Traveling Along with Steve & Jan –

Spring 2006

"FROM OHIO’S COLORFUL LEAVES TO HOUSTON’S SUNSHINE TO THE PINEY WOODS OF EAST TEXAS"

After a very enjoyable summer in North Dakota, we settled in our home in Barberton.  If you will recall from our last newsletter, this fall’s project was to continue to eliminate weeds and unwanted grasses around our home and office.   Much to our delight, last year’s mulch project worked and we had achieved our goal of making our properties maintenance free.

So, what did we do with our newfound free time?  Easy! We fired up the hot tub and began soaking our stress away – even though we do not have stress.  As the fall weather turned cooler, and then colder, the hot tub warmed our bones and relaxed our muscles.

Steve has turned to wireless broadband when connecting to the internet.  Verizon Wireless Broadband is available in most major cities and the speed of the internet is incredible.  It seems that one can find just about anything on the internet whether it is shopping for goods and services or information.  We are now set up to receive information 24/7 by leaving our computer turned on.

Jan has been busy learning to use her new sewing/embroidery machine.  Tee shirts and Christmas towels were the first projects she tackled.  The sewing machine is computerized and has many beautiful patterns to be embroidery.  She is considering enrolling in a weeklong seminar on basic and advanced techniques in embroidering to be held in Baton Rouge, LA in the spring of 2006. 

Our best reasons to return to Ohio are to visit with longtime friends.  We had a chance to get together with the Needhams, the Sloans, the Kozarevics, the Williams, the Daishers, the Reuschers, Denise Moore and many more friends.  We shared our photos from North Dakota and had a chance to play euchre with the Kozarevics.  When we left Ohio, the score was tied - one to one.  This game is to be continued to next fall.  Until then Tom and Jackie, beware, the Mondls are practicing their techniques and we plan to win when return to Barberton!

To attend a Broadway production, we drove to Cleveland’s Playhouse Square twice during the month of November. One night was to see the musical-play “Little Shop of Horrors” at the Palace Theatre; and, another night to attend the Jethro Tull Concert at the State Theatre.

Our tickets to Little Shop of Horrors came courtesy of Sheri Folkner and Michael Moncada of Key PrivateBank and McDonald Investments.  Steve dressed in his tuxedo as we were seated in a loge. The star of “Little Shop of Horrors” is a plant, actually a computerized plant, guided by two talented puppeteers and a techie.  In addition, a back stage actor booms out songs and jive talk for the plant named Audrey II.  Then, there is Audrey’s meals which are human co-stars who climb between her green jaws and disappear down her red throat.  This play is full of laughs and thrills.

The Jethro Tull Concert was a sell-out attracting the age 50+ something crowd with music from the late 1960’s and 70’s. Perhaps, you will recall him as the flute player of rock and roll.  Everyone attending the concert received a complimentary CD of Tull’s music and proceeds of the Concert were used to provide food, clothing and shelter to the homeless in the America.  Slight whiffs of "sweet-smelling smoke" were noticed in the air.  Hmm... have not noticed that aroma in years!

Ohio got its first heavy snowfall the day before Thanksgiving.  The outside temperature dropped-out to a low of 9 degrees that night.  The snow accumulated almost four inches.  Steve kept repeating, “Burr” - got to get heading south soon.  In Jan's opinion, snow is pretty but she does not want to be driving or walking in it.   On Thanksgiving Day, there was so much snowfall the result was white-out conditions.  Any melting of the snow was only temporary and the result of the melting snow was black ice.

The Reuscher Family invited us their home for Thanksgiving.  They had prepared a plentiful Thanksgiving dinner that consisted of turkey, two different kinds of dressing, cranberries, orange Jell-O; and, for desert, a variety of pies and brownies. The food was delicious and the companionship priceless.  We had the opportunity to met their son Christopher's new wife, Tara, and visit with Mona’s Mom.

