Long Term Schedule

A few months ago, I sat down and literally made my bucket list.  There aren’t many touristy travel destinations on the list – most items involve my genealogy research.  And since I have a “life is short” approach to planning, I feel a strong need to front-load the high priority items on the list.  In other words, “someday” is NOW!!

I created a Google map with pins in all the places I want to go, which helped me to visualize my path back and forth across the country.  But I also have places on my list which I can’t get to with my RV.  So here’s my long term schedule:

Summer 2017

I’ve already posted the details of my summer plans this year – I’ll be in the cooler climates of upstate New York and Vermont.  Then, after a week at a conference in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, I’ll head west on Labor Day, starting with Butler, Ohio for two weeks.

Fall 2017

I pretty much learned last fall what my limits are in terms of temperature.  For the first ten days of October last year, I was in Cortland County, New York, and I saw frost on the ground.  I have a heater in the RV, and it wasn’t cold enough to freeze the pipes, but I don’t want to be in weather any colder than that.  So I know I’m taking a bit of a chance with my plans to be in Wisconsin for the last two weeks of September.  My ancestors lived in Washington County, just north of Milwaukee, so it’s not way up there, and I’m hoping it’ll be OK.

Washington County, Wisconsin

For the first two weeks of October, I’ll be in Illinois, camping on the banks of the Mississippi River.  If the weather in Illinois is similar to the weather in Pennsylvania, which I think it is, then it will be chilly but not freezing.

Fall camping along the Mississippi River

Next, I’ll spend several days in mid-October meeting a first cousin (for the first time) in Missouri, and then I’ll high-tail it to Phoenix, Arizona, driving 1,200 miles in three days, arriving on October 23.  I’ll stay three nights in a campground just outside the city.

Then, I’ll put my rig in storage, stay in a hotel near the Phoenix airport, and fly to Puerto Vallarta.  Eric gave me a week of his timeshare as a gift, and I was able to exchange it for a week in Mexico.  And, I’m using frequent flyer miles, so the trip isn’t going to cost me much at all.   I’m thinking that I’ll be ready for some pure R&R after seven months of living in the RV and doing my research.  My good friend Sandra and her daughter will go with me (my daughter declined the offer – not her habitat!!).

Resort in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

I’ll retrieve my car and RV in Phoenix when I return, and then drive up to Fresno, California to stay for a month, doing some research on my father’s family there.

For Thanksgiving week, I’ll drive my car to my Uncle’s house in the LA area, and I’m flying my kids down from Seattle to join us.  I’m so excited to see my Aunt and Uncle, and to spend the holiday with family!

I’ll return to Fresno after Thanksgiving,  and prepare to put my RV and car into storage for 10 months.

Winter/Spring 2018

As I did last year, my plan is to fly to Seattle for Christmas.  I’ll spend a week at an Airbnb in the city itself beginning in mid-December, and then our little family (Eric, our two kids, and I) will spend Christmas week at a cabin in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains, near Steven’s Pass.

Near Stevens Pass, Washington

And then, on December 29th, I’m flying to London, England.  From there, I’ll either fly or drive up to Northumberland County, way up near Scotland.  I’ll spend two months there in a furnished flat in the same little town where my great-grandmother, Mary Payne, was baptized at St. Cuthbert’s Church in 1870.

St. Cuthbert’s Church, Bedlington, Northumberland, England

At the beginning of March, I’ll drive to South Wales and spend a month in Blaenavon, Monmouthshire, and then a month in Pembroke, Pembrokeshire, which brings me to the end of April.

That’s me inside of the church in Cosheston, Pembrokeshire, Wales, where the Furlongs were baptised, married and buried in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s.

I haven’t decided what I’ll do for the first two or so weeks in May, so I haven’t yet booked my return flight.  I think I’m going to take a break from genealogy, take advantage of being in Europe, and go somewhere just for fun.  I’m thinking maybe Italy.

I’ll be returning to Bucks County, Pennsylvania at the end of May for my annual doctor appointments, and will rent a car there for a couple of weeks.

