Category Archives: Retirement

Migration Home – Third Stop Beaver Dam Campground Louisiana

 

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We left the Petrified Forest and continued our journey westward into Louisiana. I would have preferred to stay off the interstate but there is that great big river to cross and not a lot of bridges that reach that far so, interstate it was. The trip west was brief and uneventful. We stopped at a rest stop with internet and picked up our email, checked for disasters, made sure all was well with the family and then continued on to the National Forest’s Beaver Dam Campground.

We ended up even more cut off from the world than before because now the TV antenna did not pick up anything. I didn’t quite know what to do with myself so I went back to working on my novel. What a wonderful spot this campground was. Quiet, lovely small lake, almost every campsite empty. There were a few people around but most were overnighters who came in late and left early. The few who stayed over the two nights we were also stopped were fishermen. On one of our walks we went along the upper spillway and chatted with some locals who were fishing. They had pictures of big bass they caught before. They warned us about big gators at the other end of the levi. We walked a trail back to the campground, did a tick check and settled in for a quiet evening of writing.

We had a long discussion on the longer walk along one of the trails. Among the emails that were waiting to be picked up was a message from one of the campgrounds we had planned to stop in while visiting Utah.  They sent word that due to exceptionally heavy snow, they were opening late. We considered our option and eventually decided that were enjoying this slow pace of travel so much maybe we would just really slow down and  skip Utah this time. I looked longingly at our maps. Arkansas was packed full National Forest and Army Corp of Engineer campsites. We still had a month to go before we had to be back in Canada. We had driven through Arkansas once, and on a second trip, we stayed at Hot Springs and it had been so very nice. Arkansas was beautiful and spring was in full roar here. Why not do Arkansas instead of Utah? And so it was decided. Utah is the only state in the lower 48 we haven’t been to yet but we would leave it for another trip. We had two nights and full day in Beaver Dam Campground before making the decision to head north into Arkansas. Six night, three leisurely drives and four states. Not a bad pace at all.

Here is my review of the campground:

This is a National Forest campground. You enter Minden and then turn just before the main street stores and then take a long winding road through rural areas before arriving at the site. Much of the drive from Minden is through a very poor unkempt neighbourhood which was discouraging. Closer to the Park, poverty gives way to newer suburban development and hobby farms. The campground is not well marked. We saw one sign in the town of Minden and then nothing until we reached the National Forest so use your map or GPS to find your way in. We expect big lots and space between sites in this type of campground but this one is exceptionally so. Our paved site was so large that with our pick up and trailer still hitched (56’) we would have room for another entire truck in front of our rig. In addition to the very large wide drive there was a huge pad of fine gravel with an oversized picnic table. This campground could take the biggest rig I have seen. Each site had its own set of garbage cans. Half the sites are reserve and half are first come first served. The place was about one quarter full on the early spring weekday we arrived. We had a nice selection of sites. A local old timer proudly showed off pictures of a 9 pound 23 inch bass he caught at the base of the dam’s spillway. Firewood was not provided so if you must have a fire, be sure to stop in and buy some from the many places on the way in who are selling. The campground host was friendly and welcoming and proudly boasted about how this campsite won some sort of well deserved award for their super clean bathrooms. This campground is a good 20 miles from any store and you will not pass any stores after you get off the interstate unless you detour through Minden so stock up before you go in.

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Tate’s Hell State Forest

One of the things I meant to post about was our visit to Tate’s Hell State Forest. It’s a weird place that was once a dense swamp that got remade into a tree plantation. It lies between the Apalachicola and Ochlockonee rivers in the Florida panhandle. It got its name because a fellow named Cebe Tate got lost in the swamp for days in 1875 and when he finally found his way out he announced “”My name is Cebe Tate, and I just came from Hell.” That’s the legend of how the swamp got its name.

