Sunday, November 30, 2008

Cajun Country

Happy Hour
We celebrate a "closing"
Betty's mural showing the Cajun lifestyle.

Betty prepares the Cajun microwave.
The turkey in the Cajun microwave

Lining up to eat.

The spread

The Thanksgiving Table

Cajun Jam Session

For the next two weeks we will be staying at Betty's RV Park in Abbeville, Louisiana. Betty has happy hour each afternoon for all the park residents to get together. On Friday when we arrived we received the news about the closing on our house so it was really a very "happy hour" which we celebrated with champagne given to us by Richard and Valerie Frayer. We are getting caught in Betty's web.

We really enjoy this area which has great music, great food and very friendly people. We have gone to three places to listen to zydeco and French Cajun music. Locally, the Museum Cafe and Touchet's take turns holding a jam session every Saturday afternoon. On Wednesday we went to Lafayette to listen and dance to Geno Delafose, the Creole Cowboy, along with another group, Balfa Toujours. We have eaten some great meals at local restaurants and had a big Cajun Thanksgiving with 20 people here at Betty's. The local seafood has been fantastic and we are waiting for the fall craw fish harvest which should be this coming week. For Thanksgiving Betty cooked a turkey and pork roast in her Cajun microwave and everyone brought their favorite dish for all to enjoy. It was a wonderful Thanksgiving feast with all the trimmings. On Saturday, Betty used the leftover bird to make turkey gumbo. Yes, we have put on weight since we arrived but all the food has been wonderful. We both had birthdays last week and when we got up in the morning Betty had put a Happy Birthday sign on the windshield and they had a birthday cake for us on Thursday. The Cajun people are just great and you never feel like a stranger. At the Museum Cafe and Touchet's we had several people we met here in the spring come over and talk to us like we had been here our whole lives. The French Cajuns really are the friendliest people we have met anywhere in our travels.

On a sad note, just south of here there was a lot of damage caused by Hurricane Gustav. We passed a number of places where there had been homes and all that remained was the slab where they once stood. Many houses still have the blue FEMA tarps on their roofs. In Intercoastal City many of the businesses which were closed due to storm damage have still not reopened.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


The sound you hear is the FAT LADY singing. We just closed on our stix and brix. What a relief.

Back in LA

Along the Trace
Richard, Valerie, and their daughter Margo
LSU campus tailgating
Louisiana State Capitol

The view from 350 feet

Bullet hole from the assassination of Huey Long inside the capitol.

Louisiana State Museum

Map showing the area drained by the Mississippi River as it follows through the state to the gulf.

Oakley Plantation

An Audubon print

Nanc tries to lore Gus to come with us for Thanksgiving dinner.

We are now at the Green Acres Campground near Saint Francisville, LA where we are spending a week with Val and Richard Frayer. They lived for many years in nearby Baton Rouge and Richard is doing a project here for his former employer. On the way here from Little Rock we spent a night at the Ameristar Casino RV Park in Vicksburg, MS. A nice perk there was a great breakfast buffet in the casino that was included in the camping fee. For part of the drive we travelled on the Natchez Trace Parkway, a road that follows an old Indian trail that was later used by people who had floated down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers to return north. This road travels through the scenic countryside and there was very little traffic. On Saturday we went tailgating with the Tiger fans on the LSU campus. While we did not go to the game we enjoyed all the pregame hoopla and food. The entire campus is one large party with many of the people not even going to the game. They are so serious about their mascot that Mike the tiger has his own large cathouse just outside the stadium. On Sunday we toured the Louisiana capitol building, which is the tallest in the nation. It offers a great view from the outside observation deck 350 feet above the city. We could see all of the city, the Mississippi River and the surrounding industry. In Baton Rouge we also visited to the Louisiana State Museum which offers a great overview of all aspects of the state. There are exhibits on the Louisiana Purchase, important wars, political history, music, commerce, Mardi Gras and even a display of LSU tailgating. This museum would be a good place to start for anyone visiting the state. One strange thing we experienced when we came out of the museum was small pieces of soot falling from the sky and the smell of smoke. It was coming from the burning of the sugarcane fields across the Mississippi several miles away. They always burn the fields when they harvest the crop. Another day we went to the Audubon State Historical Site in Saint Francisville. On the site is the Oakley Plantation which was owned by one family from 1801, when it was built, until 1947 when the last heir sold it to the state. The home is unique because it was never modernized with plumbing or electricity and when it was sold most of the furnishings were included. The family even used the outdoor kitchen with a fireplace until they moved out. John Audubon, of bird painting fame, served as a teacher to a young family member for four months in 1821 and while there painted over thirty different birds. The site has several number 1 proofs on display in the house and visitors center. There are also slave quarters, gardens, nature trails and a few farm animals on the property. We really enjoyed our time with Val and Richard who started full timing at about the same time we did. This is the fourth time we have met them on the road. It is always great because we have many similar interests.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Little Rock and the Prez

