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12/22 - 12/27 - Merry Christmas


12/22/13 - Sunday

We have decided to stay in Louisiana one more week, our new departure day is Sunday, January 5th.   There are things we still want to do and leaving a week later allows us to do a little more sightseeing.  We stopped at the camp office to confirm that we could stay - no problem, this is one laid-back park.

We had a pretty relaxing day, we went into Covington to see "American Hustle" which was a good movie, Marty said it reminded him of the Sting.  You definitely needed to pay attention - no dozing allowed.  

Apples to Apples
After the show we drove over to Becky's for dinner and to meet her father.   We enjoyed some pralines after dinner and I chipped a tooth/filling - Oh No!    Becky is going to try and get us an appointment with her dentist.  Marty had a crown come loose while we were in Kentucky and went to a dentist down there but it hasn't felt right so we will both go (hopefully) to the dentist here.  If we can't get in to a dentist here we have the name of a dentist in Mexico right by Mission, TX and we'll try that.

We always have fun at the Winchell's and this time was no different - we learned how to play Apples to Apples.   One person gets to be the judge and that's when the fun begins - the better you know the judges likes and dislikes the better chance you have of winning.    Some judges could be swayed (you know who you are) and some judges went by the book (Marty).

12/23/13 - Monday

About six years ago, the Winchell's came to Chicago to spend Christmas.   One of the games we played that year was "Mr. Left and Mrs. Right".  Mary Margaret remembered and wanted to play it again this year.   The game is that all the kids get one present and a story is read, every time left is said the presents go to the left and the same for right.    You have no idea what you'll end up with but at the end everyone has something to open.    I wasn't expecting to play it so Mary Margaret, Hope and I went shopping to pick up some gifts for the game.   First stop was the Goodwill store where we scored a Disney Monopoly game and a brand new Scattegories game for $2.99 each - what a deal!    We also
picked up a Christmassy felt basket that we could put some candy in.   That took care of 3 presents so on to TJ Maxx to see what treasures we could find.    One candle, tin of tea, doodle book, and pair of Christmas socks and we were done - YAY!     I never go shopping without stopping for lunch so we had lunch at Chili's and then did a few more errands before heading back to Mandeville.   We had lots of fun shopping and I enjoyed spending time with two of my nieces.   We stopped back at our rig and made some cookie dough that we would bake back at Becky's.  My cookie sheets are two pizza pans and it would take forever to bake them here.

Marty has been working on the roof at Becky's house and has determined that her water problems on the inside porch are coming through the chimney due to a corroded chimney cap.    He will take off the cap on Thursday and drop it off at a fabricator to be replaced.    While he was working up there, the girls and I raked up the yard - there were a lot of leaves!  The yard got neatened up a bit and we were going to use the chop saw to cut up some pallets so we could start a fire in the fire pit but it was getting too dark out so our bonfire will have to wait.

12/24/13 - Tuesday (Christmas Eve) and 12/25/13 - Wednesday (Christmas)

1970 Christmas Eve with the Merkes Family
We puttered around the rig in the morning getting presents wrapped and making some baked mostaccioli for the evening.   We headed over around 3:00 and got a few things ready while the family was at 4:00 mass.   Once they got back (around 5:30) we had dinner (gumbo and baked mostaccioli).

I called my family back in Chicago and had some facetime with them.   They called me back later so that I could see Santa arrive and the kids get their gifts.  The tradition of Santa coming to the Merkes house on Christmas Eve started back in 1969 when our youngest brother, Tom was a baby.   There have been babies every year since so the tradition is still going strong.    I never realized how long this process is, some of the 2nd generation "kids" are in their late 20's and still sitting on Santa's lap.  I thought the cut-off was 21 but I guess some parents (or kids) aren't ready to give it up.

Back to Louisiana, where we finally (according to Meredith and Ben, imagine a 12 and 6 year old with no patience on Christmas Eve) started the game.   Becky read the story and it was hilarious to watch the kids try to keep up with the lefts and rights.   They did an awesome job and somehow each of them ended up with the gift they started out with - which is ok since they had no clue what it was.   Amazingly, the gifts mostly went to the most appropriate person - it was really weird considering the age span was 6 to 25.   Six year old Ben got the doodle book which was purchased with him in mind.    These are really good kids so if someone had been unhappy someone else would have traded with them.

Note the matching pajama bottoms
One tradition the Winchell's have is the only present they can open on Christmas Eve is their new matching pajamas.  So after getting their new pajamas the younger two children were sent off to bed (around 9:00).   Once all the kids are upstairs for the night a ribbon is tied at the top of the stairs and no one can come down until Becky unties the ribbon.  If they get up too early, they have to wait while Becky has her coffee and yells out that she's going to clean up a bit, maybe do some vacuuming  and then they can come down.  Of course she really doesn't make them wait too long.

