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!

 

 

 

 

 

Summer Schedule

Summer is the perfect time to be in the northern climates, so I’ll be spending it in Pennsylvania, upstate New York and Vermont, researching both sides of my family.

 

Summer 2017 Route – goes from Bucks County (E), to F, G, H, I, J, and then Pittsburgh (B) and Butler, Ohio (C).

In my Spring Schedule post, I wrote about my plans for the month of June in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  I’ll meet a second cousin for the first time, visit my parents’ and brothers’ grave and see their newly installed gravestone, research my mother’s extensive family in the area, and attend the Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh the last week in June.

I’ll stay in Pittsburgh through the 4th of July, and then head up to the Rochester, New York area where I’ll visit with friends of my brother Jamie.   Jamie died in 2005 at the age of 44, unmarried, but with a passel of very dear friends, many of whom live in Rochester where my brother spent seventeen years of his life.  My father, Jamie and I all attended the University of Rochester, so the place has deeper family ties as well.  I’ll visit familiar places and enjoy the company of all the special people who also loved Jamie.  I’ll be staying at a state park campground on the shores of Lake Ontario for five days, so I’m planning to take a break from the research and enjoy some swimming!

On to Copenhagen in Lewis County, New York, researching my father’s family, the Goodenoughs and others.  My kids attended a Unitarian Universalist summer camp very near there for several years, so I know it’s a beautiful and remote area.  It’ll be fun imagining what it was like when my ancestors were among the first settlers there around 1800.

From there, I’ll head to Rutland County, Vermont, where I’ll stay for the last two weeks of July.  My father and Jamie researched the Goodenough line – but they only did the men!  The parents of one of the Goodenough wives came from this area of Vermont, so I’ll be researching the Abbotts, the Crouches, and the Jennings families there, back into the 1700’s.  I’ve NEVER been to Vermont in the summer, so I’m excited to see it!

Next, I’ll spend a month in the Albany area.  Both my maternal and paternal lines have numerous New York ancestors, and I’ve wanted to get to the New York State Archives in Albany for at least the last five years.  In addition to ancestors in other parts of the state on both lines, I’ve got a big brick wall on one of my mother’s lines in the Albany/Troy/Sarasota County area, so I’ll do local courthouse/town research as well as state-level research.

After Albany, I’m heading back to Pittsburgh for the Federation of Genealogical Societies’ annual conference.  It’s one I’ve wanted to attend for years, but never could work it in to the few weeks of vacation I had while working.  I formed the Bucks County Genealogical Society in 2012, so I’m very interested in learning best practices from other groups.  When I eventually settle down somewhere, I’m sure I’ll be active in my local society.

On Labor Day, I’ll head to Butler, Ohio for two weeks, which brings me to the end of summer.  My Dad’s ancestors were very early settlers and prominent citizens there.

In the fall, I’m generally traveling west, via Wisconsin, Illinois, and Missouri.  I’ll be in Arizona by Halloween – the map below is my planned route from April through October.  So much to look forward to – I’m excited about every single stop!

2017 Route April through October

A Week at the Spa

I spent last week at my cousin Betsy’s, which was almost like a week at a spa.  We ate luscious, healthy meals, lounged around the pool, slept late, drank wine on the peaceful front porch, enjoyed the bucolic views of the sheep and horse pastures, and read novels.  And I gave myself a pedicure.  I literally felt like I was at a fancy resort!

The pool and hot tub from the back porch

Betsy is a shepherd, and her sheep gave birth collectively to about 20 lambs earlier this year.  She also has chickens, so we had farm fresh eggs every day.  Here’s a picture of the smallest lamb, “Tom Thumb”:

Tom Thumb, a three month old lamb
The barn – you can see my RV in the driveway!

The companionship with my cousin was the best part – we talked for hours on end.  We realized that we’ve spent very little time in the past being together, just the two of us.  Usually we’ve had family all around, but this time, her wonderful husband was away most of the week, and we had a real girls week.  It’s such a treat to be with family and to reminisce with someone who knew and loved my parents and brothers.  I love Betsy like a sister!

View from the front porch

I did all that fun stuff, but it actually wasn’t all pampering and relaxation.  I had an agenda (as I usually do!) of tasks to complete:  did several large loads of laundry, got Betsy’s DNA sample and mailed it in to Ancestry, bought three turkey breasts to roast and freeze in serving size bags (my RV has no oven and I like to use real roasted turkey in sandwiches and salads), completed my scanning of two tubs of genealogy files so I can leave them in storage, and washed both the car and RV.  My online genealogy classes were on the list, but I never got to those this week – and that’s fine.  My new motto is “No Stress”, so if I don’t get to it, I don’t get to it.

