Austin or Bust!

Winter Journey  (1/19/15)

Dear friends,

IMG_1417blog sizeMany of you asked that we again write a blog about our winter journeying.  This year’s trip will be quite different I suspect—more internal than external.  We’ve decided to stay in three locations for a month at a time, using our RV as home base.  Many also wished us a much less adventurous start than last year.  Read on and see. . .but if you don’t have time or interest, that’s OK too.

Christmas on the Road

Our trip begins Christmas Eve day with our travel trailer packed with clothes, food, and our portable “office.” We’re ready to leave.  Last year it seemed that everything that could break down did break down, so we are confident that this year will be different.  We leave our trailer parked in the Pennswood Village parking lot and drive our truck and new Prius to join our daughter Laura, her husband Dave, and their family for  Christmas Eve at the 4:30pm Family Service.

Due to the rain and the last minute shoppers on the highways, we arrive somewhat late to the Christmas pageant and carols are already being sung by the church school children and choirs.  As we slip into the pew, I whisper to Laura that we have just come through a crowd of little ones dressed as mice. (“Sheep,” Laura corrects me with a smile.)  They looked like mice to me!  Who knew?

In the chancel, we see Joseph (played by a 10 year old boy) offer his arm to Mary (played by an equally young girl), escorting her to the manger.  Then we watch as “the angel of the Lord” (played by a very young girl in a white dress and wings) lifts her arms to receive the baby Jesus (handed from above by one of the Sunday school teachers).  Each scripture passage is read quite ably by a series of elementary school girls, and as one reads how “Mary was delivered of her child,” we watch as the “angel” swiftly presents the baby to Mary in a lateral move much like a football hand-off.  Now that’s the way to have a baby!

Our 17-year old granddaughter Rachel is a communion server at their historic Presbyterian Church.   I remember when Rachel was one of the little Christmas angels.  Now, a decade later, we see her in this adult role, tall, beautiful, and womanly.

After one of the most charming Christmas services we’ve attended in years followed by dinner with Laura, Dave, and granddaughters Rachel and Kailey, we drive back to Newtown and sleep over in our RV for an early departure.  “Leaving” really is a state of mind—we are withdrawing temporaily from our relationships at Pennswood that have broadened and deepened so much over the past year.  Both of us note how much harder it is this year to “let go” of our very happy and satisfying life in the Pennswood community for happy and satisfying times with family and friends along the road.

Christmas Departure

Christmas morning dawns cold and clear as we begin our 1,670-mile journey to Austin, TX (some 23 ½  hours of driving).  We sail down an almost-empty interstate highway with sun shining and clouds parting around us in the peace of Christmas morning.  We fly past empty playgrounds and shopping malls, notice cars parked in their neighborhood driveways, and envision families gathering together as we had the night before.

We begin listening to a CD of a week-long series of sermons on The Lord’s Prayer (one phrase for each day’s sermon) by a gifted preacher we’d heard at Chautauqua last summer of Rev. Dr. Raphael Warnock, pastor of MLK’s now-famous Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, GA).  The image that particularly holds my mind is his describing how we Christians are “walking toward the Light with a limp”—limping due to the ways we fall short, yet continuing to walk:   living a life of service, not self-service, staying faithful and focused.

Now we pass farm fields, stone barns, cattle grazing.  Rev. Warnock declares the last line, “Thine is the Kingdom and the power and the glory” and says Jesus’ message is that He’s come to “turn things upside down to turn things right-side up,” which is the difference between “a” kingdom and “The Kingdom.”  Sure sounds like the condition of our world today.

Just before noon, we decide to stop at a Petro truck stop for diesel and Christmas breakfast.  There are close to a hundred tractor trailers parked and unoccupied at this vast crossroads oasis (apparently at least some drivers get Christmas Day off), and we enjoy a celebratory breakfast surrounded by other Christmas travelers and the wait staff who are enjoying especially generous Christmas tips.  While Richmond browses the Petro truck shop, our son Adam calls from his travels with his family to his in-laws Barbara and Carl and their home at Edisto Island, SC.  We share the experience of “letting go” and how it forces one to tie up loose ends—the “press” followed by the sense of “release.”  He’s on the beach watching his sons, 11 year-old Jennings and 14 year-old Sawyer, delightedly flying their kites.