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The original swamp from hell was drained, flattened, and many roads and deep drainage ditches between by flat planted forest blocks result in a grid like set up which reminded me of the prairie more than anything else. Beyond the grid pattern there is little resemblance to the prairie. The combination of deep ditches and forest and open roads has changed the nature of the place from an inaccesible forbidding swamp like Okefenoke Swamp to a place you can drive right in and yet see all kinds of wildlife up close. There is only primitive camping in designated areas of the forest so it isn’t a place for big rigs even though the main roads are wide enough. There are many trails in addition to the roads and it is a favoured hunting ground for the locals. Some of the roads have been allowed to deteriorate until they are nothing but trails and some roads were very well maintained and even a little sports car can manage them. The forest is huge. We explored only one small bit right off the highway. I am told it includes great places to fish, oyster and canoe in addition to hunting. We went in for a short visit late in the day after a long walk at St George Island and a pizza dinner.

On our visit we saw deer, more birds than I can name, opossum, and a small snake. The place reputedly is full of alligators which would not surprise me one bit.  Those big wide deep ditches would be great gator habitat and all the associated mammals and birds would make for good eating. Our hosts, Jane Elzie Brand and Jack Rudloe gently suggested maybe Dick’s interest in closely examining the lily pads by leaning over the edges on his knees was better done just a little further back from the black water. I would not recommend taking a dog off leash either lest a beloved pet end up like Jack’s poor Megan did. These deep ditches are just a bit too good for gator sneak attacks. (We did not see any gators. It was cool and they don’t normally do much in cool weather.)

One of the more interesting features of the park is “miniature” or “hat rack” cypress. You can get right up close to one such stand at the Ralph G. Kendrick Boardwalk. It is an easy drive in and there is good parking. (I would not recommend doing it with a big rig as the ditches full of water are on both sides and it would be a bit tight to turn around. You could leave the big rig on the road before the turn and walk in.)

The cypress trees are literally dwarf or miniature and you can see them up close. Being winter, the cypress were silvery with no green except the Spanish moss green and the rest was kind of brown and drab. I half expected to see Frodo and Sam on their way to Mordor. Still we had a very nice time. There is information on these little trees posted on the dock and they are not a distinct species as I first thought. Underlying impermeable clay means the swamp is shallow and nutrient poor. The trees are stunted rather than dwarf.

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We spent about an hour at the boardwalk. There was a lot to see but the sun was setting and the no-see-ums got pesky in spite of how cool it was. It was a nice way to end a very nice day and I can heartily recommend taking a detour through this fascinating forest if you are in the area.IMG_0241

We’re Home.

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We left Florida to travel home on February 24th. We rolled into Alonsa on March 30. The trip is 1960 miles (3154 km) by the shortest route. That works out to an average of 54 miles (87 km) a day. Okay, we meandered. This trip home was the closest thing to migrating that we have done yet. Migrating birds (with a few notable exceptions) don’t typically fly hundred of miles a day for days on end. They fly a bit, stop and hang out, fly some more, stop and hang out some more, and move north at a very leisurely pace. They wait until the weather is perfect before they leave or they move on because the weather is rotten or the food ran out. That is how we chose to travel north this year. We originally planned to go to Utah but the place we would have stayed at had record snowfall. The campground sent us an email saying opening was delayed so we decided to explore more of Arkansas and Oklahoma instead. I’m so glad we did! It was the best trip home yet.

We would travel a short distance, never more than 300 miles (482km) and often a lot less than that. We also made it a point to stay a minimum of two nights wherever we did stop. This meant we always had a day off to go sightseeing or hang out or just be at each stop. If we liked a place, we stayed longer. We kept an eye on the weather and if NOAA started making those yellow hatched lines on the big map, we planned our moves to be outside of severe weather areas.

We have always been ready to stop into a National Park or Army Corp of Engineer Campsite for a night. This time we decided to make a point of staying in one as often as possible. Most of these campgrounds do not have any form of internet, most are outside cell phone range, and quite a few don’t even pick up anything on the TV antenna due to their isolated locations. We had to plan on living without internet. The results were surprisingly positive. Both of us got a lot more writing done. I relaxed for hours at a time not following every unfolding of the latest Trump angst. I missed my children being in ready contact but they are adults and perfectly capable of handling their own crises and they did.

We rolled into Canada at about 4:00pm. Our last stop was at a North Dakota campground which was open according to their website and the message on their answering machine. However, we arrived to discover “open” meant only for walk in winter camping with no rig. This left us with nowhere to go and only four hours to home so we just decided to go all the way. That was our longest day driving.

