Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Indian time

As I have already posted, we spent the weekend at Kenosee Lake visiting friends that we met years ago in Kino Bay. They wanted to go to the local casino for breakfast on Sunday so they phoned around and found out that the casino opened for brunch at 9:00 AM. I'm a big fan of breakfast but I held off Sunday morning and by 9:30 when we arrived at the casino I was getting pretty hungy. "Come back at 10:000 - we don't open until then" wasn't what I wanted to hear but that was the story so we didn't have much choice at that point.

To kill time we went for a drive around White Bear Lake (actually I think the area is called "White Bear Resort" but it isn't very resort like). The lake is on the White Bear Reserve so the cabin owners can't actually own the land their cabin sits on but instead rent it from the reserve. What a dump! Apparently some of the residents of the reserve like to break into the unoccupied cabins so nobody bothers to do much maintenance or improvements on their cabins anymore. And the reserve doesn't always get around to doing road maintenance. And the water doesn't always run and when it does run it often has a boil advisory attached to it. Apparently there still is a market for the cabins at White Bear but I can't imagine why. I wouldn't take one if you paid me to own it.

After bumping our way over what they euphemistically call roads on the reserve we headed back to the casino around 10:30. So we should have been a full half hour later than when they told us to come back. We wandered around the middle of the casino for a few minutes looking at the murals on the ceiling that were painted by some local Indian painter. A well dressed native showed up and proudly announced that the autumn mural had never actually been completely finished. The trees looked a bit goofy - apparently because they were never finished. I can only imagine the conversation "Hey Joe, how much longer are you gonna be? We gotta get the roof finished here!" "Just a couple more days, eh." "Joe, you're DONE. The gawdam roof is going on TODAY."

Anyway we headed back toward the dining room only to be met by a native woman who said "we're not open yet". No "sorry" - no "we'll be open in a couple minutes" - just "we're not open yet". "When will you open?" "Ah, maybe a half hour." We didn't wait around.

The really sad part of the whole experience was the realization that casinos are so bloody profitable that even with that level of mismanagement they can make money.

I knew I shoulda made a left toin in Albuquerque

I used to love it when Bugs Bunny poppped out of the ground, smacked his chops a few times and then drawled about making the wrong turn in Albuquerque. But apparently we made the same mistake.

We spent the weekend at Kenosee Lake visiting some friends that we met several years ago at Kino Bay. On Sunday we popped in on a cousin of mine for coffee and then moved up to Regina. We were booked in at Dyer Straits by White City but when we got there the owner met us at the end of the lane. He and I drove around the campground on his ATV and finally decided that it was just too soft for the frenchy-bus. Regina is subject to frost boils in the spring and his yard is about to erupt. For those of you who have never seen a frost boil it is hard to explain but imagine the ground turning to the consistency of really thick bread dough. The surface of the ground will be dry to the touch but when you walk on it you can feel and see it move underneath you. You can drive over it but if you take a heavy enough vehicle over it and break the surface then there is literally no bottom to the boil. We had one in the shop yard in Carrot River and the only reliable treatment for it was to put up barricades when it erupted and wait it out. I've had the bus sitting on the frame once and its not a pretty sight - I certainly don't want to ever see it again.

So we kept on coming into Regina and ended up at King's Acres which is the old Holiday Wheels campground on the east side of the city. I actually worked here many years ago when I was in high school. The shop that I worked in is not part of this property anymore but the old campground hasn't changed all that much. Despite the age of these campsites we still cut into the ground about 2 or 3 inches when we backed in. This morning we work up to a white campground - yeacchhh.

