Creating Life at the Villa Coro di Rane

This blog is about being in the moment - creating life one instant at a time, whether in the flesh or on paper.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Day 4: Abilene, TX to Deming, NM


Driving through Texas now. Big wind farms on both sides of the road and in all directions. Cows grazing in some areas, and in other areas, the remnants of cotton plants. Lots of them, so much that the fields look snow-covered. Some of the windmills are close to the road and you can see just how enormous they are. In the distance, passing trains at least a mile long and loaded 2-up with containers, make a picture of conservation and energy efficiency, while old technology oil pumps that dot the foreground provide a touch of irony.

 Some of the pumps seem like onesy-twosies. Willem calculated how much you could make a day if you had only 1 small pump in your backyard.

I’m writing this while we’re driving, and we just ran over a big round clump of tumbleweed that literally did tumble from a field onto the highway. A few miles later we saw a coyote by the side of the road.

Starting to see lots of cactus plants now and the terrain looks more dry and dessert-like. The oil field scenery goes on for miles. We stopped in Pecos at a Subway. All the cars were covered with dust and mud and the patrons were mostly oil field workers, covered in the same dust and mud.

Every now and then there were whiffs of oil as we drove along and in one stretch, a big refinery. Smelled like the NJ Turnpike. Passed Midland, which is a pretty big town. But everything still seems mostly unfinished and in the process of being built. In fact, that’s actually what’s happening. Feels like a boom town along the whole strip.

As we approached the hill country the terrain changed again – into lovely low mountains. We checked the altitude and discovered that we were at 3900 ft. We reached 4600 ft before leaving TX.

The landscape changed again as we approached the El Paso metro area. Very cosmopolitan, lots of traffic, shi-shi stores. After a quick Starbucks stop (you have to take advantage of them when you find them!) we headed out for New Mexico.

Crossed into the state – our 7th so far on this trip – around 4:00. The mountains in New Mexico look different than the ones in TX. They’re higher, rugged, and have a little snow on top. I realized that we had actually been driving on a high plain since reaching the hill country of TX.

Final stop of the day was Deming. Only 250 mi from Tucson! We’ll be there by 12 or 1 on Monday.

Day 2: Gadsden, AL to Vicksburg, MS

Nice breakfast at the hotel the next morning. Only thing missing was good coffee. Headed afterwards to search for some! No Starbucks or local coffee shops nearby, so drove on. Found coffee in Tuscaloosa. Nice area around the university. Lots of development, good stores, but roads having trouble keeping up with the increased traffic.
Lunch just outside Jackson, around 4:00. Decided to stop for the night in Vicksburg, rather than going on to Louisiana. Turned on TV to hear that there was a tornado watch in the zone we had just driven through, all along Hiway 20. They were telling people to take cover right away!

Day 3: Vicksburg, MS to Abilene, TX

Left Vicksburg a little late, so opted to wait for coffee until we passed a Starbuck’s sign on the highway. Vicksburg is right on the LA border, and the Mississippi River is the divider. The state line is right in the middle of the river. Wonder what kind of arguments that has caused over the years!

Willem said the LA landscape reminded him of Holland – low, flat, and watery. Very watery, in fact, because we ran into rain about 20 miles inside LA.  Around that same time we passed through Monroe, a town you remember because of the stench. Found out later that the huge log lots are for a paper mill. Reminded me of the town in Kenya that was known more for its smell than for the beauty of the surrounding area.

We had been gloating about having just missed a tornado the day before, when the rain turned really nasty. We had it for about 3 hours, all the way through LA and a little bit of TX. We passed several pretty bad accidents, probably caused by cars going too fast and hydro-planing on the slick surface.  Speed limit was 70 throughout LA, and people didn’t slow down much for the weather.

We stopped for lunch in Canton, just before reaching Dallas. Dallas/Ft. Worth is huge. In fact, there are about 30 miles between the 2 municipalities. We passed through on Saturday about 4:00 and there were big traffic slow-downs leading into the major malls. Glad we weren’t going to them!

