Monday, January 16, 2017

Hardin Ridge/Lake Monroe, Indiana

July 2016

We had been resting, recuperating and reorganizing for a few months after the second year on the full-time traveling trails. What was once a planned break, turned into a more serious time-out. I needed to replace the worn-out awning and make a few minor repairs. Let’s face it. Things break over time and need replaced. These were relatively minor in nature, but I also wanted to touch-up a couple of rust spots with new paint. My camper also was in bad need of a bath. The purchase of a pressure washer was in the works, but that is another minor story.

Kirk Korner Campground, as we refer to the summer of 2016.
My friend, Steve, offered me the use of his newly widened driveway of his Indy home - parked along side of his. We laughingly called it, Kirk Korner Campground. We could plug-in to house power and top-up our onboard water tanks. The gray and black water tanks would have to be dumped on a fairly regular basis with usage. He decided that, since it was his house, neither of us would have to pay the rent and the money we saved could be used for repair and improvements of our individual rigs. Having been on the road, traveling to the same camps for a season as a mutual support and experience sharing experience. Steve and his fiancé, Linda, would travel in their Class-A Motorhome, while I towed my camping trailer with my GMC Envoy.

It turned out that we both altered our plans for the summer. Steve decided that he wanted to prepare his for eventual sale and began making repairs there as well. Of course, as his friend, I was there to help. A few months planned, turned to a few more months. We didn’t get in any hurry. We’re both retired. Some days we planned, some days we sat out rains and some days we painted, cut down tree limbs, painted and reorganized everything. It wasn’t as difficult as it was time consuming. We didn’t care. Our time was our own and we have been friends our entire lives - since 4th Grade - and enjoyed each other’s company.

This is the replacement campsite offered by the management here. They did us a solid favor.
We decided that after a few months of “work” (a loosely defined term), we wanted to get back out there on the road again. As we were in the middle of our projects, we chose a more local destination - that of Hardin Ridge Recreation Area on Lake Monroe, the largest lake in Indiana. We don’t count Lake Michigan. We made online reservations and paid in advance through the website. As the time for our departure drew nearer, one day I received a phone call from someone at the park about our reservation. Apparently, it was their opinion that we would not be happy with the sites we selected. Since we had no idea about the site, so we deferred to their change in our site reservations. When we arrived, we were well satisfied with the changes and upon investigation of the original sites, we immediately understood. In short, the private contractors operating the camp did us a solid favor. We liked it so much, we renewed for a second period of 14-days, since the sites remained available.

The flagpole/camera mount that I added to modify my kayak.
Earlier, one of my projects was to make a combination flagpole and video camera mounting for my boat. This would serve purposes of being seen out on the water and recording my trip with my video camera. After all, having all that fun is no fun at all unless it can be shared on social media. I’ll eventually have lots of DVDs of my trips. I’m sure I’ll have to add a musical soundtrack as the “music” of paddling and waves would not make for interesting viewing by anyone other than me. I talk very little to myself out on the water.

Hardin Ridge if a very popular camp for recreational boating and fishing. So much so that weekend recreational campers often tow their boats and sleep in a tent so they don’t violate the rules of occupancy - one unit per site. There were a few who brought a camping trailer while a partner brought the boat. The sites were large enough, but they paid extra for the privilege. It was my goal to get some use out of my kayak. I tow it around all the time, but never seen to get it in the water enough. Lake Monroe on the weekend with all the high speed boaters on the lake turned out to be a different kind paddling than cruising through the bayou in Mississippi last winter. Just remember to turn into the wakes at 90 degrees rather than be swamped. Of course, I always wear my PFD (life jacket).

Vista overlook of Lake Monroe from the road down to the boat ramp and swimming beach.
After setting up camp, I thought I’d take a little drive to look around, find the boat ramp, the beach and anything else I might like to enjoy during my originally planned 14-day stay. There was just one main road with off-shoots to toward the forest where other camping sites could be located. One the way around, I found this vista toward the lake. It was all set-up for an extended stay for contemplation. Each time I passed the spot, I was compelled to look - even when I tried not to.

Only a little farther down was a road off to the left. Although there was a signpost, I passed right by it twice before I spotted it. It was the sign directing visitors to the beach. I drove slowly down the long, winding road hoping that the beach was somewhere near. Since this was the only road, I didn’t get lost. At the end of the trail, I found it. For a lakefront beach, it was well laid out and convenient for beach-goers, although the sand was hot and coarse. The water was almost warm, but cool enough to be refreshing. After all, it was summertime.

The beach area - wave breakers for a peaceful swim.
I didn’t stay long as I had more exploring to do before I got out the grill and burnt some meat for supper. I had to find the boat ramp and see what challenges awaited me and my kayak adventure plans. The steps lead down to the beach area and out in the water are the breakers that squelch the waves from passing pleasure boats. Behind this view and to the left is the bath house/restroom building and showers. This is a state park and well thought out for maximum enjoyment.

Boat ramp and docking area at Hardin Ridge on Lake Monroe.
My next stop was to find the boat ramp and get the lay of the land. Like everything else, the ramp could accommodate two boats on the ramp, lots of parking in the lots and docks for loading equipment and people. It was pretty nice, but the parking lot was pretty far from the ramp.

I learned some things about using these wheels that weren't in the directions.
Fortunately, I had researched, read the literature and prepared for such a situation by buying this set of wheels that attached by straps so that they could make pulling the boat easier toward the ramp. I learned a thing or two about these, too.