Santa Came!
Kids are still upstairs
Marty and I went back on Christmas morning around 8:45 and everyone was downstairs and the unwrapping had begun.   They take turns so only one present is open at a time and everyone can see what they got - way different than the mass confusion in the Merkes house when 45-50 people all open presents at the same time.

My "north shore" shirt

Christmas Morning Breakfast
After the presents were were all opened, we had breakfast and then 6 of us played Scattegories which was hilarious.    Everyone gets a sheet with 12 lines to be filled out with different categories.   A many sided die with letters on it is rolled and whatever letter shows up you have to fill in the line with a word for that category that starts with the specific letter.    My brain froze when we had to think of a book title that started with the letter "K" - I'm so embarrassed, with all the books I've read.    It was lots of fun especially when certain people tried to bluff their way with a word that no one ever heard of - Elephant Fly anyone?

Becky and Emily playing Sequence
Later, around 5:30, we had a wonderful dinner of grilled filet wrapped in bacon, mashed potatoes, green beans and asparagus and dinner rolls - Yum!   Meredith did an awesome job of assisting in the kitchen and making sure our plates were kept filled.     After dinner it was time for one more game - Sequence.   The Winchell's had never played this game before so after one practice round we got started.   The wonderful thing about this game is that it's quiet - it's hard to talk and concentrate on your next move at the same time.  We played with three teams of two and Mary Margaret and Becky won two out of three games, that's ok we're up for a rematch if they are.  

We had a wonderful Christmas with Becky and her kids and are very grateful that they shared their Christmas with us.   Christmas is always best when spent with family (especially when there are lots of kids!).
The next Elvis

 Thursday - 12/26/13

Becky got us into her family dentist at 12:30 so we headed over to see what could be done with our messed up teeth.   Dr. David smoothed out Marty's crown and it feels so much better.  As for my poor tooth, I will need a new crown.   It would take three weeks to get it here so Dr. David did what he could (covered the filling somehow) and hopefully that will hold until we settle somewhere long enough to take care of it.   No more pralines or caramels for me :(.     The best part of the whole experience was they didn't charge us!!!   Thank you Dr. David!!

After a few more errands we were back at the rig waiting to meet up with the Winchell's at 4:00 for their family picture.   We took a walk through the park and used a couple of different locations, the pictures turned out great.
What a beautiful family!

Becky had to go to work but the kids stayed and we made s'mores (using Santa Peeps).   This was
around 5:30 before dinner but, hey, we're the cool aunt and uncle - who needs dinner?  Then Becky called and let us know that she was leaving work early since no one was there and would bring over some hotdogs for the grill - oh no, I hope they're still hungry.   16 hot dogs later everybody (7 kids and 3 adults) was stuffed and we watched some old home videos of the three older kids when they visited Chicago in the late 80's and early 90's.   The younger four kept waiting to see themselves but unfortunately, as is often the case, there were no videos after the first three (I'm sure Becky has some, we just didn't - sorry kids).

Our biggest group ever - 10 people and
it really didn't feel too crowded!
Friday - 12/27/13

After three full days of family we took a break and hung out at the trailer.    Marty had lots of photo processing to work on and I had mail to go thru and bills to pay (and a blog to write).   The weather was in the low 60's so I did go for a short walk.   That's it for Friday (not every day is an adventure).  

12/16/13 - Dump Day (do you really want to read this?)

Monday - 12/16/13

Today was "Dump Day".  Since we are working Tuesday thru Saturday, Mondays are our chore/errand days.   We drove to town looking for a laundromat. The one we found was a dump, half the machines didn't work and it was also the most expensive we've been in so far, we won't be going back there.  Next stop was supposed to be for groceries but our microwave repairman called and asked if he could come at noon rather than the 3-6 slot we were told to expect him.   No problem, the sooner we get this microwave fixed the happier we will both be.  We met him back at Fairview and we now have a working microwave - YAY! 

We finally did some shopping and were back by 3:00 for the most exciting event of the day -  DUMPING OUR TANKS!   Our grey water tanks (sinks and shower) hold 93 gallons and our black water tank (toilet) holds 50 gallons Since we are staying here for four weeks we figured we should empty them after two weeks and then again when we leave on the 29th. To go to the dump station we had to pack up everything as if we were leaving so we could bring in the slides and then hitch the rig to the truck. It seems like a lot of work but we are getting so good at this that it only took about 15 minutes (a new record). We pulled up to the dump station which was only about 1/2 block away and took care of business. 