Yesterday Jorgito got pretty pink toenails. We have been dealing with some kind of skin irritation around his neck more or less ever since he moved in with us. The local vet in Nipawin (who will remain nameless) diagnosed some exotic ailment based on looking at him about 2 years ago now. Her solution was for us to feed him massive steroids. She indicated that whatever it was she had identified might recur in hot weather. Anyone who has ever suffered through pilling a cat will know how much fun that isn't and we weren't wild about giving him steroids either. Quite aside from the long term effects of the steroids they have the effect of dulling his emotions and changing his personality dramatically.
Two years ago we "treated" him until he recovered and then had no recurrences until this winter. We started out treating him with the steroids that were previously prescribed but we didn't give them for very long. While we were in Albuquerque we took him to Billie's vet who said the most likely diagnosis was a flea. That makes WAY more sense than some exotic auto-immune disease and fits with the pattern of irritation around his neck. The vet gave him a systemic treatment for fleas and we bought two more months worth of that treatment (at 4x what it would have cost to buy at Petsmart). She also recommended rubber toenails so that when he does try to scratch it won't have any effect. Fortunately she didn't have any in his size because her toenail price was similarly inflated. Yesterday I tracked down some hot pink toenails and last night we glued them on his little toes. So far they are still attached - time will tell.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Everything that happened in the world - in 23 minutes

CTV's newsloop is too short. I realize that all the news stations loop some portion of their news and I'm OK with that but come on guys. You can't go around the loop every half hour with 3 commercial breaks and expect me to stay tuned to the same station for more than 30 minutes. We want to watch the Canadian news stations to retain some connection to the world at home but after 30 minutes apparently we have seen and heard all they have to say. CBC is out of the question so that puts us back to Fox or CNN.

The broadcasters complain about foreign domination of the airwaves but which is chicken and which is egg? If the product is so bad that people who genuinely WANT to watch a Canadian station can't look at it for more than 30 minutes at a stretch then is it any wonder the American stations succeed and the Canadian ones fail?

Friday, April 24, 2009

Picasa seminar

While we were at The Rally I went to a seminar on how to use Picasa. I walked out early but not because it was a waste of time. They were about to get deep into the detail of how to do this and that. I don't learn software that way. I prefer to get a brief overview of what is possible and then blunder into doing something and figure it out along the way. So I got my overview and then left.

As part of my blundering about, yesterday I put this together. I'm not sure whether or not I owe Ian any royalties. For the time being I don't think I'll tell him.

Travel interruptus

We left Mystic Hills this morning but not particularly early in the morning. I actually tried to talk myself out of leaving because it was such a miserable day. There was a thin film of ice on everything and it was alternately trying to snow and sleet. We checked the forecast and decided it wasn't likely to get much better or significantly worse so we finally left around 9:00.

Around about 11:30 I thought it was time to stop for a walk around and pulled over in some little town in northern South Dakota. As I was rolling to a stop I noticed that we seemed to be tipped toward the curb. Initially I put it down to the crown of the road but I thought it was worse than that. When we started rolling again it was clear that we were leaning to the right.

Now those of you who know me well may have detected a slight tendency for me to lean to the right myself. Its not something that is immediately apparent but if you have known me for a long time you may have noticed a few hints of that tendency. I had not previously noted any Conservative tendencies in the bus so this new tilt was a cause for concern. People have been known to experience those "road to Damascus" conversion experiences but I have never heard of a bus experiencing one.

I was pretty certain that the problem was either a leaky airbag in the front or some problem in the front levelling valve or the lines to the bags. It even occurred to me that we might have some water in the line to the curbside bags and that it might have frozen overnight. Marilyn found us a cheapo campground north of Bowman, ND. We pulled into some farmer's yard and had lunch. Then we backed into a grass site with some trepidation. They've had wet weather here lately and I wasn't sure that the grass would hold us but it did. We tried to get both sides up on blocks but the blocks just skidded out of the way of the tires on the driver's side. We were however able to get the "low" side up on blocks so that was all I really needed.

Then I flopped out the carpet, put down some blocking and jacked up the body of the coach. These things are really heavy so you don't want to be underneath them when you have concerns about the suspension. Actually I don't like being underneath it at all unless I am in a pit but that wasn't an option today.