The parking lot was a pretty far piece to carry the kayak, so the rollers worked out well.
First, they have to be attached nearer the center of the boat for balance and so that the straps don’t just slide right off the back rendering the device useless. Once I got it to the ramp, they had to be taken off and stowed somewhere. Fortunately, there was the well in the back of the kayak for that purpose. In retrospect, I might have been better off to off-load the boat at the ramp, park the car and come back to put the boat in the water. Live and learn. Each situation is different. Some boat docks and beaches are better to just put the nose of the boat in the water, sit down and do the butt-scooch boogie and slide into the water. I tried that method on my second and subsequent trips out into the lake, thereby saving the hassle of dealing with the wheelie thing.

This little unit is fun to have which collects data of your hike or kayak trip.
Finally, on my third trip out onto the lake at this camp, I remembered my BackTracker GPS unit, which tracks and gathers a lot of information about the trip - the route, altitude, temperature, mileage, average speed and barometric information. It’s an incredible device. So, the deal is that you connect this little thing to your computer and the provided software, which takes you to a website, create an account and upload the data. It retains the information and puts it altogether for you on a map that you can then, take a screenshot of and remember the day. Unfortunately, there was a glitch and I lost the data due to a very slow upload speed from a limited service campground router.

So anyway, I got back from my little two hour+ kayak tour of of Lake Monroe and tried to get my sea legs back. It truly IS a “thing” as it took about ten steps to walk normally. Time for a  “selfie”. Pretty sweaty, huh?

The sweaty selfie after my kayak paddling. Waterproof case for GPS.
I drove my car down to the dock to load my kayak onto the car rather than deal with the roller-thingy again. Back at camp, I decided to hit the showers provided by the furnished bath house. Plenty of hot water and a much needed luxury. It still didn’t stop the skeeters from finding me on the way back to my camper. Little boogers kept me from cooking out on the grill tonight. Leftovers in the microwave would work well enough. I was tired and a sink load of dishes wasn’t my idea of spending the evening when the crickets were singing so well outside.

With a little planning, camping can be almost as nice of a way to travel and enjoy life as anything else. The next night it rained - a huge thunderstorm. The thunder echoed off the lake and through the forest. Eventually, the power went out and stayed out for about six hours. I only have about six flashlights stationed around the camper, so I’m never far from at least one. The emergency light & rechargeable flashlight which is always plugged-in was already lit. I turned it off. It was after 1 am and I was tired. By morning, the forest fog was heavy, but the lights were on again. The young male cardinal was back on the branch outside my dinette window, challenging his reflection in the dark glass for dominance in his territory. Today, was the next day. You know, the day before tomorrow?


Sunday, January 8, 2017

Rock & Roll Hall of Fame ~ Cleveland, OH

Originally posted: March 12, 2009

It’s all set! I can’t wait, but I’ll have to wait. I don’t want to wait; I just have to. My vacation dates have been approved for Memorial Day weekend through the first weekend in June.

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Cleveland, OH
Destination? The Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame (seen here) along the banks of the Great Lake Erie. My friends already know me as an aging rocker (wannabe), so I’ll feel right at home with all this history from the music makers and artists I’ve listened to from the static-filled days of AM radio, from my 12” LP disc vinyl album collections (Monaural & Stereo), old 8-track tapes, cassette tapes and now CDs, DVDs and mp3s - all my life - all of it. Oh yeah, I have music video DVDs. I’ve converted all my music CDs to lossless .mp3 files on my computer hard drive and for use on my 32 gig. iPod Touch and iPod Classic media players. The latter, I'm using with my Boze Soundock II. Isn’t technology great?

My lifelong friend, Steve and I at the Rock Hall
Yes, friends, ... ol’ Jim is as old as Rock ‘n Roll itself. I was alive and musically aware when Alan Freed - Cleveland’s original “Moondog” himself - coined the phrase for a new style of African-American rhythm and blues known as “Rock and Roll”. Freed, himself, tells the audience that “Rock and roll is a river of music that has absorbed many streams: rhythm and blues, jazz, rag time, cowboy songs, country songs, folk songs. All have contributed to the big beat.”

Historical Marker dedicating the site of the Rock Hall along side of Lake Erie.
And what a big beat Rock and Roll has contributed to my heart and soul. I don’t think I want to go to Heaven if it’s all harp and flute music. As soothing and sweet as it would be, it just doesn’t JAM - doesn’t move my feet with a funky beat the way James Brown music does. What would an R&B love song be today without the influences of The Temptations? With all the great musicians that have come into THIS world, left their mark of genius and gone to the great beyond, God knows there must be a helluva Rock and Roll band up there somewhere! (Somebody oughta write a song ... They did! The Righteous Brothers “Rock and Roll Heaven”) Just as Big Band, Early Blues, Early Jazz and all the Classical Composers like Mozart, Beethoven and Bach, to name only a few have left their mark on music and on history, so will Rock.

Art comes in many forms hanging in the Atrium of the Rock Hall.
My taste in music is very eclectic. There is plenty of room for the Classics, Big Band, Reggae, Blues (as you already know), Jazz as well as the great male and female vocalists of our generation and my parents’ generation. Okay, I confess. I do like Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett as well as many others from “the old days”. Keep in mind that MY old days are different than your old days. (It’s OK to laugh now.) I spent half my senior year of high school working at a record store.

Artistic guitar display inside the lobby at Rock Hall.
I’ll give you an example of how I get time confused. One day, I saw Micah (you already know Micah from my at work video ) wearing a Pink Floyd Concert t-shirt from 1973. I said, “Cool shirt, Micah. Did you go to that concert?” Of course he looked at me like I was from another planet when he said in a simply matter of fact tone of voice, “I was born in 1986.” We both laughed at that. Just goes to show you that Rock & Roll is multi-generational and lots of younger kids really dig so-called, “Classic Rock”.

I didn't see it happen, but the Hot Dog opens and lights up somehow.
Of course, the Rock Hall of Fame is a museum. Old people like me love museums because they contain artifacts that - like history itself - are older than we are. It makes us feel young again. To me, all Rock ‘n Roll is contemporary music. It’s a voice of my generation. Through our generation’s music we danced, lusted, protested, loved and just plain rocked!