With the weather so cold and icy, we knew it was time to venture south.  The Saturday after Thanksgiving, we pulled out of town and drove to Cincinnati, OH where we stayed our first night at the F.M.C.A. campground.  In our tow car, we drove to the Cincinnati Zoo for their Festival of Lights.  A wooden Nutcracker Lion welcomed our arrival.  As we walked through a tunnel of lights, we were caught up in a holiday wonderland.  The Swan Lake laser light show treated us to choreographed movements of water, music and colorful laser lights that magically blended with the holiday music of Manheim Steamroller.  The 35-foot International Christmas Tree was decorated with over 22,000 white lights.  Many of the animals such as the Siegfried and Roy’s white lions, white bears, giraffes, manatees, ocelots, and humongous sea turtles “strutted their stuff” for the visitors to the Festival.

A stop in Nashville gave us a chance to visit with Charles, P.J. and Cory Davis.  Steve went to undergraduate school with P.J. and they grew-up together in NE Ohio.  We had two nights to share dinner and conversation with them; then, it was off to Hot Springs, AR to relax in hot mineral waters.  Steve went to Libby’s Bathhouse twice to soak away any stress he had acquired on the road from Ohio.  Garver Gardens, on the outskirts of Hot Springs, decorated their gardens with thousands and thousands of lights.  They had a gingerbread house, a palace, a train display, a wreath and many trees decorated in red, green, white, gold and blue lights.  We had taken Precious and Angel in order to take photos for next year’s Christmas cards.  It is very difficult to get four faces to smile and look at the camera at the same time.  Finally, a photo worthy of printing was taken and we sat down to enjoy a glass of wassel and to munch-on delicious Christmas cookies.

We arrived at San Jacinto State Historical Site a week after we had left Ohio.  Jerry and Ellen Hopkins invited us to dinner that night and the next day the four of us attended the Christmas Open House at Varner-Hogg Plantation State Historical Site.  Ellen and Jan helped the younger set play 1880 style games such as drop the clothes pin the jar, throw the bean bag through the hole, ring toss and burlap sack races.  Santa and Mrs. Claus listened to what the children wanted under their Christmas tree, paper chains were made for the Christmas tree, house tours were provided by the volunteers and refreshments were served on the back porch of the mansion.  We had a great day helping this energetic friends group.

Just before Christmas, our Suzuki tow car began to give us mechanical problems.  It was almost 5 years old and it was time to be replaced  While driving around Texas, we noticed that almost everyone drives a truck.  In fact, there are more truck sold in the State of Texas than cars.  As they say, “When in Texas do as the Texans do”.  Therefore, we began our internet search for a truck that could be easily towed behind our Prevost coach.  After deciding what we wanted in a vehicle and after much research, we found just what we looking for: a burgundy, Chevy Avalanche 4x4.  This vehicle does not know if it is a truck or a SUV.  The Avalanche is a flex-fuel vehicle and can run on unleaded gas or E85 (a combination of 85% ethanol and 15% gas).  It is roomy, very versatile, and very safe having side air-bags.  We love it!  We have named her Ava.

On Christmas Day, we had dinner with Jerry and Ellen Hopkins and the next day drove to San Antonio to celebrate the Holidays with Jerry’s Mother Solange and his sister and her husband, Lori and Mike.  The time went fast as we talked about the past year’s happenings and played games.  Too soon, it was time to travel back to Houston and get ready for a Greek New Years Eve Party.

It has become a tradition for San Jacinto Resident Volunteer Hosts (RVer’s) to gather along with the San Jacinto Site Managers at the Hopkins home to bring in the New Year with flair and fun.  This year the theme of the New Years Eve party was Greek.  In addition, what is Greek if not a Toga?  The Toga costume was a wrapped, off the shoulder, piece of fabric and a wreath of flowers on the head.  Even the puppies, Jolie, Angel and Precious, dressed in their fashionable Togas to bring in the New Year.

The New Year arrived and we have been very busy.  During the months of January, February and March, we volunteered with Jay and Barbara Chandler, a San Jacinto Resident Volunteer (RVer’s), at the Houston Boat Show, the Houston Travel and Leisure Show and the Sportsman Show.  We distributed over a 1,000 Texas Travel Guides and over 6,000 San Jacinto Heritage Trading Cards at these trade shows.

