to her guest book.
Neither of us noticed my finger that I'm using to be sure Lexie holds her head up for the camera.
Emily couldn't use the photo for fear of offending.

As usual, Wayne visited every Auburn collegiate store several times, looking for a long list of items but coming away with just a few things he couldn't live without. While he shopped, Lexie and Ozzie enjoyed strolling the smooth concrete campus sidewalks and they got to meet a few students.

Auburn's 2015 home game football schedule is not to our liking this year. Our ten day visit in right smack in the middle of a three week period in this home game drought.  So, while we didn't get into Jordan Hare Stadium we did get a nice distant shot of Auburn's new giant scoreboard. That's it in the picture below -- from outside the stadium, of course. I think it's the largest in college football.... at least for now.

Back of the new giant scoreboard

Lexie and Ozzie had their "wellness visits" at Auburn University Small Animal Teaching Clinic and got good reports. Lexie's small fatty lump behind her left arm tested as harmless. I failed to get photos of the medical team but as usual, we were impressed with our assigned student and we enjoyed another visit with Dr. Robert Lofton as we continue to encourage him to retire and get into RV travel. On the dental front, Dr. Christopher Lea surprised me when he said we might get another four months before the next cleanings. It's been fifteen months since the dental cleaning in Crescent City! I can only attribute this good news to our daily tooth brushing.

Two days after the Wellness exam, however, Ozzie developed a bunch of tiny bumps on his skin; mostly on his extremities but there were two of the little boogers just behind his left ear. 

A return visit to the clinic  meant a test of the tiny bumps whose results were good. The rash is likely an reaction to the dry grass allergens. A $29 bottle of shampoo and two baths later, we are back to normal.

Reception area for Auburn's new small animal clinic

While we don't like to wish life away, we are counting the days until we meet friends in Gulf Shores to kick off our "SW To Alaska" Journey.  On October 15th, we pulled out of Auburn with Gulf State Park in our sites. Pam and Ernie have a few matters to attend in Maryland before they will start their trip down to join us. Joyce and Charlie will be leaving Wichita, Kansas soon too. There's a possibility that some other of our Seminole Campground (N Ft Myers, FL) friends will join us for a few days. Life is good.  

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Alabama's World's Fair Icon

From Hoover RV Park, Hoover (Birmingham), Alabama

There's an RV park in Birmingham near the Hoover Met ballpark where we stay when we visit. There's not much too it -- just an asphalt parking lot that's well lit and reasonably priced. But it works for us and we stopped here this fall to visit Wayne's Aunt Helen and cousin, Lynn.

Wayne's is a split family -- part Alabama and part Auburn alumnus and of course, Wayne is of the latter group.

It's okay, we love our 'Bama family too.

Everybody can't be for Auburn after all.  

War Eagle!

Cousin Lynn and her husband, Jay, recently opened a lunch cafeteria in the Bluff Park area of Birmingham. It's in the old Bluff Park Elementary School lunchroom.

It's called Capers on Park Avenue.

Aunt Helen went with us to lunch there and we had a wonderful afternoon eating and socializing.

As luck would have it, a bit of drizzling rain brought cool temperatures into the area and it felt a bit like autumn.


Both Lynn and Jay are chefs and their business is known as "Capers Comfort Foods". In addition to serving lunch Tuesday through Sunday at the school lunchroom, Capers is a catering business.

Bluff Park School  has designated this large room as a separate private meeting and luncheon area.

My lunch was whitefish, spinach casserole and mac n cheese.
Very good.  I cleaned my plate. 
Capers on Park Avenue and Artists on the Bluff are a shared venue at Bluff Park Elementary School. After our lunch, we wandered the halls of the school which have been very nicely renovated to reflect the new character of this repurposed building.

Entrance to Soon-Bok Art Gallery

A few of the artists rooms were open and I slipped quietly inside to look around.  These are some of my favorites. They are by an artist named Rik Lazenby. His work is not cheap but it is beautiful and unique.

Rik Lazenby workroom
What a nice way to spend a cool autumn day with Aunt Helen.  Good food and family and a way to walk some of the calories off.

It had been several years since either Wayne or I had toured the famous Birmingham Iron Man, Vulcan. He is the original god of fire and metals. One afternoon we took the dogs out for an afternoon and found ourselves in this nice old park. It's been renovated a few times.

No, it's not McDonald's Vulcan Park. That's just a restaurant in the background.
I didn't take time to remove the red roof and logo from my photo.
The story goes that Vulcan was the god of the forge who heated and hammered metal. Unlike the handsome gods, Vulcan was ugly and lame and was cast out from Mount Olympus. He found himself on the island of Lemnos working as a blacksmith. Vulcan hammered weapons and armor for all the the other gods but did not make them for himself as he was kindly and peaceful, though horribly ugly. Being a good guy paid off for Vulcan though, as in the end, he was loved by Venus, goddess of Love and Beauty.

In 1871 (after the Civil War), Birmingham was founded on land of coal, iron ore and limestone.  It didn't take long for the city's founders to realize the area would become an industrial city. Less than 30 years later, Birmingham would become known as the "Magic City" because of it's rapid growth.

City leaders wanted to Birmingham and the state of Alabama to be recognized at the 1905 World's Fair and after much deliberation, decided on a statue of the great Vulcan to best represent the rich southern city.  An Italian immigrant sculptor, Giuseppe Moretti, was selected to create the Vulcan statue. 

Vulcan was dedicated on June 7, 1904 at the St. Louis World’s Fair and won the Grand Prize.

The statue has a hammer in his left hand and anvil at his side. In his right hand, extended into the air, he holds a spear he has forged.

After the St. Louis World's Fair, Vulcan was dismantled and brought home to Birmingham where he held a variety of jobs, advertised a multitude of products and was painted several different colors. He was kept hidden from the public except for displays at Alabama State Fairs. Finally in the mid-1940's the citizens of Birmingham made Vulcan a public safety director and replaced his spear with a lighted cone. The cone shined green on days without traffic fatalities, red on days that weren't so good. 

All that's behind Vulcan now as he stands on a nice sturdy pedestal and his spear has been returned to his right hand..  Here's more about it

Vulcan stands guard high atop Red Mountain watching over Birmingham. 

Next stop... the loveliest village on the plains.