One thing I’m definitely going to miss about my visit is - no photography is allowed anywhere inside the building except the lobby. Damn! (I’ll see if I can sneak out with some shots before they throw me out! Will let you know how that goes.)

This is the lovely, "Jill", who assisted us with our 2009 Rock Hall Membership goodies.
In the meantime, I’ll flatly and off-key sing-a-long with the music lyrics I know and make-up words for the rest.  I’ll still use a broom, a stick or anything I can find to play my “air guitar” when I get “all wound-up”. I’ll still rhythmically flail my fists in a strong downward motion when I play “air drums” and move my feet to the funky beat because I just can’t fight the feeling to move some part of my body with the rhythm of the music. I don’t guarantee that it will be “pretty”. LOL I can’t imagine life without music and I can’t wait to see the artifacts that have made my favorite music possible. Of course, the real truth of music is about the musicians who played it. The Rock Hall of Fame honors that truth.

Of course, the trip wouldn't be complete without at least a beer (or two) at the Hard Rock Cafe. We decided to add a steak dinner to the bill. Expensive, but damned good.

Thanks to Steve's son, Stephen, who took this picture for us. Steaks are on the way.
By the way, buying a membership in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum has it's privileges.
Invest in one and get the "royal treatment".


Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Beech Fork State Park, WV

The beginning of my Great Retirement Escape to See America Plan began three years ago in September. At that time, I had no Grand Plan to see everything in America, but rather decided to take each year at a time and visit the places I wanted to see. I admit, it's not a perfect plan, but RV travel plans should remain flexible to account for weather, gas prices and what other places I wanted to visit at certain times. Take for example, last year's trip to San Antonio, Texas - was planned to coincide with the 180th Anniversary of the Battle at the Alamo. Before that was the 200th Anniversary of the Battle of New Orleans and I took the River Boat down to the battle ground. I must say, it was pretty cool to be there at that time and learn from costumed re-enactors.

This year - my third year of retirement travels - will be my gather kayaking experiences while adding photos and videos as well as seeing some more of America's more popular beaches. While living all my life in land-locked areas of the Midwest, I've often longed to visit the ocean. My enlistment in the Marines back in 1970 sent me to San Diego and later the beaches of Camp Pendleton and vicinity. I learned one thing - I absolutely loved the beach. So, this year will be a "Beach Tour". Beginning this trip from Indianapolis, Indiana, I traveled southeast through Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia to my first stop along this year's travel trail - Beech Fork State Park on Beech Fork Lake.

As always, a view of camp in the Old Orchard section of Beech Fork State Park.
There are four separate campgrounds here, but the Old Orchard is the only one of them that has full hookups. The others are electric only, but the sites are larger and offer a more scenic view of the lake. Next time I visit here, I'll take one of those sites. I'm sure the night time skies will be much more illuminating without the light pollution from other campers packed closely together as seen here. I think I'd like to camp here next time.

I liked this one as an alternate site for the next time I visit here.
This is a nicely established campground and well maintained by host-campers and park staff. Each of the bathhouses are cleaned and disinfected regularly. I took an afternoon and hiked the Overlook Trail up the mountain and back around. It was a modestly difficult trail through the woods. There was one overlook where a park bench was established to capture the view and rest awhile. All that was missing was a sign that said, "Kodak Picture Spot". Remember those at theme parks?

View of the swimming pool from the Overlook Trail park bench.
Of course the pool was closed following the Labor Day weekend and as of November 1st, all the other campgrounds will be closed except Old Orchard Camp. This is the nicest state park I've visited in West Virginia.

As I usually do, I like to take little side trips - aside from grocery restocking or propane refilling. One of particular interest was a "restaurant" I saw in a Food Network or Travel Network cable TV program - The Hillbilly Hot-Dog stand. If I hadn't seen the sign, I would have thought it was an antique shop or junkyard.

Perpetuating the myths about Appalachian people, they sell hot dogs among all this junk.
After sampling their food, here is my review. "If you want a perfectly ordinary and expensive, deep-fat fried hot-dog with your choice of customary and/or obnoxious topping combinations eaten within a rusty, hollowed-out old school bus "restaurant" filled with rusty junk and black marker autographs of every person who ever visited there, served at the counter and wrapped in thin aluminum foil by a friendly person, then this place is for you." So, okay, they got my money once, but never again.

Aah, come-on. Who hasn't done this?
I had two regular hot-dogs, but the one shown above is called the "Original Homewrecker". It's a 15" weenie with 2-pounds of toppings for $19.99. The challenge is, if you can eat one in under 12-minutes, you get a t-shirt and the hot-dog is free. Good Luck.

Yesterday, staying on mission for this tour, I took advantage of an 81-degree afternoon - possibly the last of the season - and got my kayak out on the water of Beech Fork Lake. The day was absolutely beautiful for an autumn day. This season has been fairly dry, so the leaves weren't as colorful as they might have been, but rather they just browned and dropped into the breezes of October.

Earlier in the summer, I worked to install Scotty fishing pole mountings on my kayak, but I don't fish. I wanted them as camera mounts. I made a 42" flagpole for the aft deck and installed my flag and added a screw-mount on top for my Drift HD Ghost action camera. I also installed a second flush mounted Scotty fixture at the front of the kayak cockpit and purchased a Scotty camera/compass mount to afix my Kodak SP-1 waterproof action camera.

Scotty flagpole (fishing pole mount) on the aft deck of my kayak. The gold cap can be replaced by a camera mount.
When I got back to camp, I had two hours worth of video from each camera of today's trip. I can relive the entire trip on DVD format disc with (perhaps) a musical soundtrack. Hey, a retired guy can't have enough hobbies. Besides, sometimes it rains - like today - a good day to edit videos, burn DVDs and, oh, yeah, post travel blogs.