First “Adventure”

We drive on, passing the beautiful Shenandoah Mountains to our East, now listening to Ann Patchett’s NYT best-selling book, Belle Canto.   Arriving before dark, we stay over at a friendly KOA park in the Shenandoah Valley.  We awake at 6:30am with cold noses and discover that we’re out of propane.  We dress in our warmest clothes to eat breakfast and await the opening of the RV office (and propane pumps) open.  As we eat, I get an automated text on my cell phone from our bank, USAA:   “Have you recently made a $6,500 charge? Yes or No?”  (“No!”)  “Do you have your credit card with you?”  (“Yes!”)  I call in and bank security tells me there are three new transactions: two for Rhapsody, and one to a travel agent in Minsk, Russia.

I didn’t know anything about them.

Pirated Credit Card
Pirated Credit Card

The bank tells me they’re cancelling my credit card immediately and says they’ll send me a new one—somewhat complicated by the fact that I’m traveling.  Apparently someone at the Petro Truck Stop pirated my credit card number!  The campground office phones and says my payment to them bounced. I get to explain to the campground why my previous night’s charge was rejected while Richmond fills our propane tanks.


After one more stop we arrive in Nashville, TN.  Our son Mark and his partner Cristy have highly recommended some of the bluegrass and country music spots and restaurants there, and we had read about the bookstore that Ann Patchett started there in one of her delightful essays “The Bookstore Strikes Back” from her book, This Is The Story of a Happy Marriage (spoiler alert:  her stories are not about what you expect).   We cruise downtown Nashville in the pouring rain and then eat at the Southern Restaurant (whose specialty is “HOT chicken”).  We head to Parnassus Book Store (a $300,000 gamble Patchett took with a perfect stranger, a friend-of-a-friend; that they’d planned the bookstore over one lunch; that the stranger wanted to give it a name she didn’t like—“When I look back on all this now I’m dizzied by the blitheness that stood in place of any sort of business sense, the grand gesture of walking over to the roulette table and betting it all on a single number.”)  Parnassus is one of the many wonderfully friendly, successful independent bookstores across this country.  If your town is lucky enough to have one, please support it!

Second “Adventure”

We plan to stay over our last night before Austin at a RV campground just inside the Texas border.  We encounter more driving rain and a new stretch of Interstate highway that shows up just a dusk falls.  Our GPS has no clue where we are.  When we finally reach the improbably-named Miss Ellie’s RV Park in Waskom, TX, it’s completely dark, and the office is no longer open.  We’re directed by phone to “take the second entrance to easily find our site.”

I’m doing my 2-hr. driving shift, so I proceed cautiously past the main entrance to the entrance 500 feet on that’s marked with a lone reflective marker.  I make an extra wide turn past the marker to position our 52-foot rig into the middle of the driveway—and suddenly I’m stopped.  I say to Richmond, “I think I’ve caught the curb.  Shall I back up?”  He puts down his window and says in a voice he rarely uses, “No!  Get out!  I’ll take over!”  I hastily exit.  He jumps into the driver’s seat.  As I look on in horror, I see that the right wheel of our RV is in a drainage ditch and leaning right at an angle with the truck that looks impossible.  There’s an ominous hissing sound. Our diesel engine strains and slowly the trailer heaves forward and upright as it lurches up and out of the ditch.  This maneuver takes the truck off the gravel and into soft grass where it loses traction and bogs down in mud.

Our site is only 100 feet in front of us, but it’s so dark, we can’t see the edges of the drive clearly.  Richmond engages the truck’s 4-wheel drive, slowly frees us from the mud and pulls us into our spot with me walking ahead to show the way.  That’s when he discovers we have a flat trailer tire.  We’re shaken, hungry, and tired.  He calls the RV emergency road service and crawls under the rig to lower the spare RV tire.  I cook dinner inside.  We eat in silence until a nicely dressed young fellow and his girlfriend arrive in a pickup truck.  He’s able to jack up the RV and change the tire, but has no air tank to fully inflate the spare.  He leaves—presumably to go on with his date.