I’m so lucky to have this little oasis to visit when I’m traveling up and down the east coast! Now I’m in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, my former home, for two weeks of socializing, going to doctor appointments, and re-shuffling stuff in and out of storage – more on that soon!

NGS Annual Conference

It’s an incredible feeling to be in the same room with 2,000 other people who share your obsession with genealogy. The first time I attended the National Genealogical Society’s Annual Conference was in 2011 in Charleston, South Carolina, and I remember very clearly the initial thrill of being with so many like-minded people.

The following year, in 2012, I chose to use my vacation time to go to the Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh instead.  In 2013, I was taking care of my sick brother.  In 2014, I attended the NGS Conference in Richmond, Virginia, which was also fabulous. In 2015, my mother had just died and I was putting the house up for sale. In 2016, my son was graduating from college the same weekend as the conference.  So I spent this week in Raleigh, North Carolina in 2017, attending my third NGS Annual Conference, and I’ve been extremely happy to be here!

National Genealogical Society’s 2017  Conference Banner

The four day conference was jam-packed with classes from 8 in the morning till 5 at night, with visits to the Exhibit Hall in between.  There were lots of options for group luncheons and dinners, but I didn’t sign up for anything extra (frugal me).  I would have enjoyed them I’m sure, but they’re pricey and could easily double the cost of attendance.  I have my cool little pink lunchbox that I take with me on research trips, so that’s what I did here, too!

Raleigh Convention Center

J. Mark Lowe presented the Opening Session, which was extremely inspirational and moving.  Among other things, he spoke about his work with a high school history class.  These kids did genealogy projects which involved creating presentation boards, including QRC codes to access recordings of the students telling their favorite story in their own words and voices.  It really inspired me to consider working with young people in the future.

Lately I’ve preferred taking classes which involve technology because I feel that’s where I need to learn the most – DNA, using Google maps, scanning and organizing digital photo files, and that sort of thing.  I also like to attend presentations by nationally known speakers, including top genealogists Elizabeth Shown Mills, Thomas Jones, and Judy Russell.  And depending on the other choices in a particular time slot, I attend lectures on German research, since I have generally avoided those branches of my family tree!

I have to say that the conference overall was nothing short of incredible.  The choices of high quality lectures made it difficult to choose just one to attend.  It always amazes me how many extremely intelligent people are involved in genealogy – many of the speakers had PhD’s or were Certified Genealogists.

I think the sessions I enjoyed the most were the DNA lectures with Blaine Bettinger, Judy Russell, and Diahan Southard.  They all packed the room – I think DNA was the most popular topic at the conference!

I’ll miss next year’s conference in Grand Rapids, Michigan, because I’ll be over in England for the winter and early spring (more on that later).  In 2019, the conference will be held in St. Charles, Missouri, the same place it was held in 2015.  They say it was a great location, and that’s why they’re holding the conference again there so soon.  I’ll definitely plan to be there, especially because for years, I’ve wanted to go the St. Louis NARA location, where all the military records from World War I and II are kept – at least those which survived the 1973 fire.  It’s on my extended calendar!

It was NOT a great week from a camping perspective.  The closest campground to the downtown Convention Center was at the North Carolina State Fairgrounds.  It was just not a very attractive place.

My site at the North Carolina State Fair Campground

There was virtually no shade, and I wasn’t able to get my awning to work to create some.  Fortunately,  I wasn’t “home” very much, the weather cooperated by not being too hot,  it was a terrific location for my daily commute to the conference, and the price was right at $210 for the week (versus the cost of a conference hotel at $120 and up per night), so it absolutely served its purpose!

Tomorrow I’ll drive about 200 miles to my cousin Betsy’s house near Richmond, Virginia, where I’ll stay a week in her beautiful home, and have some much-needed “sister time” – can’t wait!!

Time for some fun!!

I truly love being able to spend loads of time doing my genealogy research. Mostly, I’m either researching on-line, at a courthouse or an archive, at a cemetery looking for gravestones, or I’m on the computer processing digital images from the courthouse or the cemetery, or taking online genealogy classes.  I’ve spent many, many days doing nothing but these activities.  I love it, but there are two major downsides.