Slowly and quietly, I cruised toward this flock of Canadian Geese without disturbing their peace.
I wanted to get this video uploaded while I still have decent Wi-Fi - a rare thing when I'm out on the road. I was surprised that a WV State Park even offered free Wi-Fi included in their fees.  So, here is a one-minute video of my two+ hours out on Beech Fork Lake in southern West Virginia. After a few hours on the lake, I'm a little worn out and a touch sore in the shoulders. Another reason for shooting selfie-videos - to examine my paddling form for improvement. The better to enjoy longer periods on the water and seeing more of the sights of this great land of ours. Is this a great country or what?


I've been enjoying my visit here, so other postings will have to wait until the fun is over, but before I go on the road again - which is November 7th - next Monday. I've got to move on. I have the traveling itch and it's time to go. As I leave, I leave nothing behind and take only photographs.


Monday, October 31, 2016

Halloween: Witches of Salem, Mass.

Originally posted: October 29, 2007

The brochure said, Ambassadair Travel Club presents, “Haunted Happenings in Salem Massachusetts 1997” - Flight #6953.  When? Why on Halloween, of course. Well, it wasn’t actually ON Halloween; it was October 28th, but just as much fun for all of us. We had a great time; educational too.  There’s something special about visiting places with true historical significance.

In the years 1692-93, the Puritans, under the leadership of their Reverend Samuel Parris, arrested and imprisoned over 150 people accused of the capital crime of practicing witchcraft, convicted 29 and  hanged 19 (14 women & 5 men). One man failed to enter a plea and was laid under a door and rocks were placed on top of him; magistrates hoped to force a confession which never came before the man was crushed to death. As bad as the witch trials were in Salem, it was far worse in Europe. Of course, Salem was naturally a small colonial community, though. For the whole story >>CLICK HERE<<.

It was a very early check-in for me anyway, 5:45 am and there to greet us with coffee, juice and donuts was TV Celebrity “Sammy Terry”. He told us on the plane ride that he derived his character name from the word, “cemetery”.  (Say it sloooowly.)  I have a photo of Sammy and me in my Multiply photo album.

The Original WTTV-Channel 4 Show Host "Sammy Terry".
Sammy Terry was our favorite Friday night (Fright night) host on Indianapolis’ first Independent TV station, WTTV Channel 4.  With a haunting voice, spoken through a howling wind sound effect, we were greeted, “Good Even-ing”.  His studio was decorated as a dingy dungeon with cobwebs and a big rubber spider hanging from the ceiling on black thread named, George. He’d introduce the scary movie of the night and tell corny jokes in the intermissions and we all got a kick out of it. He used to sign-off his TV program with the words, “Pleasant nightmares” and then laugh an evil sounding laugh. We never missed his show.

Flying over Boston Harbor to land at Logan Airport.
We were due to arrive in Boston by 10:00 am and traveled to Salem by pre-arranged bus service. It was all very nice these travel club trips; the transportation was all included. When we arrived in Salem, we were told to meet right back here no later than 9:00 pm for the bus ride and plane trip home. Not there, you’ll have to make other arrangements.  They have to say that because someone is ALWAYS ‘special’ - like the two hour delay from Reagan National in Washington, D.C. the year before because somebody missed the bus and the head count.

Blackbeard the Pirate and his treasure cove at Pirates Museum in Salem, Mass.
We off-loaded the buses; cameras, purses, empty souvenir bags and jackets in hand we took off for the nearest tourist trap we could find. There were lots of them to consider.  Our first stop was the Pirates Museum. Yeah, me either - I didn’t know there were pirates in Boston harbor, did you?  We discovered the history of legal piracy sanctioned by the British government and that each pirate had his own style of skull and crossed-bones, skull and crossed sabers pirate flag.  We got a feel for the times with vignettes of scenes of the taverns, the quarters aboard ship and many other quaint pirate things. There was even a walk-through tour to locate Blackbeard’s treasure with spooky sound effects and pop-up skeletons.

Courtyard view from the courtyard of the Hawthorne's House of Seven Gables.
We soon found our way to the House of Seven Gables of the Nathaniel Hawthorne book. It’s a real place!  We got the big tour and even walked through the hidden stairway behind the fireplace, into the attic and back down.  There was no insulation up there anywhere that I could see.  The rooms of this big house were very small by today’s standards and sparsely but adequately furnished. It felt cramped because the ceilings were only 7 to 7 1/2 feet tall. This saved lumber and was less cubic foot space to keep heated by the seven fireplaces. I took a photo of the chimney, but didn’t include it here.

We toured the candy shop which still makes the simple rock sugar candy from 300 years ago - same recipe.  We bought some and some chocolates, too.

Oldest Cemetery in Salem, Mass. included some Mayflower passengers and the Victims of the Salem Witch Trials.
By now, it was early afternoon and we walked toward town following our tour map and tried to decide what to visit and see next.  We visited the cemetery - believed to be the oldest in New England anyway.  I don’t know if they had a cemetery in 1620 Jamestown. The old tombstones were very thin and written in Elizabethan Era English. The syntax was a bit jumbled by modern standards, but understandable. They used to put the deceased person’s lineage on each tombstone - who was their father and who were their sons; no daughters names. I thought that was interesting.

One of several Salem Witch Museums. Inside are vignettes depicting the trials and many artifacts.
We visited several Witch Museums of various titles.  All of which had the same story of the 1692 trials told in various ways.  The most notable was the Salem Witches Museum. We visited the others, but this one was the best one.  Inside was yet another story telling of the famous witch trials. In a large room were a dozen scenic vignettes depicting the story of the Pilgrims progress and flight from persecution in Europe, the trip aboard the Mayflower and the background story leading up to and including the infamous trials. There was no flash photography allowed, so I used high speed film and carefully squeezed the shutter button, holding the camera very still in order to get the shot. I wasn’t always successful as the crowd of people in the room was constantly moving and bumping.