Found a hotel in Abilene, a Candlewood Suites, which is one of our favorites. Not much else happening there.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Day 1: On the Road Again

First stop Woodlawn, to drop off the boys. This is a great place and we felt good about leaving them there. The entrance is designed to look like a hotel, and everything is spotless.

The cat area is a spacious room with its own flat screen TV! The cages are very roomy and organized with separate cubbies if we wanted them to stay together, which we did. They each have their own sleeping space in the same cage and there is a rug on the floor.

They will be allowed out a couple of times a day to wander around in the room. Whenever there are other "guests", they will be let out at separate times.

Leaving Woodlawn, we headed for Knoxville. The previous blog said we would spend the night there, but that was incorrect. We breezed through, just stopping for a bite. Noticed lots of signs about Davy Crockett's birthplace along the way.

We were surprised to learn that Knoxville was settled in 1786. I didn't think we had gone that far west so early. It was the first state capital, but didn't really come unto its own until the railroad arrived in 1855. It was divided on secession during the civil war, and occupied at times by both union and confederacy.

We boarded the Chattanooga Choo Choo and kept going. The city is in a very pretty area, although we chuckled at what they called mountains. In spite of that, the rolling hills and the Tennessee River make a stunning backdrop.

Chattanooga was a major settlement of the Cherokee Nation, and also a major holding depot when, in 1838 the US government forced the Indians to relocate to Oklahoma. You may recall stories about the "Trail of Tears".

Just as in Knoxville, the railroad brought boom times to Chattanooga when it arrived in 1850. The city was famous for the Battle of Chickamauga, which the Confederates won in the Civil War, and the Battle of Missionary Ridge, which U.S. Grant helped the Union to win.

A huge flood in Chattanooga in the 30's was the main catalyst for the TVA.

We drove through a short slice of GA before entering Alabama. The Welcome Center at the state line was very nicely done, complete with porch rockers and a huge fireplace in the main room.

Starting here, we have been repeatedly surprised and delighted with everyone's friendliness. The staff at the Welcome Center were open and ready to chat (Guess who else wanted to chat. Before I knew it he was sitting in front of the fire in deep conversation with one of the state rangers.). They got us a reservation and great deal on a hotel, and recommended a lovely place for dinner. The hotel was just what we wanted. Plus, we stopped for gas later and asked for directions to the restaurant. It was a little complicated, so they said, "Follow us", and they led us all the way there - about 7 miles. The restaurant didn't disappoint. Yummy shrimp dinners.


Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Getting Ready to Roll

Tucson, here we come! Willem has the route planned out to take us through some places we haven't seen before. They are not exactly on my bucket list, but they are historically significant. We'll spend the first night in or near Knoxville, TN, then on to Chattanooga, Birmingham, Jackson, Dallas, Ciudad Juarez, and Tucson.


The packages are ready, the "sleigh" is loaded, and we are all set to start out on our journey.


The first stop will be Woodlawn, VA to drop "the boys" off at the Pet Resort. This will be the first time they have ever been boarded. The resort insists on giving all pets a bath on arrival. Good luck with that! These 20 lb. guys - Bruno and Vinnie, as Chris calls them - don't even like to be brushed, let alone bathed. I got an "anxiety reducing" pill for them from the vet, for their sake as well as that of the groomer.

We'll check back in tomorrow night after the first day. Ho! Ho! Ho!

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Back Again

Haven't been here in over a year. We're getting ready to take an epic road trip to Tucson for Christmas, so I thought I'd better fire up the blog so I can send posts of our trip.

Since I was here last, Willem and I got married. We have had a glorious 2013! We celebrated several first anniversaries: July 21, when we said our vows and committed ourselves to each other; October 28, when Willem completed his move to Pulaski; and December 12, when we made our marriage legal at the Christiansburg Courthouse on 12/12/12 at 12:12.