After a good night’s sleep (which always makes things look brighter), the rain abates and we get out to assess the damage.  To our amazement, what looked like the driveway “marker” in the dark turns out to be a reflector on the post of a mailbox some thirty feet short of the actual driveway apron!  IMG_1352blog sizeWith my wide swing the truck  made the driveway but the right wheels of the trailer missed the apron and dropped a foot into the adjacent ditch.  The sidewall of one tire was cut by the exposed end of the culvert.

Happily, we locate a full-service truck tire dealer nearby, and Richmond drives us on the under-inflated spare tire about 8 miles down the road to the next town.  We discover the cut tire must be replaced and purchase a brand new one and are quickly on our way.


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We arrive without further event and settle in at Oak Forest RV Park, a place with lots of trees and nicely situated in the suburbs of southeast Austin.  We’ve stayed here before, and it feels like “home.” It’s overcast and cold, but we’re glad to stop and be able to set up camp for a month.  Adam and Caroline aren’t back from SC yet, so we do laundry, clean our “house” and “nest.” 016-150120 It’s so rural here that there’s a small farm that raises free-range, black pigs right across the lane.

The next day our Cape May friends Jim and Gail arrive in their RV to visit us for a week.  We alternate between Jim’s amazing cooking, some sight-seeing in Austin, and occasional meals with Adam’s family. Gail introduces us to Zentangles©, a meditative art form for non-artists.  We take a field trip to share our lifelong Valley Mills, TX, friends Ingrid and Joe and to show off their elegant straw bale home and their new “girls” (chickens who marvelously turn huge TX grasshoppers and weeds into gorgeous free-range eggs ).  Over the weeks, Adam and Caroline treat us to two transformational movies—The Imitation Game and Selma (highly recommend).  The theater is the Austin Roadhouse, a place that serves meals and drinks while you watch the show.

The boys are already at an age when they’d rather be with their friends of both sexes than with their grandparents, so we savor chances to watch Jennings play basketball (he’s fast and deadly on the court!), see Sawyer and Jennings get scholastic awards at school, and do Zentangles together.

A 'Zentangle' by Marguerite
A ‘Zentangle’ by Marguerite

Adam and Caroline’s lives are logistical marvels, coordinating their Griffin School commitments (administration, student activities, school events, fundraising, newsletter creation, admissions, staff meetings, board meetings, new construction challenges—engineers, neighborhood concerns, board of adjustment).  Nonetheless, they find time to support their kids’ athletic events/play dates/sleep overs, to participate in community events, and enjoy meals with us from time to time.  It’s actually nice to have a more relaxed visit, where they can lead their lives and we can live ours with the luxury of touching base with each other when that fits.  Adam even joins us at Quaker Meeting through a Cars2Go rental program that affords them the use of a second car.

For most of the 2 ½ weeks since we arrived in Austin, it’s been overcast, rainy and cold—almost as cold some nights as Newtown, PA.  When the sun finally comes out on Tues., we are almost startled by the glare!  Since then, the temperatures are in the 60’s and 70’s and a lovely change.

Happily, Richmond’s writing again.  I sign up for the Game Changer Intensive, a 7-week on-line class designed to delve more deeply into what it will take to address the root causes of the challenges the world faces (more about this later).  I also purchase the Latin American Spanish version of Rosetta Stone to sharpen up my language skills (mightily encouraged by the bi-monthly Spanish table at Pennswood where I can actually practice my 50-year dormant Spanish).  Of course I also have a pile of wonderful books from Parnassus Books in Nashville and BookPeople here in Austin to enrich my inner world.

Today is the Martin Luther King holiday, so I march 3-miles with Friends Meeting of Austin and thousands of others of all races, ages and interests.

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The crowd is upbeat, politically astute and friendly.  Speeches focus on how important it is not just to march but to vote in November, how “black lives matter” (spoken by a passionate, articulate 16-year old high school boy), and how difficult and important police jobs are but also how fear on both sides makes for a volatile and dangerous mix—and the importance of healing the relationship between police and their community.  The movie Selma clearly had sharpened consciousness.  I ride most of the way back to our RV park in Austin’s excellent public transit system, a system that actually has an iPhone app that plans your trip and routes you to the right bus and then tells you exactly how soon your bus is coming based on real-time tracking!


Coming Next:  On the road to Key West