Moonrise over the Arkansas River
Little Rock Central High School
Reflection on the effect of the Little Rock Nine
William J. Clinton Presidential Library
Replica of the Oval Office
Are you better off now than you were 8 years ago?
Tiki Barber
Bill's boyhood home
Fordyce Bathhouse Visitor Center - Notice the vapor coming from the hot water in the fountain.
Nanc warms her hand in one of the open springs.
Music Room in the renovated Fordyce Bathhouse.

We spent four days at Maumelle Park near Little Rock on the banks of the Arkansas River and on our drive there we filled up with diesel fuel at the lowest price we have paid in our 16 months on the road. So even the cloud of seeing our IRA tank has a silver lining. We toured the Little Rock Central High School National Historical Site where in 1957 President Eisenhower used the U.S. Army 101st Airborne to integrate the school to comply with the Supreme Court decision 'Brown vs Board of Education' that ruled separating schools by race did not provide an equal education. After Governor Faubus used Arkansas National Guard to bar the black students, who became known as the Little Rock Nine, from entering the school the president ordered the army to protect them. The U.S. troops helped the students but they were still harassed and abused by the racist crowds that gathered outside the school and by many students inside. Even so, senior Ernest Green became the first black to graduate from Central in May 1958. It was quite interesting being there 51 years later talking to the ranger who is a recent grad of integrated Central about the election of Obama. She had attended an election night party with one of the Little Rock Nine and said they both cried when it was announced Obama had won. We were there at dismissal and it looked like many other schools with kids of all shapes, sizes and color leaving school together even though Arkansas is a place that is still very much a red state.

We also spent a day at the William J. Clinton Presidential Center. The library uses a timeline to follow his eight years as president and other displays show his years as Attorney General and Governor of Arkansas. There are many videos and artifacts about life in the White House and the accomplishments of President Clinton. A number of displays deal with the impeachment and trial in the Senate where he was found not guilty. One room is an exact replica of the Cabinet Room and another is of the Oval Office. It is amazing what he was able to achieve even though the Republicans controlled Congress for six of his eight years. Economically the number of jobs increased over 20,000,000 and there was a budget surplus when he left office. He vetoed the tax cuts for the rich that Bush enacted his first year in office. Is there a connection there that we now have a huge deficit and the number of jobs has dropped by 1.2 million so far this year? Internationally we were well respected around the world for Clinton's many initiatives with all countries and now we are looked down on because we go it alone with disregard to world opinion. While in the library we saw former NFL player and current TV announcer, Tiki Barber, who was there doing a promotion for his new book. There are several other sites around the city including the governor's mansion, capitol building, Old State House and the Clinton Gore Headquarters that have connections to the former president.

Another day we continued our Billgrimage with a trip to Hot Springs. We saw his boyhood home and McClard's Bar-B-Q, one of his favorite restaurants. Hot Springs has a national park that is preserving its 47 hot springs and the old bathhouses where people would come to soak away all sorts of ailments. Most of the springs are now covered to prevent contamination but a few are still free flowing. When the bathhouses and springs were all open the area was known as the Valley of Vapors. In 1832 the federal government set aside four springs to protect this natural resource that comes out of the ground at 143 degrees. Along the original bathhouse row only the Buckstaff remains open today but others are being restored to their original grandeur to once again be open for public bathing. The Fordyce Bathhouse has been renovated, but not for bathing, and now serves as the park visitor center and is an example of the luxury style of bathhouses in the early 1900's. Others will be reopened for bathing as the restoration continues. The park also includes a campground, many trails and roads through the nearby mountains and a 216 foot observation tower.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Memphis and The King

Front of the mansion at Graceland.
Jungle Room with green shag carpet on the floor and ceiling.
Living room
The records on this wall represent the records sold by Elvis in North America. The other walls were covered with record sales on other continents.
The grave site in the memorial garden with flowers and memorials received the day we visited.
Pink Cadillac
The Lisa Marie
The "Duckmaster" warms up the crowd.
The ducks walk the red carpet to the elevator to go to their rooftop "penhouse."
Museum entrance
Beale Street at night.