One of our neighbours very kindly plowed out our drive and so we were able to pull in and collapse in our house. What a pleasure to find it exactly as we left if except for a few more cobwebs and a layer of dust. The ground was completely snow covered. We spent the first week home unpacking, reorganizing our life around the stick house, and seeing a dentist (for a tooth that was doing a nagging ache which turns out to be a cavity starting) and a doctor (for refills). Since we are planning on renovating the inside of our house we also picked up a lot of stuff for the renovations. Today we tackled the very first project. We put in an old fashioned clothesline with a wonderful squeaky wheel. Laundry is normally hubby dearest’s thing in our life but I couldn’t resist trying out our new toy first. What a pleasure to hang laundry outside to dry.

Being without internet for days to hours meant I did not keep up blogging. I do intend to backtrack and share our adventures (and misadventures) now that we safely home. Home is where you park it and for the next few months our home will be our little yellow stick house on the prairie. Maybe we’ll hit Utah on the way south next winter.

 

 

Home Made Turkey Soup Base

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We had the absolutely best turkey dinner ever at my son’s home. He used a recipe that among other things called for a bed of vegetables and oranges. My son and DIL work full-time and so don’t have extra time for things like soup from scratch. When she offered me the turkey carcass, I jumped at the chance. I added everything the turkey had cooked with but the oranges to my big stock pot. I also added enough water to halfway cover the carcass.

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As you can see the turkey came with carrots and celery and seasoning already part of it. I also made sure to scrap the pan of the brown stuff on the edges and bottom of the pan. That brown stuff makes the broth really tasty. I also scrapped up all the fat and seasoning stuff as well.

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After a slow simmering for about two hours, the turkey falls apart easily and the broth has taken on the creamy colour you can see here. (Steam on the camera made the picture steamy but you should be able to see the difference.)

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The next step is the most tedious and took about twenty minutes. Separating the mixture from the pot into bones to be discarded on one plate and meat and veggies to go back into the pot on the other. One needs to work fast to avoid giving the stuff time to cool. Cooling food left standing around is bad. It can grow nasty bacteria if you aren’t careful. Also if you are canning you have to be extra careful about washing your hands and using clean utensils. I emptied the plate back into the simmering stock pot several times to keep the separated stuff hot.

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I had no need for turkey soup right away. I wanted to have it handy “put by” in case one of us is not feeling well. There really is nothing as tasty as homemade soup if you’re feeling ill but if you’re not feeling well, then who has the energy to cook soup from scratch? I ladled the soup into well cleaned and rinsed jars that had been sterilized with an extra boiling water rinse.

Even though the stuff is still really hot, you can see how the fat is separating and collecting on top. If you dislike the fat you can skim it off at this point. Personally I think the fat gives the soup more taste and fat has been given a bad name it doesn’t deserve so I left it on. I also added a dash of salt and a tablespoon of lemon. The lemon makes the soup slightly acidic which discourages nasty bacterial growth. Salt is also a preservative and brings out the flavour. I know salt is bad for us, but a dash in a whole jar is not that bad.

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I then capped the jars and put them in the pressure cooker for one hour.  It is not safe to put anything into jars with meat or any low acid food, without using a presser cooker. Boiling water simply doesn’t get hot enough. You need the extra pressure of a pressure cooker to get the internal temperature high enough to kill nasty bacteria. That has to be done according to your pressure cooker’s manufacturer’s directions. The amount of time required varies depending on the kind of pressure cooker you have, the size of your jars, what your home’s altitude is, and the size of the individual pieces in the broth.  If I had added say, a whole potato or dropped in big meatballs I would have left it in my pressure cooker for an hour and a half. After the jars came out of the pressure cooker I left them to cool. The seals popped tight almost immediately. They continued to bubble for a long time afterward as they cooled because of how high the internal temperature got. I left them undisturbed until morning.

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Now the jars have cooled. The seals are on properly and the fat has settled on top again. The jars can be left for up to a year so they need to be dated so you don’t forget to use them up before they age too much. Now whenever I want to make turkey soup, I can open a jar and reheat it in a pot or the microwave. I do it in the pot and I add vegetables (which this batch won’t need) and some rice or noodles or maybe some potatoes and cook them in the broth at a slow simmer before serving. This is also great with a loaf of homemade bread. The one litre jar is just right for the two of us.