I messed around under the front end for quite a while and couldn't really find anything wrong. I've noticed a bit of an air leak coming from the front curb side for about a month now but I couldn't find it today. I just couldn't seem to get the bags on the curb side to rise up, yet they seemed to be pressured up. Those of you that know anything about airbag suspensions have likely long since figured out what took me close to an hour and a half to diagnose. Eventually I looked at the back of the bus and realized that the levelling valve on the curb side had become disconnected. Once I hooked it up again everything came back onto the level. By then Marilyn had already paid the 15 bux for tonight's rent so we are staying put but will get an early start in the AM and try to hit the border before noon.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Black Hills tourism

We're doing the tourist thing. Yesterday we visited Mount Rushmore. We both expected that we would take a look around, say "that was cool" and be ready to head on down the road. As it turned out the interpretive centre held our attention for quite a while. The story of Gutzom Borglum, the eccentric sculptor who had the audacity to propose carving presidential heads on the side of a mountain is fascinating. Not surprisingly he was ridiculed at first but he persevered and left a memorial to American tenacity that will endure for centuries or possibly eons, "in commemoration of the foundation, preservation and continental expansion of the United States." Borglum was a controversial visionary who spoke his vision in grand terms. His dream was to create a monument that would outlive its creators in the same way the pyramids of Egypt have outlived their creators. Mindful of the history of the pyramids however he was adamant that the history of his mountain sculpture should also be preserved for future generations or even races of people. His original vision called for a grandiose tablature carved into the mountain approximately where Lincoln's head is on which he would have recorded a brief history of the United States in letters large enough to read from the viewing area.

The tablature and hall of records envisioned by Borglum were started but never completed. The history that he craved is however preserved by the current custodians of the monument, the National Park Service.

After leaving Rushmore we took a circuitous route to Deadwood/Lead and eventually ended up in Mystic Hills campground. The owners of this place have carved a little space out of the pine forest and planted about 6 cabins, a bar and about 20 RV sites. Its not fancy but it is quiet and out of the way. And most importantly it is open in late April.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Honest criminals and constitutional rape

This morning the talking head from CSIS pointed out that the recent Canjet airliner hijacking in Jamaica was not so bad because at least they were dealing with criminals. "You can negotiate with them" as opposed to terrorists who may just randomly blow themselves up.

That was followed by Hamid Karzai explaining that he didn't realize the law he signed gave the green light to marital rape. However, not to worry, anything in the law that is unconstitutional will be banned. Anybody wanna bet that constitutional rape is no big deal in Afghanistan?

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Balloon glow

I can't find anything online to tell me how they did this. For some reason Albuquerque is famous for hot air balloons. I guess everywhere has to have something that they are famous for. So last night they had 6 balloons lined up on the infield next to where we are parked and somehow they made them glow inside. As near as I could tell they somehow move the flame inside the balloon envelope. They don't necessarily glow when the burner is on to heat the balloon. It appeared to me that they released gas into the balloon and then lit it. Whatever they were doing it was pretty damn spectacular.

It was very difficult to get an image of all of them lit at the same time. They were only very rarely lit simultaneously and then only for fractions of seconds. Some of the operators were much more adept at creating the effect. I suspect there was some significant risk to the balloon from what they were doing so perhaps some of the operators were more reckless (as opposed to being more skilled.)
Rita Coolidge was the headliner last night. She spent most of her time name dropping and I wasn't alone when I left early. The balloons were just setting up when I came out of Rita's lacklustre performance. I'd have to say I am glad she wasn't more captivating because I would have missed most of the balloon show. By the time Rita finally shut up and the few remaining hardy souls left the tent the best of the balloon show was over.

These images were taken from the roof of the bus. We just happened to be parked about 8 coaches in from the edge of the grounds and about 2 rows over from where the balloons were set up. I couldn't possibly have had a better vantage point.

More pictures here if anybody is interested.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Waking up is hard to do .....

... especially the morning after an excellent concert. This rally wasn't cheap but we got back the price of admission last night sitting on hard folding metal chairs in a cold damp tent. Neil Sedaka was the feature entertainment last night and he captivated the crowd for close to 90 minutes.

Yesterday was a bad day for the rally organizers. The Balloon Fiesta Park where we are camped is about 12 miles from the Albuquerque fairgrounds where the trade show is held. The organizers have laid on bus service from here to there but yesterday it all fell apart. Apparently some of the busses didn't show up and then the ones that were working ran into traffic jams so their load factor wasn't working the way it was intended. The result was horrific lineups on the trade show grounds. Some of the people we saw standing in line were there for over 2 hours - in the rain, on concrete, wondering if they would get back for supper and the evening entertainment. To say they were pissed off would be the understatement of the year. The bus fiasco meant that the evening entertainment had to be pushed back over an hour. That meant that we were all getting pretty impatient by the time Neil came on stage. But all was forgotten and forgiven when the little old man on stage started performing.

