Friday, August 26, 2016

Rochester Minnesota: Abundant Harvest

Just when we thought that we wouldn't be back in our hometown of Rochester until next summer, we were able to enjoy a "bonus" stopover last week! We are so fortunate that it is just off the Interstate on our way to South Dakota, and we were able to enjoy the abundant harvest of flowers, fresh produce and friends during our visit!

We were able to get reservations at one of our favorite Rochester campgrounds - Chester Woods County Park. Located about ten miles east of town, it is a very popular weekend destination. But during the week, we enjoyed a quiet, almost empty campground. A flood control dam created a nice recreational lake that provides swimming, canoeing and fishing opportunities. 

But it is the miles of walking paths lined with an abundance of wildflowers that makes this hidden gem our favorite.

The abundance of fresh produce came from our favorite gardener, Dave. Now, while his true talent is producing gigantic plants (we're talking 1400 pound pumpkins and 195 pound watermelons), he does a great job growing my favorite fresh produce ... tomatoes and potatoes!

He picked his first crop of tomatoes the day before we left so that I could make Doug's favorite spicy chili. I picked up some seriously large jalapenos at the Farmer's Market, so yes, there ended up being a lot of spice in this batch! While it may be too hot for most normal humans, it sends Doug into "Scooby Snack" heaven!

The gift of homegrown potatoes had me doing a happy dance also. Peel and cut them up, throw them in a fry pan with butter and whatever else you have leftover in the frig (sausage, onion, carrots, tomatoes, eggs) and you have "heavenly hash" for dinner.

It is great when dinner magically appears without much thought!

Enjoying the abundant harvest of friends is always the best reason to stop back "Home". 

... Exploring the park with Ella and Maddie lead us to the discovery of huge Lincoln Logs that were stacked up to make a "fun forest fort" ... try to say that 10 times fast!

... Biking the Rochester paths kept Doug busy while I was working and helped him catch a Pokemon or two!

... Gathering with friends and family gave us the opportunity to celebrate the abundant gifts of those we loved.

But the greatest abundant harvest I reap is from my talented "RV Fix-it" man. It took a few different tries, but our leaky bedroom window is now fixed ... we hope.

Taking out, re-taping and replacing the window was not a lot of fun, but I felt hopeful since Doug became a window installation "pro" during our last Habitat build.

The next rain proved us wrong ... darn! But Doug is not easily defeated. The next day he was up there caulking a suspicious looking seam, and Ta Da! No water leaking inside the window!

Of course, he is only smiling until the next "fix-it" project shows up ... as it is bound to do when you live in an occasionally moody Wildebeest!

Until next time ... appreciate the abundant harvests  ... and enjoy the adventures in your life!

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Habitat for Humanity Build #2: Baraboo, Wisconsin

We completed our second Habitat for Humanity build in mid August. Located up north in Baraboo, Wisconsin, one would think that we could escape the heat and humidity that is common place down south this time of year ... Wrong! But despite the tropical temps, we had a great build! We discovered that it is the people we work with that make the Care-a-vanners program a "Top 10" experience.

So without further ado ... here are the "Top 10 Reasons" you should do a Habitat for Humanity build!

See the world from new heights!

Not sure if Doug and Joe were taking time to admire the beautiful sunny day as they prepared for rain by hanging gutters!

Sarah enjoyed soaring to new heights as she helped prepare the roof for shingles. She will be soaring in other great ways in a few months when she starts her career as an Air Force officer. 

# 9
Work with famous movie stars!

We thought that Joe, our site supervisor extraordinaire, had a canny resemblance with another famous character ... 

We started fondly calling him "Lieutenant Dan" ... of Forest Gump fame, both for his looks and his patience and kindness to all of us "builder-wannabes".

Play "fetch" with famous Green Bay Packer namesakes!

Jordy ... named after the Green Bay Packer receiver Jordy Nelson ... won all our hearts with his good nature and constant pleading for us to "throw one to him".

Many opportunities for male bonding!