Vignette depicting Witch hanging.
They all had gift shops and every “witchy thing” you could imagine. We thought it was enough that I would be spending an additional $100 on film processing when I got back home instead of buying souvenirs. How many coffee mugs and t-shirts do you really need?  LOL Besides, I shoot a lot of film. This pictures will last long after the t-shirt designs have faded in the wash.

It was about 8:30 pm as we finished our walking tour and window shopping, so we grabbed a bite to eat and gathered with the others by the bus stop waiting transportation for the plane ride home.  It was dark, the old fashioned street lights glowed over the dark red brick streets and sidewalks of this historic town.  We were tired, but excited at having been there, enjoyed the day and been a “witness” (of sorts) to history.  I love to travel but I love to go home too.

ARGH !! Pirate Jim visits Salem near Halloween.
I wish the travel club still existed, but it was absorbed and dismantled when some big conglomerate purchased controlling interest in American Trans Air Airlines. They were the only airline to travel non-stop from Indy to Florida or the Caribbean.  Everybody else stops in Atlanta - bar none.  There’s another ‘transition’ for you.


Sunday, August 28, 2016

Indy Greek-Fest 2015

My grandfather on my mother's side was Greek - Nickolas Harakas, actually from the "old country", but we never knew him. In fact, my mother never knew him, but of course, knew of him and the Greek side of the family.  Unfortunately, grandma was only married to him for about five years because he passed away at a very young age leaving my mother and grandmother with very little of the Greek family influences. Grandma eventually remarried the only father that mom ever knew and grandfather that we ever had - coincidentally, also an orphan named Herschel E. Greene. He was a great man, to all of us and the best crappie fisherman of all time, IMHO.

Growing up, I met the Greeks very few times, but I was aware that this family branch existed and took a small amount of pride in the fact that I was part "something" recognizable. To many Americans - 400 years since the Mayflower - bloodlines get mixed. In a way, very similar to mixed breed dogs like the Cocka-poo - part cocker spaniel and part poodle. Although we could never interview these lovable animals, we'll never know in which of their mixed breeds they took the most pride in being. Doggies are just happy to find a family that loves them. Aren't we all like that?

That being said, we were raised as the proud, flag-waving Americans that we were born to be. Of course, my grandmother knew she was born in Adair County, Kentucky - on Lawhorn Ridge - her family name. It was a migration destination of a group of Scots-Irish/English and probably Cherokee Indian somewhere along the line. My genetic father was never in the family picture, but my step-dad was and he was a great guy, too. We were a hodge-podge family with shallow roots, but we did our best to get along in life - absorbing the teachings of our forefathers - wherever they came from.

My mother's grandfather - Grandpa Harakas (Nick's father) was a member of the Indianapolis Greek Orthodox Church and when he passed away at the age 87, his funeral was held there at it's former location on North Pennsylvania Street. Greek life centers around their church and American Greeks are no different. In 2008, the church moved to a grand new facility in the Carmel area on Indy's north side. When I used the word 'grand', it was surely an understatement. After all these years of wanting to attend the annual GreekFest celebration, last year I finally made it there. I went all three days of that weekend. Sadly, I didn't get to go this year because it rained so much.

There was a huge crowd to visit this spectacular church grounds at GreekFest 2015.
It is not my intention here to explain the differences between Greek Orthodox and the Roman Catholic branches of Christianity, but there are many. . To satisfy your intellectual curiosity, you are welcome to investigate the "Great Schism of 1054".  Let's just say, from what I've been told is that Greek (Eastern) Orthodox is the closest thing to "original" form of Christianity from it's very foundation in the First Century A.D. and worship services are performed in Greek as the Catholics did in Latin.

I arrived early to GreekFest and got a great parking spot. Admission is free, but you do pay for parking your car in the field behind the church. Before the evening was done, there still would not be enough parking spaces unless someone decided to leave. This event has been going on for decades and is a multi-cultural event in that all kinds of people - from various ethnic and religious backgrounds attend to sample the Greek culture in dance, music and, of course, great-smelling food.

Greek Warrior and ol' Jim.
This Greek warrior was guarding the gates to the food court where the perfume of grilled meats, pita bread, "Loukoumandes" Greek donut holes made with honey and walnuts -  and other delicious foods. The music was pre-recorded, but an authentic band of Greek musicians were coming in from Chicago to play for us later tonight. Of course, there will be dancing, colorful costumes and lots of people.

This Greek musician was puzzled why I took so many pictures - just so I could get this one.
Of course, with music comes dancing. The church does a lot to further the Greek culture to their American-born people. Of course, along with Greek language skills, there are the dancing, cooking and lifestyle influences. Make no mistake, these are Americans first - Greek by blood and they're proud of both.

Just a hint of the attendance at this huge event as Junior High School-aged dancers begin their performance.
The next day, I talked to my daughter about coming out with me. I thought that since she was doing a family history research, it might be nice to add a little Greek color to her findings. She brought the girls, too. I enjoyed their company as I usually attend things on my own.

Daughter Jennifer, granddaughter Brittney & Zane, The Greek, Paige (high school freshman) and me.
The girls came out on Sunday, but by then almost all the food had been sold out. We wandered the grounds, watched some dancing and of course, they did some shopping. There was plenty of pre-recorded music going, until the band came back at 1:00 pm. I bought a Greek warrior t-shirt for my brother that said, "You can always tell a Greek, but you can't tell him much." That pretty much sums up my brother, Dave. The girls bought a little waist sash. Later, they would model for me. They have fun wherever they go.