It was as if Neil's enthusiasm and enjoyment for his music infected his audience. Watching him play the piano it was impossible to ignore the talent that is still pouring out of the man at 70 years of age. Recently he has re-issued some of his greatest hits as children's songs so if you want you can now hear Waking up is Hard to Do, Where the Toys Are & Lunch Will Keep Us Together, among others. We didn't get treated to any of the kids songs but we did get a broad selection from Neils prolific song writing history. Its hard to imagine a better demographic for Neil's entertainment and the crowd loved every single hit.

One of the many highlights of the evening was a duo with Neil's daugher Dara. Dara wasn't present for the concert but through video magic and an exceptional sound technician Neil sang a video duet with his daughter. He also sang a video duo with Dinah Washington and played us what was possibly the first music video, a 1960 recording of Happy Birthday Sweet 16. He said he ran into a woman in L.A. who introduced herself as "January" from that video. "But she was an OLD woman!!"

On the walk home last night we talked about how nice it was to go to a concert where you could understand every word the artist spoke whether singing or just talking to the crowd. Despite performing inside a 220 x 150 foot tent with undoubtedly abominable acoustics we could hear Neil speaking to us and we could understand the lyrics. He obviously fed off the adulation of the crowd, coming back for a couple of encores. You don't get many chances to participate in the kind of concert we attended last night and we certainly didn't expect to be wowed in a cold damp tent on a rainy night in Albuquerque but we were.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Colours and portobellos

I'm always surprised by the colour in the desert. Particularly here there are some vivid colours in the landscape. The reds are dramatic and right now the spring moisture is making the green stand out against the stark landscape.

Today we bought some baby portobellos and used them as caps for crab cakes. It was a quick and easy supper and pretty tasty to boot.

- can of crab meat
- a bit of cooked rice for filler
- squirt of tartar sauce for flavour
- pluck the stems out of the mushrooms and save them for breakfast

Muck up the ingredients and overfill the caps. Sprinkle a little seasoned salt on top for colour and barbeque until the tops turn brown.

I served them with my version of calabacitas. Calabacita is spanish for little green zuchini. Mel & Billie served them to us in Rocky Point with onions and jalapeños. I substituted tomatos for the jalapeños but a bit of jalapeño would have been fine too. Just fry the onions for a while, add the sliced calabacitas and tomatos and cover. Serve before the zuchinis have gone mushy.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Intergenerational quilt

Marilyn has been rebuilding the quilt that grandma made to enter in a competition for the 1980 celebrations around Saskatchewan's 75th anniversary. Starting in 1871 The Dominion Land Survey divided most of western Canada into roughly 1 mile squares. (Roughly 1 mile squares because you can't lay multiple perfect squares onto a spherical world.) Those squares which we call sections are grouped into six mile square townships consisting of 36 sections. The provinces were divided into a grid represented by east-west ranges relative to meridians of longitude and north-south townships which count up from 1 along the US border to around 80 in the Peace River region. The individual sections within a six mile square township are numbered in a specific non-intuitive pattern starting in the bottom right corner.

31 32 33 34 35 36
30 29 28 27 26 25
19 20 21 22 23 24
18 17 16 15 14 13
07 08 09 10 11 12
06 05 04 03 02 01

Based on this grid and the location of a section of land within the township, every 1 mile square in western Canada can be represented by its section number followed by the township number followed by the range. For example, our land east of Nipawin was on Sec 34 Twp 50 Range 14 West of the 2nd Meridian of Longitude or 34-50-14-W2. Within the section a further subdivision is made based on the 4 quarters of the section so we were actually on the NW34-50-14-W2.

5% of the land in western Canada was granted to the Hudsons Bay Company when the land was turned over to Canada. That was accomplished by giving the Bay all of Section 8 and 3/4 of Section 26.¹ This led to those sections often being referred to locally as "the Hudson Bay land" long after they were no longer owned by the Hudsons Bay Company. Similarly Sections 11 and 29 were designated as school land with the proceeds from their initial sale going to fund the early schools.