We are now at T.O. Fuller State Park in Memphis, Tennessee, a beautiful park only five miles from downtown but very much in the forest. Yesterday we toured Graceland, the home of "The King," Elvis. The tour covered the house, the grounds, an auto museum and two of his planes. We really enjoyed learning more about his life and what a generous person he was to both charities and individuals. The house tour included the common areas such as the living, dining, TV, jungle and game rooms and the kitchen. Everything is like it was when Elvis and his family lived their. On the grounds we saw the Trophy room and the racquetball court where many of his gold and platinum records and other awards are displayed. He had 30 number 1 hits and has sold over 1,000,000,000 records. We also saw the memorial garden where Elvis, his parents and grandmother are buried. Even today, flowers and other memorials are received at Graceland daily and all are put on display on the grounds. There are rooms of the many outfits he wore for his concerts and if you have a couple grand to spare, you can even buy replicas of many of them. The auto museum had many of his cars including the famous pink Cadillac and his many motorized toys. The two planes on the grounds are a small personal jet and a bigger one, the Lisa Marie, that had a queen size bed for the King.

In downtown Memphis we visited The Peabody Hotel to see the ducks. In 1933, friends of the owner put ducks in the lobby fountain as a prank, but when they came back in the morning the ducks had not wandered off and a crowd had gathered to watch them. The owner decided to keep them and thus began the tradition of bringing the ducks to the lobby each day at 11 AM and then returning them to their rooftop "penhouse" at 5 PM. Twice each day a crowd gathers (and spends money) to watch the ducks parade along the red carpet to and from the elevator. This ceremony is conducted by the Duckmaster, a position that was held by one person for over 50 years. We also toured the Memphis Rock n Soul Museum where an audio tour traces the contributions the people of Memphis have made to blues, soul and rock and roll. The tour covers the music of the early 1900's to the present. We also took in the sights and sounds of Beale Street's many music venues.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Nashville and the Election!!!!!!

Nanc cleans inside.
Jim works outside.
The shiny motor home with the Obama sign in the window.
Willie and friend.
Willie's gold and platinum records.
Willie's friends, Dolly and Nanc.
Opryland Christmas decorations.
It is still fall here in Tennessee

We stayed at Raccoon Valley for a week and worked on the RV every day. We cleaned the whole thing inside and out and did a few other maintenance things. The only time we left the campground was to shop for needed supplies. We did have a visit with Joe and Marcia, who we met at the Gypsy Journal Rally, when they stopped just to say hi as they headed to warmer weather in Florida. We also celebrated our 39th anniversary with a wonderful home cooked meal. Boy has our life changed, eating in on a big occasion. We are now staying at the Nashville Country RV Park for the next three days. We picked a place with cable so we could watch the historical events happening in the country. On Monday night we watched the Steelers defeat the Redskins in DC which assured that the incumbent political party would be defeated and Obama would be elected. True to form, on Tuesday America spoke and we watched the returns as Barack Obama was historically elected president. Even Nanc did not complain as I used the remote to go to every possible station including CNN, Fox, MSNBC, CBS, ABC, NBC and PBS. We have really been into the election, working the phones in Iowa, and we celebrated when the announcement was made that Obama had won and our friend Mary Lou even called from Florida knowing we would be watching. This is the first time I can say I wish I was back in the classroom to talk with the students about this historic event. I emailed several friends who are still working and they said it was great and the kids were really into the election. (By the way, even as I write this that desire has passed.) We are so glad that a majority of citizens were able to get passed all the stupid Internet lies that were being spread and voted to give the government back to the people. In Nashville we toured the Willie Nelson and Friends Museum where we saw much of his personal memorabilia, including records, clothes and photos, as well as tributes to Patsy Cline, Elvis and many Grand Ole Opry stars. There was also a very interesting documentary about the group and music of The Highwaymen, which included Willie, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash and Kris Kristofferson. While we are not fans of country music we have been fans of Willie for years after seeing him perform with Leon Russell years ago and we really enjoyed the museum. We also drove around downtown and went to the Opryland complex, where the Christmas decoration were beautiful. We had been to Nashville before and had toured some of the other attractions such as the Parthenon and the Hermitage. We continue to follow the fall foliage with the trees in Kentucky and Tennessee at the height of their color and the weather being just a bit cooler than we like, but we have enjoyed clear skies for most of the last two weeks.