As cute as they are in their new "jingle sashes" I wonder if they ever wore them again.
The Greek youngsters performed for the crowd including these two cuties. They were so sweet. I had to get a picture while they waited for the rest of their dance class and for the music to begin.

The dancing started with the younger age groups and progressed to the high school students, who clearly had the most training and the more difficult dances to perform. This girl was a regular spark plug for her class. She also had the world's brightest smile. You know she was having a good time.

I really liked all the performances of the dancers. Later, the adults would dance, but they just wore their street clothes, but had just as much fun. Combined with huge multiple tents of diners there was still a standing room only crowd for the dance performances - all day long.

I took a tour of the church which wasn't much of a tour - just a visit to the large, circular sanctuary - but was accompanied by the priest who explained about the arrangement of the church and the many, many frescoes on the ceiling and walls of the church. These are very expensive to produce as they must be done by artists who paint other Greek Orthodox churches all around the world. The are called iconography and visually tell the stories of the Holy Bible and New Testament - the Greek versions. They are done in the same Byzantine-style as the early paintings so that any visitor to any Greek Orthodox church will recognized them.

Of course, this is Christ surrounded by the saints at the very top of the building looking down on us all.
As I was raised Protestant, this practice was very different to me, but I found just being in this church - even with a mixed crowd of believers of other faiths - very moving, inspiring and reverent. The idea of being in church is to be in a place which brings your soul closer to God. I could definitely feel it here. I bought a candle and said a prayer for a very ill friend back in West Virginia. The customary belief is that your prayer will continue to repeat itself over and over as the candle burns down in the hope that something good will come of it - fostering the faith that it will.

As I am primarily a still photo shooter, I had nearly forgotten that I had my Kodak Pocket Video camera with me. It does a so much better job than any cell phone camera - especially in low light situations. I wanted to get some video of the high school class and their dancing with the Greek music. It seemed like each song of Greek music has a different dance associated with it. I could not confirm this, but I thought this dance was particularly complicated. I have two left feet anyway - especially for this kind of fun. I shot this video and I'm glad I did.


In 2008, I went to another Greek Food Festival in Clarksburg, West Virginia and shot other video of some of the Grecian Odyssey Dancers out of Pittsburgh. I thought this dance was interesting.


I'll leave you with a shot of the first time I tried to learn Greek dancing. The woman to my right surely had sore ankles following my attempt. I usually kicked when I should have stepped and stepped instead of kick. Awkward - even for someone only partially Greek, like me.

Jim tries Greek Dancing at St. Spyridon Greek Orthodox Church - Greek Food Festival in 2008.
It was very awkward for me, but I vow to try it again, sometime. For now, it's time for a Gyro and fries ... I wonder if the Greek restaurant down the road is open today. I think they probably take Sundays off. I'll go tomorrow.


Thursday, August 25, 2016

Retirement Travels - Year Two

The Winter Travel Season of 2015-16 was, by-far, more extensive, ambitious and a whole lot more fun. Why? Why not? Gas prices were low and campground fees in some areas had not risen as high as other places. It pays to shop around - as always. Over the course of the season, I traveled 4447.9 miles, driving 82.7 hours total and spending $956.29 in gasoline expense. Of course, these are the estimates provided in the Good Sam online software.

Those actual gasoline expenses weren't tallied, but they are accounted for in my budgeting software. The estimates also don't include the two trailer tires and two engine oil changes along the way. I'm good-to-go now, though.

My itinerary was the main reason I had such a great season. I planned to spend Christmas in New Orleans and New Years in south Texas, but I frequently change plans -- just because I can. I did get to spend the 180th Anniversary of the Battle of the Alamo in San Antonio, Texas. That was a thrill as well as a time of reverence and remembrance of those brave men and women who taught us the value of freedom from political tyranny by the price they paid. A visit there should be on everyone's list of places to appreciate up close.

As a Good Sam member, I have use of their online Trip Planner service - finding camps along the way.
I've noticed a sharp increase in those camp fees since so many Baby Boomers decided to retire and take to the roads. And here I thought is was just my idea. I should have known I got it from somewhere else. Even the state parks have raised their fees.

In all fairness to state parks, they do give campers fair value if you want the wild forest and as-real-as-you-can-get experience of camping from an RV perspective, but the comfort of a water and sewer hookup at your site are usually non-existent, but clean, potable water is available at many convenient sources throughout the parks. Most include a picnic table and fireplace ring, which is also enhances the woodland experience. The beauties, wonder and experience of nature are their hallmark features - a quiet respite for travelers. Sites are spaced well-apart for enhanced privacy, too. As a rule, only a maximum 14-day reservation is allowed, however.

National Parks have also, but thanks to the Senior Pass (a lifetime pass), those fees are half-price for us old folks. Since most of these are out West, it takes more gas to get there, so it evens out. The experiences there are about the same as state parks but they offer much more in the way of hiking, biking, kayaking and assistance from Park Rangers and their assistants. At state parks, you hardly see a Ranger, that I've noticed.

In Arkansas, I even self-served my stay at a machine in the lobby of the old Ranger Station. I pulled into the most convenient available site, memorized the site number, went to the office and input the information and my credit card. The machine spit out a ticket listing the day of my check-out, which had to be clipped to the post beside my site. That was interesting.

On this trip, I also got the opportunity to put my newly delivered kayak in the ocean waters off the Gulf Coast of Mississippi. On my very first trip out, I saw a dorsal fin rise about the water surface and freaked out at the possibility of a shark feasting off-shore, but it turned out to be a friendly dolphin. That was cool.