If you don’t like canning you can freeze the soup. I have found freezing changes the flavour and not in a positive way. Jars of home made soup taste nothing like a tin from the grocery store. One of the nice things I have found is home made, home canned goods taste just as good as home made just made. And you can’t beat the cost of doing it yourself.

Ouch!

Ouch

Nothing like talking a long walk off a short pier. Hubby dearest went out to view the stars off the dock unaware the dock was closed for repairs. The dock owners assumed everyone had been informed and since they were planning on being back to finish the repairs very early in the morning, they didn’t physically block the dock off. Also because of the repairs the lights were not working. Dick walked along looking up at the stars, and abruptly dropped about eight feet into a foot and a half of cold water over an oyster bed. Amazingly enough, he was basically unhurt except for a lot of superficial cuts and bruises.He couldn’t find his glasses in the dark and he was bleeding from his head and hands. He had about 50 small superficial head cuts. Head cuts really bleed and so by the time he got back to shore, one side of his head was covered with blood and it was running down his jacket front. He was also shaking from cold and shock. Jack was just getting ready to go to bed and so the sight of Dick walking in the door nearly gave him a heart attack. Jack called me to come.

After a warm bath and check, we decided he didn’t need to go to the hospital. By some miracle all the cuts were superficial. I cleaned one cut below his lip and found a tiny bit of oyster shell and a splinter of wood that had to be removed. The rest of the cuts were not dirty. We go to wild places a lot. Our doctor sends us to these wild places with a prescription for antibiotics which we fill before leaving and strict instructions for when to use them. We decided, given how oyster shells are notorious for causing infections, that this was one of those times. I used steri-strips to close a nasty wound that might have needed stitches on one finger. I also used steri-strips to tightly close the wound below his lip where it gaped but I left a small portion open to drain in the region where I had picked out the foreign bodies. I figured that area would need to drain and it did for a full 48 hours.

Two days later, Hubby Dearest is up and about and doing fine. He has a very nasty bruise under his armpit extending well down his arm. His knee got good banging and swelled up horribly but that knee is troublesome and arthritic anyway so we gave it the ice/anti-inflammatory treatment. The bump on his head is going down. The swelling on his lip is going away. All the assorted bumps bruises and cuts are healing very nicely with no sign of infection.

We got lucky, very lucky. The tide was not quite all the way out and the foot and a half of water probably cushioned his fall. Catching his arm on the exposed centre beam probably broke the fall into two stages, reducing the impact even if it bruised him. I keep thinking of might-have-beens. He had been out at a meeting and just returned. Our host thought he had gone back to our trailer and I thought he was still out. I probably would have gone to bed in another hour or so and not noticed he was gone until I woke up hours later. No one knew he was out on the dock, so if he had been knocked unconscious he would have drowned or died of hypothermia before we noticed. He could have broken bones or gotten cut up enough to need a surgical repair. Sharks and alligators are a rare but certainly not unheard of sight around the dock. The only permanent damage that occurred is that we discovered his almost new jeans have a great big rip in them. That’s a pretty cheap price to pay all things considered.

The people who were working on the dock were absolutely horrified. They apologized multiple times. One young man came over and got into the cold water (now higher because the tide was coming in) in the dark with a flashlight and he retrieved Dick’s glasses for him, apologizing all the time. Amazingly enough, the glasses weren’t even scratched.

All is well that ends well. I suspect the folks involved in the dock repair will never again make the mistake of assuming everyone knows and not blocking access. We certainly saw lots of caution tape and wooden barriers all over as they continue their work. The other thing we discovered is I should probably have a tetanus booster when we get back. Mine is overdue. It pays to keep that up. You never know when a oyster bed might be your landing place.