The first is that, too often, I’m on the computer all day long.  And the second is that I’m alone.  Even though I enjoy it tremendously, sometimes it feels more like work than fun.

So, when a friend let me know that she and her husband were heading to Georgia in their RV, I was more than thrilled.  I met Sandra when we both lived in California, while taking our babies for a walk in their strollers around the neighborhood – and our daughters are now 27 years old.  In a complete coincidence, Sandra and Bob also retired last year and began living in an RV, and they’ve finally made their way to the east coast.

I didn’t even realize how much I was missing being with friends until they arrived.  They stayed at my Georgia campground for three nights, so we had two full days together.  We went out to eat (which I don’t do by myself), went on a couple of lovely hikes, had dinner and wine together at the campground, and sat out at the picnic table until after dark.  It was fantastic!!!

My campground was planning to move me to a much less desirable campsite for the last 5 nights of my month there, so instead, I decided to leave Georgia early, and meet Sandra and Bob in South Carolina.  I had to give up some of my Georgia research time, but frankly, I needed a break!  It was wonderful to be away from the computer and spending time with these very dear friends instead.

It was just a two hour drive on a gorgeous sunny day up to South Carolina’s Table Rock State Park, just near the North Carolina border and about an hour away from the artsy mountain town of Asheville.

My rig arriving at Table Rock State Park, South Carolina
View from the Visitor’s Center, Table Rock State Park, South Carolina

We set up camp in wooded, adjacent sites.  Bob and Sandra are avid hikers, so that was the primary daily activity.  On TWO of the next four days, we hiked TEN MILES each time, and I capitalize those words because I’m amazed that I was able to do it TWICE!  One of the long hikes was particularly difficult because there was a long uphill climb.

A waterfall along the way
The view at the top was worth it!!

We had fabulous dinners together every night, played Cribbage in the evenings, spent a day in Asheville, and even had S’mores over a campfire one night!  We also went to a local seafood buffet (think frogs legs and catfish) with a live gospel band – the whole experience was extremely entertaining.

It was a terrific break “off the grid” – there was no cell service or internet access there – and I loved being with Sandra and Bob.  We’ll be planning to rendezvous again soon, as we make our way up the east coast this spring, and around upstate New York and New England this summer.

Back to my serious genealogy world this week, as I attend the National Genealogical Society’s annual conference in Raleigh, North Carolina – lots of fun in a different way!

Research in Elbert County, Georgia

Eric’s ancestors, and thus my children’s, lived in Elbert County for over 100 years, from its formation in 1790 to the very beginning of the 20th century.  Representing fifteen different surnames, several were Revolutionary War soldiers, some were wealthy plantation owners, and many were well known and respected in their community.  So I knew that my research in Elbert County would be a bit overwhelming.  With so many prominent ancestors, there would be plenty of records.

I learned about Eric’s Elbert County clan through other people’s research.  I’ve done very little research on these lines myself, except for what I’ve found on Ancestry.com.  So my objective is to confirm these relationships by locating original documents and forming my own conclusions.  Some of this research can be done online, and some must be done onsite.  While I’m physically here in Georgia, I need to prioritize locating the records which aren’t yet online.

After some poking around on the internet, I determined that I should research in land records, so I went down to the Courthouse last week to see what I could find.

Elbert County Superior Court

Elberton, Georgia is a sleepy little town of 4,500 souls, and there wasn’t much going on at the courthouse.  The clerk led me into a vaulted room where all the old deed books are kept, and left me alone all day.

In addition to the usual manual indexes and the many huge deed books, there were three published books which contained abstracts of Deed Books A through W, including an index, which covered the time period from the inception of the county through about 1835.

Deed Abstract Book

These books were a lifesaver.  I didn’t think to check in advance to see whether they existed, but I will from now on for all future counties.  And I wish there were abstracts for deeds after 1835.  The books save a huge amount of time in three important ways:

  1.  The original deed index is very hard to read, so when I initially tried using it,  I wasted a lot of time guessing the book and page numbers for the deeds I needed to scan.
  2. I usually abstract all of my ancestors’ deeds, which is very time consuming.  The abstracts in the book make that unnecessary.
  3. The index includes every mention of the person’s name throughout the book, which means you also get all the deeds your ancestor witnessed, and all the deeds which name your ancestor as a neighbor.  This information helps to put your ancestor in a place and time, and it’s also a huge advantage when you’re trying to identify your ancestor’s relatives and FAN (Friends, Associates, Neighbors) Club. It saves a tremendous amount of time compared to reading every deed yourself.
Example of manual index, which is faint and hard to read

So I used those books to locate all the deeds for ten of our surnames through the first two abstract books, and that’s pretty much as far as I got in that one day.  I took digital pictures of the original deeds and the corresponding abstracts from the books, and I’m in the process of cropping, sorting and filing them in my digital files.  I’m planning to return to Elberton as many times as I need to in order to finish the project.