In my month-long stay on Galveston Island, I took advantage of their version of Mardi Gras. The park rangers in New Orleans suggested that Mardi Gras in New Orleans might be too crazy for novice travelers, so we continued on our journey. I was totally unaware of the celebration in Galveston.

Okay, so, that's a little highlight reel for now, but rest assured that I'll be back with scenes and adventures from each park I visited and the sights along the way. I may, also, have some video to put up. I wish I had my video camera set-up so I could show you the dophin I saw and the alligators I didn't see on another kayak trip through the bayou in Mississippi.

So, I'll leave you with a satellite map of my trip - also an option on the Good Sam website. Enjoy your day and get yourself out there! Life is getting shorter every day. Nobody knows that better than an older person. That's my advice to you - take it or leave it, but enjoy yourself.

Cool, huh?
Check back with us later.


Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Flashback ~ My First Airplane

Originally posted: March 21, 2009

Try as I might, I couldn’t find it. Apparently, they are no longer available. Again asking Google to search for me - I went looking for a photo of my first airplane. This is a photo of the real thing so that you’ll get the idea of what a Piper Cub looks like.

Google searched for Piper Cub - models, tether controlled toy airplanes, gasoline toy models airplanes and several other subjects. The search “antique toy airplanes” didn’t get any good hits either - for those of you laughing at this old timer, here. I guess model airplanes today are all radio-controlled for more realistic flight. At this point in my history, the transistor radio has yet to make an appearance on the market.

Continuing on with my subject of my personal interest in flight, airplanes, air shows and the wild blue yonder, I began to think back about my youthful cloud-busting days. You know of the phenomenon; laying down, face up in the grassy yard looking up at the clouds in the sky and searching for faces in their formations on a lazy, warm sunny day and breaking them apart just by thinking about it. As a kid, some days were just like that. Pulling up a tall foxtail and nipping at the sweet end, I thought I saw George Washington once. The wind was pushing the clouds slowly to the East. It was going to be a nice day.

My friend, Ralphie came down to my house and brought some of his comic books and I went inside to get a few of mine too. Between us, we had our own lending library. He’d always have some that I didn’t have and visa versa; we’d trade. Sometimes the advertising on the back covers were funnier than the comic books themselves. The one featuring the strong man, Alan Atlas, who said big kids used to kick sand in his face on the beach until he began to work-out with weights and got big, strong muscles. The cool babes in bikinis hanging on his arms really killed me. In our neighborhood, we’d just a) let it ride (usually not) or b) jump up and fight back.

There was one full-page, color ad that really got my attention. It was loaded with small pictures of toys and other “prizes” that we could win for FREE. That’s right, FREE boys and girls, and all we had to do was sell 25 boxes of greeting cards to get - absolutely free - a gasoline-powered, tether controlled, ready to fly, bright yellow Piper Cub - an airplane! Cool!

Rolling over onto my back from the prone comic book reading position, I looked at the photo of the Piper Cub and looked up at the billowing Cumulus clouds and began to dream aloud with my friend Ralphie. How cool it would be to have a gasoline powered model airplane and see it flying in the clouds. I wonder what our house would look like from up there? Yeah, but how hard would it be to sell these greeting cards? The ad said it would be really easy and when people see them, they’ll sell themselves. All we have to do is show them to people.

Of course, you’ll want the short version of this story here. After repeated talks with mom, she eventually said it was up to me to sell these cards - not her - and that I could have any “prize” I wanted. I cut-out the little form at the bottom of my comic book cover, filled it in and mom mailed it for me.

In no time at all, I received a large box - addressed personally to me - which contained about 24 boxes of greeting cards - Christmas card assortments and all-occasion assortments. Some were pretty nice, but some weren’t. I just know they weren’t “Hallmark”.  Now, how do I sell these? What do I say? Where should I go to sell them? What do I do now?? I was in the Fifth Grade, my thinking was one step at a time. I definitely hadn’t thought that far ahead.

So, I pulled my Radio Flyer wagon containing the big box of greeting cards around the neighborhood to each house. Taking one box of each assortment, I nervously approached each house in the neighborhood. When the lady of the house answered, I asked, “Would you like to buy some greeting cards? I have two assortments.”  In response, I would then hear the not-so-magic word, “No or No, thank-you.” Then, I walked-on to the next house where I repeated the procedure over and over and over and over again.

After a whole day of “noes”, I went home, stashed the box of greeting cards in a corner of my bedroom and lay down on the bed. I don’t remember ever hearing the magic word, “Yes”.  I tried one more time in a different neighborhood, but quit after a half-day of no sales and a threat of rain on my little red wagon and the box of yet-to-be-sold greeting cards.

Mom eventually sent the box back to the company and explained in a letter that no sales were made. I was doubly devastated at not selling any greeting cards and not getting my free prize of a gasoline powered, tether controlled, flying Piper Cub airplane. It would be my last attempt at a sales career for many years.

That winter, my greatest Christmas surprise was - can you guess? (I love you, mom.) Was a brand new, gasoline powered, tether controlled, bright yellow, ready to fly, Piper Cub with a 15” wing span with a Cox .049 Babe Bee engine. “Wow! Thanks, mom!” How cool! I couldn’t wait to show it to Ralphie and get it in the air. I would have to wait. There was eight inches of  snow on the ground.

It would be a few more months to wait since this was a Summer toy. It would be after that, too, because I also needed a starting kit - fuel and a 6-volt battery to power the glow plug (“Whatever that is”, I thought), until the engine starts. I would also need a ground crew person to hold the plane on the ground until I could get back to the outstretched string and matching yellow plastic tether controller. Who could I get for ground crew without letting them fly my plane. I didn’t want just anybody flying it. They might crash it.

I wanted to try and fly it without engine power - just by slinging it around and pulling the tether strings back and forth to make the plane climb or dive. Sure, it worked, but not very well and I got dizzy very quickly, twirling in one place so fast. When the engine is running, you don’t have to twirl so fast to make it fly as the propeller does all the work. Lots more fun, too.