Peaceful Days

We have settled into our Florida home. Life has been gentle and sweet. Long days of lazy beach walking, and collecting natures treasures. We were walking the beach and found endless sea pansy soft coral so we carried handfuls back to the marine lab where they will be put to good use instead of dying. Another day we watched our favourite dolphin pod driving mullet into the shore in high surf and we were overjoyed to see they have a new baby. I shouted my congratulations and was treated to a waving tail display and a happy jump and a rolling wave of one flipper in the air. Dolphins call dogs. Jack’s Lily swims out and then swims with them when they call. The dolphins like Lily, especially the younger ones and they greet her and try to get her to play but she isn’t a very good swimmer. When they get bored with her simply one dimensional stroke they swim off and she returns to shore, exhausted but full of doggy joy.

On the walk pictured below, in a heavy fog, we disturbed a large osprey who had just caught a fish. The bird flew off with the squirming fish tight in its grip. Yet another day we found a pile of slag from the clearing of a canal and it was packed full of fossils. We carried home chunks of ancient sea bed turned to rock with shells and worm tracks that day. We saw my favourite bird of all birds, the impossible, ridiculous, roseate spoonbill which is much more respectable looking in its native habitat doing its natural thing than when seen in any zoo. The winter birds who headed south before us, but whom we left in Georgia, have finally arrived and the trees are full of cardinals, robins, oriels,  blue jays, hundreds of starlings in stunning murmurations, golden and brown finches and yellow warblers and all those nondescript little brown ones I can never distinguish. They are far quieter and far more social in winter than when they are combating for mates and nesting places back in Alonsa so one can see entire folks living in peaceful close proximity.

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The dogs love the beach. Each morning a large group of dog owners meets early and walks the beach with dogs off leash. The dogs run and play and do the dog thing with abandon while we walk and chat about grandchildren, vehicles, our aches and pains, and where good sales are. The dogs roll in the stinky gunk, swim in the water and dig, endlessly dig in the sand. We moan about how they will need a bath again but none of us makes a move to interfere with their dog play. Some dogs try fishing. The fish are too smart. The crabs fight back and win. Yelp and a quick walk back and the dropped crab moves off. Some dogs, like my Trusty, prefer to just lie there and enjoy the sun and the heat in quiet dignity. Trusty watches the others with disdain and she never needs a bath. The only time I have ever seen Trusty get excited and take to the surf was when the dolphins called her, presumably to show off their new baby. She’s not as good at swimming as Lily and she gave up when the waves hit her chest. She ran up and down the beach crying, unable to fully answer their song. I wish I could hear it.

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Most people like the beach when its sunny and hot. I prefer to go to the beach when it’s cloudy and cool and a stiff breeze makes for rolling surf. On such days it’s often just us with our dogs and we can walk for kilometres without meeting another human being. These are also the days one is most likely to see the dolphins.

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There is something healing about the beach. The voice of Ulmo (if you are a Tolkien’s Silmarillion fan you will recognize that) is soothing.

As a child I had favourite song. I learned it in school. Our school day began with the Lord’s Prayer and two hymns from an English child’s hymnal.

I often hum it quietly to myself as I walk the beach listening to the waves.

“This is my Father’s world, and to my listening ears
All nature sings, and round me rings the music of the spheres.
This is my Father’s world: I rest me in the thought
Of rocks and trees, of skies and seas;
His hand the wonders wrought.”

“This is my Father’s world, the birds their carols raise,
The morning light, the lily white, declare their Maker’s praise.
This is my Father’s world: He shines in all that’s fair;
In the rustling grass I hear Him pass;
He speaks to me everywhere.”

“This is my Father’s world, dreaming, I see His face.
I open my eyes, and in glad surprise cry, “The Lord is in this place.”
This is my Father’s world, from the shining courts above,
The Beloved One, The Holy One,
Came—a pledge of deathless love.”

“This is my Father’s world, should my heart be ever sad?
The Lord is King—let the heavens ring. God reigns—let the earth be glad.
This is my Father’s world. Now closer to Heaven bound,
For dear to God is the earth we trod.
No place but is holy ground.”

“This is my Father’s world. I walk a desert lone.
In a bush ablaze to my wondering gaze God makes His glory known.
This is my Father’s world, a wanderer I may roam
Whate’er my lot, it matters not,
My heart is still at home.”

There should be something about dolphins in there. Perhaps I will have to add a verse.