One of the deeds which an ancestor witnessed is priceless and I had to share.  I’ve only seen the abstract so far:

Deed Abstract for deed witnessed by James Bell, found in the book pictured above

Some things don’t change in 200 years, eh?  She told on me?  It’s little gems like this that make our ancestors really come to life.  And why is this recorded with the deeds??  It certainly gave me a chuckle back there in the courthouse vault.  I’ll have to get a copy of the full deed to see what other details might be there!

It seemed like one of our fifteen surnames was mentioned on just about every page of those abstract books, and I felt like they would be incredibly valuable in my future Elbert County research, as I become more familiar with these families and all the collateral lines.  So I decided to buy them.  I would rather have digital copies, but they don’t exist. I ended up ordering them directly from the author, who lives in Texas.  He’ll be shipping them to my campground here in Georgia by the end of the month!

 

Florida to Georgia

After lots of packing and cleaning, both the RV and the Sarasota house, I’m back in my little traveling home.  Last Sunday, I drove 500 miles from Sarasota, Florida, to the Athens, Georgia area, where I’ll stay for a month.  It’s the perfect place to get re-adjusted:  I’m familiar with the campground because I stayed here last November, and there’s a truly amazing mobile RV mechanic here who doesn’t mind when I call him on a Sunday with a stupid question!

Before I left Sarasota, I took the RV in to a local dealer to have them inspect the engine, do an oil change, replace the little awning topper on the slide-out, and flush the water system.  Everything checked out, and we were both rarin’ to go!

The trip took me about 8 1/2 hours, including three quick stops along the way.   I love to get on the road really early on a Sunday morning, like 4:30 or 5 am – that way, before I hit any traffic, I’m already halfway there.  Maybe I like to do it that way because it’s what my parents did when we did car trips as a family, and it worked well.  I get to my destination well before dark, with plenty of time to set up camp and put dinner together.

After a four month hiatus, I was kind of worried that I would forget everything Eric taught me about operating the RV.  I had to do everything slowly and deliberately at first, but it all came back to me just fine.  I knew I must be pretty comfortable with it when I was deep in thought, and then suddenly realized I was going 75 mph and passing a huge truck!  And I set up camp just fine on arrival in Georgia, including slapping on some stickers which my thoughtful son gave to me for Christmas:

My son knows his Mama!!

I love it here!  My little campsite faces a pond so I have a lovely view and lots of privacy.  Spring is here and the weather is PERFECT, in the 80’s during the day and 50’s at night. I keep all my doors and windows open so I can hear the birds all day, and the crickets and frogs all night.  Probably about ten times a day, and also when I wake up during the night, I find myself saying out loud, “OMG, this is so friggin’ awesome!!”.

My happy home in Georgia
View from the front door

During the day, I work outside under the awning at the picnic table or in my comfy chair.  I take long walks around the campground, chatting with people here and there.  I’m in the middle of reading a long novel.  I spent one day this week doing deed research at the Elbert County Courthouse in Elberton – more on that in another post.  And I’m trying to finish up a series of genealogy classes toward earning a certificate, which I started a few years ago.

So, to quote my favorite Native American saying, my heart soars like an eagle these days.  I get to be outside as much as I want, and do genealogy all day long – I am one lucky lady!!

China

China wasn’t on my bucket list, so I never would have chosen to go to there on my own, but when my ex-husband found a very inexpensive two week tour and asked if I would join him, I figured I may as well go and have an adventure.  I love history, and certainly China has that in spades.  And the four day cruise on the Yangtze River looked stunning.

We used a company called Sinorama, which I would very highly recommend.  They were organized and efficient, and the various Chinese guides were terrific.  The 15 day tour included airfare, two in-country flights, a 500 mile trip on a bullet train, a four day cruise on the Yangtze River, five star hotels, and most meals – all for about $1,400 per person.  I’ve never ever traveled with a tour before, but I wouldn’t do China any other way.  I didn’t expect to enjoy being on a tour (I prefer to travel independently), but I found it fun to be with a group of people, most of whom we liked very much.