In addition to anniversaries it has been a year of “R’s”: Reunions, Renovations, Revitalization, Rhythm, and the Rest. “Reunions” is for the great trips we took as well as the visits we had at the Frog. In May we took our maiden voyage to Tucson to visit the Capps, who moved there last December. We spent a wonderful week with them, learning all about their new life (which they are enjoying) and catching up on Nicholas and Isabella hugs.

Emma, Steve, and Olivia came to visit us at the Frog in July, hoping to explore the beautiful Blue Ridge. Although a solid week of rain kept them mostly housebound, it also gave us time for some great game fun with “Sorry” and “Pictionary”.

Tara, Andy, and Teri had better luck when they came for Labor Day. The weather was beautiful and Tara and Chan took a long bike ride with a friend on the New River Trail. He still talks about her 7-ft. long legs.

October took us to San Antonio, TX for the wedding of Chan’s dear friend and college roommate. It was a quick trip, but wonderful to see everyone again.

A week later we were off again – this time on a road trip to Madison, WI, where we visited Willem’s 3 daughters and their families; and to Minneapolis, MN. to visit Bill & Lee Strang before they left for their winter digs in Tucson. We also had quick visits with Chan’s friends, Mary Easter and Jean Ann Durades; and Willem’s friend and former neighbor, LaCretia Bell.

Three days after our return from the road trip, we attended the annual auction fund raiser of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Blacksburg. This year the theme was high school prom, so we got to dress up. We really got into it, since we so seldom have a chance to wear our formal duds.

Closer to home, right before Thanksgiving we took a van tour of the New River Trail – the 57-mile state park trail that runs right behind our house. Chan had walked and biked several sections of the trail, but neither of us had experienced the whole distance. This tour, with our own private guide and naturalist, was special and we learned a lot about the history of the area. Learned some other things, too – like how to make squirrel gravy! This connection started when Willem emailed the park to clarify ownership of some fallen trees near the trail. As a result of that we were invited to join in a planning/marketing session for trail usage, and then to take the trail tour.

Since the children are all so far away, we decided to take a short trip down to Charleston for Thanksgiving. Mild weather, great seafood, charming city=lovely change of pace.

Renovation is for all the work that we did on the house. It’s never-ending, but this year Willem re-did the shower in the downstairs bath. The original design was unique, but impractical – and not water-proof! So Willem installed a proper shower surround and we added a few other cosmetic touches to increase overall functionality and appearance. Then, a leak in the sunroom led to a complete replacement of the roof and ceiling of that addition to the house. Unexpected, but an excellent improvement.

Revitalization is about landscaping work, another never-ending “R”. The grounds are beautifully planted, but quite a job to maintain. We hired landscapers to do a thorough weeding, bed-outlining, and mulching in the spring. Then we spent the summer keeping the ponds clean - which is why Willem is wearing waders in the second photo below -  and trying to keep the weeds from growing back. The guys returned this fall to cut everything back and re-mulch the beds. The plan is that with each succeeding season there will be less to do and it will be easier to maintain in the interim. That’s the plan!

Rhythm means the mighty Blues, which we have discovered are alive and well in this area. With our eyes always out for blues concerts or venues, we went to a couple of good blues festivals in the mountains.

Then we discovered a fantastic harmonica player and guitarist in a small town nearby. In talking about this, we learned that Chan’s yoga teacher is also a blues aficionado and budding “harp” player. He told us about a weekly blues “jam” in Christiansburg. And now he has started a monthly blues jam in Draper – 4 miles away. Good stuff. Top-notch musicians, and they are all local! Willem is going to be the winter MC. He - and he's going to have a great time with it and I'm sure the audience will love him.

All the Rest is everything we do in between as staff to our cats, Vanya and Vasya, and to make Pulaski home.

In addition to Draper, we now have another favorite place nearby for great ambience, with a good dinner and roaring fire to boot. It's also a micro-brewery, so lots to love.

In January we are expecting an addition to our family – a female Redbone Coonhound, born November 21, whom we will call Henny. She is on the right.

Come meet her and her feline brothers! We would welcome your visit.