Wanting more Trading Card photos for our marketing program, we caught up with Gilbert Smith, Parks Superintendent for Precinct 2 in Harris County.  Together, we scoped out historical points of interest in our quest to portray the people and events of the 1800’s.  Gilbert drove us to an area thought to be where Vince’s Bridge once stood.  This bridge was destroyed by Sam Houston’s Troops to prevent the Mexican General Santa Anna from escaping to the west after the Battle of San Jacinto in 1836.  Next, Gilbert drove us to an area on the banks of the Buffalo Bayou where General Santa Anna was captured. The day brought us many wonderful new photos for our gallery and introduced us to another friendly and helpful Texan, Gilbert Smith.

Part of the fun of volunteering in an area is exploring the many sight, sounds, and smells of a region.  Just west of Houston, about a 45-minute drive, lays Atwater Prairie Chicken National Wildlife Refuge.  We drove one nature trail of this Refuge and much to our delight had the opportunity to view a wide variety of birds and animals in their natural habitat.

The end of February, we had a puppy sleep-over in which Jolie Hopkins, daughter of Jerry & Ellen Hopkins spent the weekend with us while her parents were off to Dallas for a introduction to an exciting and profitable marketing program.  We all had a ball!  Jolie and our little one, Precious entertained us with their dancing and frolicking. 

The theatrical production “Rain” came to the old opera house, The Strand, in downtown Galveston.  “Rain” consists of a troop, from France, of acrobats, jugglers and tumblers.  Their skills were remarkable and breathe taking as they swung from ropes and slid across the stage on water as it rained.

We took the opportunity to attend the Houston Museum of Fine Arts film showing, “Darwin’s Nightmare”.  This film documents the experimental introduction of the carnivorous Nile Perch to Lake Victoria located in Eastern Congo.  While the fish brought wealth to some, the irony is that the experiment completely depleted the native food supply.  The so-called “progress” of globalization resulted in a starving of the people.  “Darwin’s Nightmare” wants its viewers to take a closer look at the role we all play in the horrible and deadly economic machine.

On a lighter note, we have been trying out many new, exciting and delicious restaurants.  In addition, we have checked out a few of the flea markets and the farmers markets.   Some of our “returned – to – do – again” include: the Houston Rodeo, ride  M/V Sam Houston Boat to tour the Houston Ship Channel. One thing for sure about Houston, there is always something new and exciting to do in the fourth largest city of the United States. 

During the month of March, our friends June & Jerry Sloan from NE Ohio flew down to Texas to visit, take in the Houston Rodeo and to "get out of dodge".  We took one week to experience many attractions and various food venues.  It was welcome relief to get away from that cold NE Ohio weather and for the Sloans to "practice" retirement.  While in Houston, they were shopping around for an motorhome so they could make retirement a reality.  We took them to visit Sheldon Lake State Park and walked on Galveston Island beaches.

Going to the Rio Grande Valley is a wonderful Spring adventure. We had a chance to visit with Gary and Pat Jeffries for a week; and, we house sit while they took a cruise out of Galveston.   For Easter, Pat and Jan decorated paper plates to make their home-made Easter Hats for the Easter Day Parade.  April 1st marked the annual Onion Festival in the Rio Valley.  The 1015 onions are famous as a Texas sweet onion.  These onions must be planted on October 15th each year, hence the name 1015.  While in the Valley, we drove to Progresso, Mexico (just a 15-minute drive from Alamo). Progresso is just a stones throw from the Rio Grande River. There we made a few purchases and Jan got her teeth cared for by a wonderful dentist.

While in the Rio Grande Valley, we visited Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge and met Smokey Cranfill the manager of the newest addition to the World Birding Complex that is currently under construction in Roma.  Roma is famous for the Roma Bluffs which overlook the Rio Grande River and is rich in history.  Programs at the Roma World Birding Complex will be on history and culture as well as wildlife, birds and animals.  We met Smokey and his lovely wife Dora while attending the Birding Festival held in McAllen, Texas.  We struck-up an immediate friendship and we have committed to volunteering this coming winter at the Roma World Birding Center Complex.

Departing San Jacinto, we headed to the Texas State Railroad and Rusk State Park.  The campground has beautiful pine trees under which we sit watching the campfire each night. We will be here until Memorial Day riding the railroad with school groups and keeping an eye on the campground.  