We flew from Seattle to Shanghai and spent the first two nights there.  We toured the city on a bus, went to a museum, and then a shopping area. Unfortunately, the weather was rainy/drizzly/misty, and it stayed that way for about the first 9 days of the trip.  One thing I noticed on the first day in Shanghai was a lot of people wearing face masks.  We learned they did that because of the smog. We saw it all over China.

Typical Skyline in China

Next, we took the bullet train from Shanghai to Wuhan, about 500 miles west, where we stayed one night before boarding the cruise ship.  I love to cruise, and enjoyed being on the water.

Chinese flag on back of cruise ship

The highlight of the cruise was going through the famous Three Gorges area.  A huge dam was built there, the largest hydroelectric project in the world and an engineering marvel.  The ship had to move through five different locks, taking almost four hours.  The picture below shows the two ships ahead of us moving into the first lock.

First Lock at Three Gorges Dam

 

View from cruise ship

Although the Three Gorges dam was fascinating, I was generally underwhelmed with the scenery on the Yangtze River.  Much of it was spent passing through various cities.  The Three Gorges area itself was more remote and lovely, but it wasn’t spectacular – I guess I got totally spoiled with the New Zealand landscape!   The river itself is extremely polluted, and I’m pretty sure the ship was dumping its trash directly into it.

Another scene along the Yangtze River

I’m not generally a complainer, and I’m definitely not that picky about food, but I am an experienced cruiser, and I thought the cabins on the ship were tired and worn – stained carpet, unpleasant smell – and the food was very marginal.

The cruise ended in a town called Chongqing where we visited the zoo.  This was truly another highlight of the trip. It was beautifully landscaped, and huge.  We saw Giant Pandas and yaks for the fist time.  We could have spent all day there!

Giant Panda eating bamboo, Chongqing Zoo

Chongqing is in the Szechuan area of China, and the lunch there was one of the best meals of the trip.  Added to the great food was an actual traditional Chinese wedding which just happened to be taking place in the same restaurant. We couldn’t understand a word, but it was amazing to watch.

In the afternoon, we visited the Old Town there, which was a crazy crowded place, full of vendors hawking their wares, and odd smells everywhere.  We found a little cafe with great coffee on a second floor balcony, where we could look down and watch the crowd – that was fun!

One of the less crowded areas of Old Town Chongqing

After one night in Chongqing, we flew to Xi’an.  The experience of going through security for an in-country flight in China was like nothing else I’ve been through.  They do a completely thorough search of every person.  Our carry-on bags were scanned three different times. Our guide made it clear that if anything was found in our checked luggage which wasn’t allowed, the luggage would be kept by the authorities and we wouldn’t even know that there was a problem until we got to our destination.  Fortunately, all of the luggage in our group passed muster.

Chris and Eric at one of the meals along the way

It was in Xi’an (pronounced SHEE-ahn) that we finally saw the sun, the first day through a haze, and the second a full fledged sunny day. I think Xi’an was my favorite place, and maybe it had something to do with the sun, but I also really loved seeing the Terra Cotta Warriors.  This active archaeological site with an amazing army of 8,000 soldiers is over 2,200 years old.  Each soldier’s face is unique. The army, including horses, was buried with the first emperor of China, and was intended to protect him in the afterlife.

Terra Cotta Warriors
Warriors Close Up
A very special warrior!

After Xi’an, we flew to Beijing, where we saw the Summer Palace, the Forbidden City, the Great Wall, and Tiananmen Square.  I think my favorite part of Beijing was the Hutong District, which is the Old Town.  We went on a rickshaw ride through this part of town, and then had dinner at a resident’s home there.

Scene in Hutong District, Beijing
Rickshaw drive through Hutong District
Arriving at private home for dinner in Hutong District
Cooks in the kitchen at private home in Hutong District
Tiananmen Square
View from the Great Wall
Climbing the Great Wall
Entrance to popular Beijing shopping street
Scorpions for Dinner, Vendor Booth, Beijing

Overall, I thought Sinorama did a good job, but to be completely honest, I could never say “You gotta go!” about China.  There are plenty of negatives that I haven’t mentioned about this communist country, and I wasn’t always happy to be there.  Among many other things, the smog and other pollution was a real turn-off.  I feel very fortunate that I was able to experience China, but I won’t be going back.