I would later trade that hobby - because my Piper Cub crashed one too many times (pilot error and wind shear) - for the hobby of making balsa wood and paper airplanes due to the influence of my Sixth Grade teacher, Mr. Ayres. Over the next school year, I built a Fokker D-7, a Spad, a French Newport 27, a P-51 Mustang, a P-40 Warhawk - because of the cool tiger teeth - and a few others. Those stories, I’ll save for another time.

It now seems like another lifetime ago, but I’ve sat, at the controls and flying in the “left seat” of a Piper Cherokee back in the mid-1970’s and I loved it there. I didn’t realize it then, but it would be the flight of a lifetime. In later years, I would compare that experience to being merely a passenger on a commercial flight. It is just no where near the same exciting experience.

Keep looking UP!


Flashback: Summer of 1976

Originally posted: October 20th 2013

After a few days backpacking 44 miles of the Appalachian Trail over four days.
Oh, yeah. That’s me, camera strap around my neck, talking and about to enjoy a piece of beef jerky along the woodland trail in the Great Smokey Mountains. It was about four or five months after my Marine Corps enlistment was up. My friend, G. David Yaros, attorney at law and former Marine Corps truck driver and maintenance mechanic in the Motor Transport division of our Communications Company invited me to hike the Appalachian Trail with him and another friend of his.

This was the year of America’s Bi-Centennial and special events were going on all around the nation. I’m sure some of you might remember. As I was also into bicycling, I thought I might join “Bike-Centennial” and bicycle/camp from the west coast to the east coast. Of course, family and work obligations took their rightful place on my personal priority list. I’m sure, that trip would have killed me anyway, thinking back.

Instead, I told Dave, “Hell, yeah, I’ll go!” Arrangements and coordination of things to bring, where his house was in Cincinnati and so forth. I drove from Indy’s south side to Cincinnati, Ohio, found his house and brought my stuff inside. We had a long chat, stayed up very late, but not too late while we packed-up our stuff into a large, lightweight backpack. Everything we were taking with us would be in that pack. Nothing else. Obviously, weight would be a major concern.

I listened and paid attention as he wrapped a few aspirin into little pieces of aluminum foil, two small boxes of wooden matches were done likewise. He made sure all the food I brought was either instant or freeze-dried and that we had plenty of “gorp”. Gorp? Basically, what we today call “trail-mix” of nuts, dehydrated berries and banana chips, raisins and so forth.

All the air that could be squeezed out of my clothes, was and them packed strategically inside the large, orange nylon backpack and frame. The ground cloth, pad and blanket would be rolled up and put near the bottom and near my waist when I put the heavy pack on my back. I adjusted the straps to raise the whole thing to carry it higher (rather than lower) on my shoulders to make it easier to bear. Dave said, “You’ll appreciate that more as we go along.”

Packed and ready to load-out the next day, I spent the night in his spare bedroom and slept very well. I would need the rest. We arose early the next day, showered up well as this would be the last one for about four or five days unless it rained. Just the three of us, our creature comforts in gear and Mother Nature. I hid some roll-on deodorant in my pack. Maybe Mother Nature wouldn’t care, but I did.
After consuming a wonderful and filling breakfast made by Dave’s wife, Alma, we met his other friend and we loaded all our stuff into the back of his orange Ford Pinto. (Hey, it was the mid-70’s.) What we couldn’t fit in, we tied to the top. After all, there were the three of us and our gear in that Pinto. The word “full” takes on a new meaning to how we were stuffed into that car as we took off for the Tennessee Mountains.

At the ranger station at the Great Smokey Mountains National Park, we set-up our hiking route, established and reserved our campsites (so our trail solitude would go unencumbered), and paid our fees. With that and no further reason to delay, we headed toward the trail head where we would begin our mountain trek. Our plan was 10-11 miles per day. As we neared the end of our hike, perhaps that goal might have been too ambitious.

Blisters - oh, yeah..... More than one.
Of course, I was wearing my well broken-in combat boots with a pair of tennies in the pack.

Unpacking our stuff from Dave’s Pinto, there wasn’t much else to do, but do it. Do it we did.
Through some awesome scenery, steep inclines where we missed the trail, over and through creeks and river tributaries we changed our boots for the tennies and forded those streams. Dave asked me to tie his boots on the outside of his pack for him as he put on his other shoes. I did the best I could, but something happened. As he got about half way across, he slipped on a mossy rock and nearly fell. As he caught himself, his boots came loose and nearly knocked him out. It was my fault. As I laughed, I took the picture, but sadly, those photos are lost now.

Lost photos, that’s another story.

We drank the available water along the trail and boiled it for mixing with our food. As we all had different strides, we hardly traveled together, but rather made it a personal pilgrimage of our own discovery meeting-up at day’s end. That last day, my knees were shot and I had to crawl into camp. I remember that vividly. I had pushed myself too hard and the extra weight of the pack, the steepness - up and down - the trail had taken it’s toll over the past few days.

We spent our last night in the forest around a nice campfire, relating our own experiences along the trail and making plans for when we get back. I think “Hot Shower” was item number one on everyone’s list, followed by a sit-down in real chairs steak dinner.

It was quiet along the ride home. Dave drove the entire way back. Then, we separated from there. It was a great trip and experience. I wish I had those photos.

No real story here other than relating an experience. Perhaps this experience is why I still enjoy camping as I do rather than in an expensive RV or travel trailer. Simple is better sometimes. I guess I might have learned that from my grandfather, but that is another story for another time.

Update: It's funny to see these photos now - long since hidden in my journal writing software. Looking back this far, it's hard to imagine I was ever this young.