Rusk State Park is divided into two divisions.  One division is the campground and the other is the railroadd.  The campground is adjacent to the depot so many campers ride the train during their stay. The campground has a wonderful Nature Trail along which there are signs labeling the names of the tree and a bird blind for bird watchers.  Evelyn Mertz and her husband John camped with us one weekend. Together, we checked signage on the trail for accuracy and repositioned signs that had fallen or needed to be placed in a better location.

The train operates four days a week.  On Thursday and Friday, school groups ride the train seven miles from the Rusk depot to a small community named Maydell.  At the depot in Maydell, the train’s engine would disconnect and pull onto a turntable where it would turn 180 degrees.  After the turn, the engine was now going in the opposite direction.  The engine would reattach and pull the train cars back to the depot in Rusk.  This trip would take about an hour and a half.  During this time, we explained to the children how the turntable operated and why the prisoners from the Rusk Prison built the tracks.

On Saturday and Sunday, the train transports the general public 25 miles to the city of Palestine.  This roundtrip takes four and half-hours.  Two couples, Jerry and June Sloan and Jerry and Ellen Hopkins, camped with us and rode the train to Palestine.  For the Sloans, Rusk State Park was their first destination with their new Motorhome purchased in Austin, Texas.  For the Hopkins, Rusk State Park maybe their last destination as their Motorhome is for sale.

While in Rusk, we were interviewed by the local newspaper, the Cherokeean Herald.  Much of the article centered on the reasons why volunteers are important to the parks and the local community. In addition, in this news article, we discussed the plight, concerning the lack of funding, of the Texas State Park system.   Please read this interview on our web site.  We are now known as the “park-hoppers” and we are proud of our new name.

During our stay at Rusk State Park, we met Jessie and Mary Ramirez.  One day, we decided to travel to Tyler, Texas together along with Mary’s mother to do some sight-seeing.   We visited some historical homes, did a little shopping and came upon the Nation’s largest Municipal Rose Garden and Museum.

Tyler, Texas is the rose capital of the Nation.  One fifth of all roses are grown in the United States and one-half of the United States’ roses are packaged and shipped from Tyler.  The Rose Garden Center spans 30,000 square feet providing visitors conference rooms, visitor information, a gift shop, the Tyler Rose Museum and a 14 –acre Rose Garden.  Opened in 1952, the Rose Garden is divided into smaller Gardens such as the Heritage Rose and Sensory Garden, the IDEA Garden, the Vance Burks Memorial Camellia Garden, the Edna Lankart Daylily Garden and the Meditation Garden. Roses in the trial garden are evaluated over a two-year period and those roses that pass the test and become patented are planted in the Tyler Rose Garden and are designated as AARS award winners.

 As a remembrance of the Ramirez Family, we were presented with a glass vase holding a beautiful water lily plant.  This lily has been in bloom for the last three weeks.  In addition, inside the vase among the colorful marbles and shells swims a Male Beta fish.  He is orange and has been given the name Jose' Ramirez-Mondl.  Jose' is quite intelligent.  Every morning he swims to the top of the vase, puckers his lips in the form of blowing kisses and patiently awaits his breakfast of tastee food morsels.   This is the first fish in our family and the first fish to ride down the road in our Motorhome.  Never in our wildest dreams did we think we would travel with a fish across the highways and byways of America. Welcome aboard Josie!

We have left Rusk State Park and the friendly State of Texas.  Good-bye dear friends of the Lone Star State until we return in November to ride the Victorian Christmas train in Rusk, and in December to begin our volunteer service in the Rio Grande Valley with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Roma, Texas.  

The first of June, we arrived at the W. Kerr Scott Dam and Reservoir in Western North Carolina.  We will be the first interpretive volunteers working with the Corps of Engineers at this facility.  We are looking forward to an interesting summer as we learn about the history and heritage of the Western North Carolina area.  In our next edition of "Traveling Along with Steve and Jan", we will write about our adventures in Western North Carolina.

Our very best wishes to you and your family.  Have a healthy and safe summer.

We will leave you with some of our favorite photos from the past few months to enjoy!

Puppy Love - Jolie Hopkins and our little ones, Precious and Angel