The survey pattern made allowances for roads which would be built after settlement. Those allowances became known as "road allowances" even in the case where roads were never actually built along the alloted area. As you travel east to west across the prairies the road allowances generally are spaced 1 mile apart. As you travel north and south the road allowances are two miles apart.

The township was the foundation for a lot of early prairie life. Travelling across two or three townships was a big deal when roads were few and most travel was by horses. Grandma's quilt uses the 36 sections in a township as a metaphor for prairie development. Starting at section 1 the quilt follows the development of the prairie landscape as she saw it during her lifetime. So in the lower right of the quilt we start with undisturbed nature, then the aboriginal tenants of the prairies and then follow the arrival of the settlers through to modern 20th century development. The Hudsons Bay land and the school sections are identified as are the road allowances.

When we inherited the quilt we decided to use it. Nobody beyond my generation will be able to remember my grandmother. The quilt means something to us so we intend to appreciate it by using it. It is a great conversation piece when people tour the bus but it was getting in pretty rough shape. And it was getting dirty because it was in too poor of condition to wash it. So Marilyn has tackled resewing all the appliques and redoing the quilting. She is also doing it with invisible thread which is making the task that much more difficult. Now that the weather has smartened up she is making better time on the project.

¹In the interest of perfect accuracy, the HBC grant also included one quarter out of Section 26 in those townships whose numbers were evenly divisible by 5. This was done in order to ensure that HBC received exactly 5% of the land grant.

Friday, April 10, 2009

The red rock area of Arizona

We have been in a Thousand Trails park southeast of Sedona, AZ for close to a week now. Once we got done with the awning installation we headed up the valley to Laughlin and then east towards Flagstaff. We ran into a little snow at the rest area west of Flagstaff, turned south for about 50 miles and settled into this park close to Cottonwood, Arizona. We're learning that these Thousand Trails parks are both very pleasant and very well hidden. Anyone driving by on the highway would be completely unaware that there was even a campground here let alone how large or well serviced it is.

This park has around 200 sites, some of them with 50 amp service and all of them with at least 30 amp service. There's a large well appointed swimming pool and a couple of recreation facilities. This one even has a kitchen and restaurant onsite. I estimate that there is at least 300 acres in the grounds here. The one we stayed at in Texas was similar. The sites are relativelyGrandma's Quilt waiting to be mended close together but not nearly as close as most high end trailer parks. The roads are paved and laid out so as to prevent high speed driving through the park. Yet driving by on the highway all you see is a poorly marked turnoff with a small sign that says simply "Thousand Trails".

We're still in the desert so the nights cool off rapidly, the mornings Early morning balloon rising over the ridge to the west of the campgroundare chilly and the afternoons can get pretty hot. Marilyn has her sewing machine out and she is steadily repairing Grandma's quilt. The appliques on the quilt weren't that well stitched to begin with and would clearly not survive a washing anymore so they need to be redone before the quilt can be washed - and it needs washing.

The more places we see in North America the more we like the Shuswaps. The wind here is a major annoyance. The days would be pleasant enough but already at noon the wind is whipping the awning around and actually rocking the bus occasionally. The part I hated about living in Regina was the damn wind and I have never got over that. I guess it must get windy in the Shuswaps too but the trees and the mountain ranges protect us so we don't notice it.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Rocky Point revisited

The sign in Manny's Bar, Rocky Point, SonoraI'm cleaning up some photo files and came across a couple from Rocky Point that are too good not to share. This first one is from Manny's Bar on the waterfront. I think its a pretty rocking spot in the evenings and probably unbearable when the spring break crowd is in town. The day we were there it was very quiet. At least it was quiet until a couple of guys showed up with some kind of a sand buggy that had a Honda generator mounted on it strictly to run the boom box that was pumping out noise as they drove. I don't think the generator was all that quiet but I didn't even notice it was running until we left the bar. Mel & I were having difficulty concentrating on the dune buggy because of the eye candy that was travelling with the young men.

I didn't take any pictures in the dead fish restaurant but it was a great adventure as well. Mel-the-MarauderThey take an entire fish - appropriately sized for the number of people ordering - and deep fry it. Those of you who have experienced one of our pitchfork fondues will know how good meat can be if properly deep fried and this fish was no exception to that rule.