Summer/Fall 2018

For the summer of 2018, I’m planning to sublet an apartment in Manhattan.  I’m still in touch with a few people from my college days who live there and go to New England for the summer, so I’m hoping to be able to easily find a place.  Not only do I have endless research to do in NYC, but I’ve always wanted to live there for a short time.   It’s a good time to go since I’ll already be on the east coast, and I won’t have my car or my RV – neither will be needed in Manhattan!

New York Public Library

I don’t have precise plans yet for the month of September, but I would love to spend time in Boston or Washington DC, or maybe both.  I have until September 24, when I’m planning to fly to Ft. Lauderdale with my friend Cindy and her husband Fred, and embark on a two week Panama Canal cruise, which ends in San Diego.

East to West Panama Canal Cruise on Celebrity Cruise Line

And that puts me back on the west coast to retrieve my car and my RV by about mid-October 2018.

As you can see, I’m a planner, and I already have ideas about winter of 2018 and on into 2019.  I have lots to do on the west coast, including genealogy research in California and Oregon, visiting friends and family, and spending a long time camping near the Family History Library in Salt Lake City.  My next big trip will be to Germany to solve a family mystery, which I hope to do in 2019, perhaps in the fall.

So at the moment, I have no plans to buy a house and settle down – way too much to do!

Second Cousins

For the month of June, I’m staying in the Pittsburgh area, where my mother grew up and where her family settled in the 19th century.   They were all coal miners from South Wales and Northumberland, England.

The list of people I’m researching is ridiculously long with many collateral branches, and I’m starting to feel a little obsessive compulsive about it.  I had to make a spreadsheet to keep track of the facts I still need to confirm, and so far it has about 160 people on it.    At the Allegheny County Courthouse, I drove the clerks a little crazy because I requested documentation on 31 marriages!

I love the research, but the highlight of my stay so far has been meeting my cousin Melody for the first time.  She’s the daughter of my mother’s first cousin Grace, which makes us second cousins.

People often get confused when it comes to understanding the relationship between second cousins and beyond.  Here’s a visual which might help:

Relationship Chart, Melody and Chris

Since Melody and I are second cousins, that makes our daughters third cousins.  What about the once-removed part?  That just means it’s a different generation.  So Melody’s relationship to my daughter Caitlin is second cousin once-removed.  My relationship to my mother’s cousin Grace is first cousin once removed.

Melody and I spent several days going through pictures in her mother’s house.  I brought my Flip-Pal portable scanner and wore out the batteries over and over again!  Melody’s mother had pictures of my mother, my grand parents, and my great-grandparents which I had never seen before.  The most exciting one was an unidentified photograph which I believe is a picture of my great-great-grandparents, John Payne and Jane Weightman.

John Payne and Jane Weightman, maybe

Compare that to this one which I already had, and which was taken many years earlier:

John Payne, Jane Weightman (seated), James Weightman, and Thomas Weightman, ca 1871

It’s hard to tell if they’re the same people, but it’s certainly possible – I’d love to find another descendant with a photo so we can compare.  I have other photos of John Payne, and he’s always got that white beard so he looks like the same guy to me.

I loved seeing photos of my mother with her grandparents, who she loved so much:

Mary Payne Furlong, James William Furlong, and Mary Payne, about 1940

and I just love this one of my Mom:

Mary Payne Furlong, about 1947

Melody shared many, many other photos with me, none of which I would have otherwise had, and all of which I will cherish.  Researching your collateral relatives and finding second and third cousins is definitely worthwhile – you each might have different pieces of your family puzzle to share with each other!

Back in the 215/609

I’m just about wrapping up a two week stay in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, my former home.  I’ve had ties to the 215 and 609 area codes since I was 16, when my family moved from the south shore of Long Island, New York to Pennington, New Jersey.  I left at 18 for college, went west, and then returned in 1997 at age 41, settling across the river in Bucks County.  So it’s natural that being here stirs up lots of memories.

Like, my father and my brother Jamie died in the 609.  My mother and my brother Chuck died in the 215.