I caught the men on our work crew discussing the construction of the "man cave" with the future homeowner's 13 year old son. I'm thinking that he likes their idea of transforming the basement into a "Packer Den" complete with large screen TV and surround sound.

Deep conversations using mathematical equations!

There were many intense conversations centering on the Pythagorean theorem ...

... or are they just staring at that board for hours hoping that Joe won't give them another job??!!

Work with women of super strength who are not afraid to get a little dirty!

We don't sweat, we GLOW!

Who's afraid of a little tar?

Building walls with the best of them!

Great artistic creations are possible when you get to paint on cement canvas with tar ... yes, black, "it's not going to come off your clothes" TAR!

Know that everyone's unique "skills" contribute toward the ultimate goal ... quality and affordable housing for all!

Doug is now a certified window-installer ...

... I am allowed to handle power screw-drivers with minimal supervision

... I usually hit the nail on the head once every 3 or 4 strikes.

... And I now know the difference between soffit and fascia.

Solve the world's problems .. or at least your RV's problems during happy hour and dinner discussions!

We got to know a fun and talented group of friends during the daily debriefings ie: Happy Hour.

Pete shared a treasure trove of Winnebago repair knowledge with Doug over a beer at Port Huron Brewing Company.

Two for One Margaritas and laughs with our new friends quickly help us forget the hot and humid workday!

And the #1 reason to build with Habitat for Humanity ... 

Build with the BEST!

There is no "good enough" about it. Each team member used their unique skills to accomplish great feats! It is satisfying to see houses and lives transformed in two short weeks!

Until next time ... keep on building up your world ... and enjoy the adventures in your life!

Monday, August 15, 2016

Wonders of Wisconsin: WOW ... Was that a Rattler???

We have been busy swinging hammers and climbing ladders as the Care-a-Vanners program brought us to Baraboo, Wisconsin for another Habitat For Humanity build. The long, hot work days have left us tired but satisfied, but without much energy in the evenings to explore the beautiful countryside that surrounds us. 

But that is what weekends are for! We have enjoyed filling our weekends as we discover the Wonders of Wisconsin ... WOW!

We also dealt with less than reliable AT&T cell service while in Wisconsin which made staying in touch a bit difficult, but WE'RE BACK ready to share all the WOW!

RVentures in Wisconsin started with a trip to Wausau for a family wedding. Wausau was the hometown of my (Chris) dad, so I recall spending time among the tall pines at the county fair in Marathon Park. Located in the center of town, we discovered that it had a very nice campground. During our two day stay there we enjoyed:

... Being in the middle of "Pokemon Heaven". Doug was delighted that the Wildebeest was parked in the primo site that gave him access to three different "Poke Stops" and a couple "Poke Gyms" without even having to leave the comfort of his couch.

... Walking among the pines. Yes, I did manage to convince Doug to play the game the legit way by walking around the park. So nice to see families enjoying time together as they hunted Pokemon!

... Finding a few neat microbreweries closeby. We visited Red Eye Brewing Company (cute patio and unique food menu using a lot of locally produced foods) and Bulls Falls Brewery (a very good IPA and bourbon barrel stout enjoyed in a large welcoming brewery setting).

... Celebrating the wedding of Chris' cousin. The rehearsal dinner included a Wisconsin tradition ... a delicious Fish Fry.

The weather on Saturday provided the perfect conditions for photos alongside the Wisconsin River after the ceremony. We are always grateful for opportunities to spend time with family!

After those festivities, we made our way south to the Sauk County fairgrounds in Baraboo where our two week Habitat for Humanity build took place.

Baraboo is a small town located near the vacation mecca of the Wisconsin Dells. The town was made famous when the Ringling Brothers brought their circus to town in the late 1800s. While Circus World Museum claims to be the #1 attraction in town, we enjoyed the entertainment that our Milwaukee family provided during their visit to our campsite!

This Habitat build has been different from our first build in Vero Beach, but in a good way ... and we will share that in the next blog entry. Working full days Monday through Friday left us the weekends to discover some of the WOW in the surrounding area.