Mel & Billie also took us shopping on Fifth Avenue. I'm not sure what the right name for the street is but it is a long stretch of tourist traps. Marilyn managed to replace the blanket on the couch with one that appears to be Jorgito-proof. Mel & Billie were able to find a tin can dog for Billie's son in a shop run by a dear sweet old abuela (grandma) but I couldn't get Mel to pose with her for this picture. I did get this one of Mel wearing his Viking garb. I think he must have had an ancestor named Mel the Marauder - that hat just looks so him.

Monday, April 6, 2009

UN = lame duck

Equating the UN to lame ducks is a massive insult to ducks worldwide. When will the international community figure out that it is time to put this institution out of it's misery?

The latest example of the UN's impotence came as North Korea launched it's long anticipated missile. The UN did what it does best - debated and dithered. Meanwhile it is telling that Hugo Chavez endorsed the launch. Kim Jong Il is every bit as much of a fruitcake as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The difference is that North Korea has the technology to back up the whacko aspirations of it's leader.

The world became a more dangerous place this weekend. The only positive effect was to harden Obi-Wan's military rhetoric but it is unlikely that his current pronouncements have any more meaning than any of the nonsense he has spouted for the last 6 months.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Mark O'Reilly - read this and weep

A lot of the people who read these miscellaneous ramblings won't know Mark. He's basically a pretty nice guy, although his wife and kids are a LOT nicer. His brother is also a really nice guy. Anyway, I digress. Mark used to enjoy standing under his awning in the rain at Whispering Pines and mocking me for my lack of an awning. He would sip his morning coffee and holler over some nonsense about how nice it was to be dry under the awning and then pretend to remember that we didn't have an awning. Sometimes he would preface his awning mocking with a question about how I liked my little grey Ford Exploder truck. And there was nothing much I could do, especially since I pretty well always fell for the Ford mocking.

I liked the look of our Prevost Le Mirage with no awning on it. I think this bus has the most graceful lines and an awning undoubtedly detracts from the overall beauty of any coach. But I had resigned myself - we needed to have an awning. Not just for the rain in Whispering Pines either. There is a lot of glass down the curb side of the bus and having an awning provides a shady area so that open windows aren't open onto the direct heat of the sun. An awning also provides a shady spot to sit under and so we had decided that this winter we were going to find ourselves an awning.

When we got to Florida we were feeling a lot poorer after our engine episode in New Jersey but we still intended to go back through Michigan. That would have taken us by some of the RV salvage places around Elkhart, Indiana. For those of you that don't know, Elkhart is ground zero for RV manufacturing. The area is currently hard hit by the US recession which would have only improved our chances of finding a bargain awning had we ended up going home that way. However fate intervened and one night while we were in Florida I got an email from Clifford Allen in Mojave Valley, AZ. He offered me a free awing that had been taken off a Prevost. All we had to do was show up. It seemed too good to be true.

However after several emails and a couple of phone calls it turned out that not only was Clifford serious about his offer of an awning, he intended to help me install the awning and provide us with a 50 amp hookup while we were here doing the install. So yesterday we rolled into Clifford & Sonja's yard around 2:00 in the afternoon. Clifford had told me we would be able to recognize the yard by all the busses that would be lying around and he wasn't exagerating. The only catch is that our frenchy-bus is now surrounded by Eagles.

Today we got busy and installed the awning. Its not done although it is pretty close. We still have to install the stabilizer arms, the purpose of which I don't completely understand and we've got some fine tuning to do on the work that we did today. I need to get up on the roof and caulk the track that I installed this morning but that may wait until we get moved to our next location. All in all I'm pretty impressed. The awning hardware is definitely used but I expect a little metal polish will remedy that quickly and the fabric is in excellent condition. Its a ZipDee awning which is the penultimate RV awning - the same one that Airstreams use. So in return for a few extra miles and a nominal expenditure for some hardware that Clifford was missing we have ended up with a very professional looking ZipDee awning. Last night we attempted to repay our hosts' kindness with a feed of camarones rellenos but it still seems like we got the best of the deal.