I really AM trying to dwell on the positive.  This is where my children grew up – there were certainly many happy times.  And I’ve SO MUCH enjoyed seeing friends I’ve missed greatly over the past nine months.  I’m truly thankful for the many warm relationships I still have here, but those sad thoughts creep in just the same, triggered by familiar landmarks in the area.  It’s definitely been bittersweet.

One of the highlights was a three-day side trip to Long Island to visit my lifelong friend Carol.  No RV, just my little car.  We went to the resort-y town of Greenport, way out on the east end of the island, to visit her new grandson, and then had a wonderful night out.  I love her like a sister!

My beautiful friend/sister Carol with her grandson, Michael
Chris and Carol out on the town!

Another highlight was getting back together with my friend Agnes.  She was my BFF for twelve years, and then we had a falling out around eight years ago.  Now we’re just looking forward, and it feels soooo comfortable, natural and – well, just fantastic all the way around.  She took me out to dinner on my birthday last week, which was a real treat – any time spent with Agnes is special.  Here we are, “back in the day” –

Agnes and Chris, circa 2009

Speaking of birthdays, I was excited to turn 62 and qualify for the National Park Service senior pass…well, kind of excited…  But you should know that the price for a lifetime pass is increasing from $10 to $80 sometime this fall – so if you’re 62 or older, get yours now!

I also spent time with friends from my former workplace, my genealogy buddies at the Bucks County Genealogical Society, and my girlfriends Cindy, Denise, Kim, Else, and Nancy.  It was wonderful to be with them all, and I hope it made them feel good to be with me, too.  I’ll carry that feeling with me for a long time.

I’ve done so much socializing that I’ve hardly done any work – that’s a good thing!!  But even with all the hugs and kisses going around, I did still have to get things done.  I met with a genealogy client, and a new one came along that I’m very excited about.  I completed some of my online self-paced genealogy classes, but I’m still one class behind (I take two per month – I haven’t finished one of my May classes, and it’s already June!).

I was also hoping to do a bunch of scanning of my genealogy research files while I’m here near my storage.  I need my files with me as I do my research, but of course I don’t want to lug them around.  I did get SOME scanning done, but not all.  I have a little reprieve because I’ll be making an unexpected (but brief) trip back to Bucks County at the end of July, so now my plan is to scan the rest of them over the next two months, and return a box of files to storage then.

I was able to off-load some stuff from the RV back to storage: a couple of tubs of genealogy files which I’ve already scanned, and a huge tub of books which is VERY heavy (what was I thinking??):

Tote full of HEAVY books!

There are several genealogy books which I need to have and will keep, but for pleasure reading I’ve started buying used paperbacks at book sales, and will recycle them back to Goodwill so I’m not carrying around books I’ve already read.  I also installed an Amazon Kindle on my laptop, and I can get free or very inexpensive downloads from Amazon and other sources.  Slowly trying to change my habits to accommodate my new nomadic lifestyle!

I love the campground here, and except for Memorial Day weekend, I had it pretty much to myself:

A nice, quite campsite
Empty campsites all around

But now it’s time to say goodbye to the 215/609 – except for that quick trip at the end of July, I won’t be back until May of 2018.  Returning to a place I used to call home after being away for so long sure puts a different perspective on life in general.   I’m expecting that next year, with more time behind me, the acute sadness I’m often feeling in this place more than others, will dull a little more.  I’m hoping I’ll be able to simply enjoy the good memories, and all the people still here who I love.  Now, on to the many adventures in store for summer of 2017!!

Medical Stuff

People often ask me how I manage my medical care on the road:  how do I get my prescriptions refilled, what do I do for health insurance, what happens when I need to see a doctor?  I’m very fortunate to be a generally healthy person at the moment, which makes all of this much easier.  Since I’m back in Bucks County right now taking care of a bunch of medical “business”, it’s very much on my mind and a good time to write about it.