We started out the weekend once again with the traditional Wisconsin fish fry ... this time with our fun new care-a-vanner friends at The Barn Restaurant. With a great variety of craft beers on tap, Doug quickly decided that he was in good company when all the men ordered the IPA. 

Saturday morning was filled with chores. A trip to the laundromat was greatly needed after five days of playing in the dirt. It was located just a block away from Baraboo's City Square, so I decided to take a stroll. There I discovered cute turn-of-the-century homes, a Farmer's Market, and the Al Ringling Theater. Many of the local Habitat volunteers had highly recommended seeing the recently renovated theater ... Hum, now to convince Doug to join me for a tour.

Doug spent Saturday morning with another RV "fix-it" job that involved wires and electrical multi meters and motors ... as the gray water release valve needed repair. Right up his alley ... and WOW, he fixed it with no major problems or need to buy an expensive new tool!

Saturday afternoon we decided to bike three miles down the road to Devil's Lake State Park.

We were happy that we were able to bike there as it is a very popular and crowded weekend playground. We peddled past the long line of cars looking for parking spots as we headed to the East Bluff hiking trail. This gravel path took us through a beautiful forest ...

... and up to the cliffs overlooking Devil's Lake.

The rock formations and view of the lake were just ... WOW!

But it was the sight and sound of a large snake slithering across our path and poking his head up on the other side that brought the biggest surprise! Yes, we are pretty sure it was a rattler, but we did not venture close enough to say for sure.

On Sunday, I made Doug a delicious Honey Puff Pancake topped with the fresh raspberries from the Farmers Market.

It must have been good enough to convince him to come with me to tour the Al Ringling Theater. Al Ringling, one of the famous circus brothers in town, paid $100,000 to have this architectural beauty built in 1915 as a gift for the city of Baraboo.

The theater enjoyed many years of use, but in recent years had fallen into disrepair. A local group stepped in, and after five years and at least $3.5 million dollars, the theatre reopened last year to its former grandeur.

Afterwards, we decided to enjoy the sunshine as we checked out the local "swimming hole", Pewit's Nest Gorge. A short walk along the Skillet Creek lead us to a teenager's paradise ... a deep area in the river that tempted the "brave and/or crazy" young people to jump off the cliffs into the water.

The live video:

We returned to the gorge after our build the following Thursday and found it much more calm, quiet and peaceful. Prepared with swimsuits and water shoes, we made our way down the creek and over the small cascading waterfalls as we cooled off after a hot day of building. Although Doug was tempted, we did not jump off the cliff into the deep pool.

After our second and final week of the Baraboo Habitat build, we spent last Saturday venturing up to the Wisconsin state capitol of Madison for a day of biking, breweries and more WOW including:

38 miles of quiet bike paths ...

... and "share the road" urban biking

... leading to a photo op in front of the Wisconsin State Capitol

... A traditional Wisconsin lunch at State Street Brats

... Followed by Chocolate Shoppe ice cream for dessert

Of course, no bike tour planned by Doug would be complete without a stop at a brewery. Rockhound Brewing Co served up a great IPA, refreshing Sprecher Root Beer, and as a bonus, gave us another cool coaster to add to our collection!

The "uphill and into the wind" ride back didn't seem to tire out these "kids" as they used some of their physics logic to produce this tall fountain of water in hotel pool.

We decided to modify our travel plans and come back to Rochester for a few days to celebrate the life of our biking and skiing buddy, Al. Throughout his 81 years, he taught us the valuable lesson of living each day of retirement to the fullest by staying active while serving others. He was one of our first ski instructors, teaching us the important skill of "How to Stop".

While at Chester Woods county park, we are getting caught up with RV chores before heading west to Brookings, SD for our next Habitat build. And after that??? We are strongly leaning towards a continued westerly direction to discover more WOW ... Wonders of the West.

Until next time ... check out the WOW Wonders of your World ... and enjoy the adventures in your life!