First, health insurance.   When I was working, I was contributing about $600/month for medical insurance for me and my son.  It was platinum coverage – co-pays were generally $10 per doctor visit, and there was no deductible or coinsurance.  When I first retired, I stayed on the same plan through the retiree group at a cost of $1,300/month for just me (my son graduated from college and went out on his own), but I knew it wasn’t sustainable.   I had three and a half years to go before Medicare would kick in; I needed to find a less expensive solution.

So I decided to check out Obamacare.  As you probably know, the exchanges are state based.  Although I was a resident of Pennsylvania when I first retired, I planned to become a resident of Florida shortly thereafter.  So I started out with the expensive retiree group coverage through my former employer for the first few months, and then switched to a high deductible, low premium plan on the Florida state exchange once I became a resident there.

On the Florida exchange, I had a choice of over 50 plans offered by several insurance providers.  I was especially concerned about coverage while traveling, so in addition to cost, I focused on how the insurance company defined in-network versus out-of-network medical providers.

I was thrilled to find a Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS) plan with a nationwide network, which costs me about $275/month, with a deductible of $7,500.  If I’m healthy, I save a tremendous amount in premiums.  If I’m sick, I figure that the monthly premium plus the deductible is still less than the premiums for the retiree group plan through my former employer.  And perhaps most importantly, BCBS providers are all over the country, so I can go to doctors in any state and still be in-network.

Second, prescriptions.  For years, I went to my small neighborhood pharmacy to get my prescriptions filled.  So I had no idea that large national pharmacies offer very high-tech services, which are essential while traveling.  They allow customers to monitor the status of their prescriptions online.  You can see exactly when you’re due for a refill, which doctor ordered the medication, and how many refills you have left.   The very best part is that, with just a few clicks, you can have your prescriptions filled at the pharmacy closest to you, and it can be a different location every time.  It’s all done electronically, and it’s so quick – hit the “EASY” button!!

I started with CVS but I’m with Walgreens now – both have the same service. I take just two daily medications, and the cost for those is very low – about $10/month.  But, this time I needed a prescription filled for a tube of cream I use occasionally, and that cost me $48!  So I’m still feeling my way through what things cost, what’s covered, and what’s going toward my deductible.

Third, doctors.  As I said earlier, I’ve been extremely fortunate to be generally healthy.  I haven’t needed a sick visit to a doctor as yet.  If I did, I would go to the closet Urgent Care, first checking online to find a facility in the BCBS network.

For my well visits, annual checkups, and cancer screenings, I’m keeping the same doctors I had when I lived in Pennsylvania. Thankfully, they’re all in the BCBS network.  I’d rather retain continuity as long as possible, so I’ll plan a trip to Bucks County once a year for for these “well” doctor visits.  I will eventually settle down and find doctors in my future location, and I don’t want to make multiple changes.

One of the reasons I retired early is my very strong sense of how short life is, mostly because both of my younger brothers died before me.  None of us knows how long we have, but I feel like I have extra risk factors.  Three of my four immediate family members had cancer, and I smoked cigarettes for thirty years, which puts me at high risk for lung cancer.  So my lung health is my number one concern.

I’ve been seeing the pulmonary specialists at Fox Chase Cancer Center for a couple of years because of lingering issues from two episodes of pneumonia.  Last May, they declared my lungs stabilized, and now I’m in a program which provides annual screenings for lung cancer, for which I’m very grateful.  This week, I had my first one.  No cancer, thank goodness, but there is a little glitch.

There seems to be an infection and/or inflammation in a new area of my lungs.  They want me to have another scan in two months to see if it’s resolved itself, and meet with the pulmonary specialist. I’m not worried about it, but I’m glad they’re monitoring it.

In two months, I’ll be just starting my stay in Albany, about 200 miles away from Bucks County.  So, I’ll plan to leave the RV at the campground in Albany, drive down to Bucks County in my car, stay with a friend overnight, and then drive back to Albany after the appointment.

If more scans will be required, then it will get a little more complicated – and a lot more expensive as I travel farther away in my RV.  Hopefully, this strange infection will resolve itself by the time of the next scan, and I’ll be good to go!