Back to the campsite, back-in, unhitch and we are ok for two more weeks.  Poor Maddie- there was no reason to take her to the dump station so we left her chained up in her spot by the picnic table. Then we both got in the truck and drove off - she didn't know what was going on and was looking all over for us. When the whining started I couldn't stand it anymore (see, I do have a heart) and brought her over to be with us. I wish I could have read her mind when she saw us leave  ?!?.   Poor dog.  

12/17 - 12/21 - Final Week with Habitat

Our group minus the photographer (Marty).  The two in the orange
shirts are our construction supervisors, Spencer and Craig.

Habitat Work -  12/17 - 12/21 (Tuesday thru Saturday)

We spent the week working on house #3.  We started with soffits, I cut them and Marty installed - what a team!    Soffits were finished on Wednesday and then we started with "j" channel which was finally finished on Friday morning and then we got to put up siding.  I was amazed at how much work needs to be done before you can do the siding.  Siding is instant gratification, you can finally see what the house is going to look like.  It was definitely my favorite job of the two weeks here.  

This is harder than it looks (and I have the cuts
on my fingers to prove it!)

Hey, Marty - here's another one.
Look at that perfect circle - I love my snips!
Marty did all the soffit for the third house,
what a big job that was.  Luckily he was able
to use the pneumatic palm nailer which
made the job go much quicker.

I don't like ladders so I used a piece of "J" channel to
hold up the "J" channel being installed.
At the "peak" of his soffiting 
Getting started on siding

It's important to be level - no one wants
to live in a "crooked little house"
Yes, they let me use the circular saw - what fun and
I still have all my fingers!

   There were a lot of people working on this last house
Saturday but there is still some siding to be installed.
 Luckily there are more volunteers coming in January.

It wasn't all work this week - we went out with our Habitat co-workers on Tuesday night to Orlando's, a seafood restaurant in Madisonville.  It was our first opportunity to socialize with this very nice group of people.   They are all staying at Fountainbleu State Park and we are at Fairview so we haven't hung around with them too much after work.   They made plans for dinner in Madisonville because it was very close to us and they wanted to make sure we were included at least once in their group activities.   A good time was had by all.

On Thursday, we went to Carmello's for pizza with Becky and five of her kids.   We always have a good time with them!
From the left:  Helen, Marty, Mary, Becky, Ben, Hope,
Mary Margaret, and Meredith

On Saturday morning we dropped Maddie off to stay with her friends, Rex, Lily and Tucker.   What family doesn't need four dogs for a day.   Ben was waiting to let us in at 7:30, I'm glad Maddie was so well taken care of.

We wish you all a Very Merry Christmas!  

12/15//13 - It's the Weekend!

Friday, 12/13/13 

We learned how to install "J" channel today!   We worked on that all day and almost finished a whole back porch.   At lunchtime we were treated to a mini--concert by Mary and Jack (blue-grass 
musicians), Spencer (our 26 year old supervisor and aspiring mandolin player) and Marty on harmonica.  It was fun to sit around and listen to old-time music - "You are my sunshine", "Oh, Susannah", "Red River Valley" and others like them. Here's a short clip we posted on Facebook:

We finished up on the job site around 4:00 and headed back to our rig with a quick trip to pickup dinner at Sonic on the way.

Saturday, 12/14/13

We are supposed to work Tuesday through Saturday and one of us did (thanks Marty!).   I stayed back at the rig and cleaned my 350 SF home :).   Then I watched trashy movies and tried to start a crochet project (that's not going so well).   Marty got home around 3:30 and we left around 5:30 to meet Becky and four of her kids at Garcia's, a Mexican restaurant in Covington - it was very good!

Sunday, 12/15/13

Today was our New Orleans day.   We took the 24 Mile Causeway over Lake Ponchartrain and were in the French Quarter by 10:00.  We wandered through the French Market and the French Quarter and crossed Canal Street for a quick trip to Harrah's Casino.  A few dollars later we headed back to the French Quarter.  It was a beautiful day for wandering and browsing.

Walking through Jackson Square with St. Louis Cathedral in the background
I love trying on hats and there are a lot of hats in the Market.
I know someone back in Chicago  who would
 really love these chairs!

A little "New 'Awlins" Jazz
We finished up in New Orleans around 1:00 and headed back to Fairview.   We took the longer way around through the town of Slidell.   It was a pretty ride going over the Mississippi and catching glimpses of Lake Pontchartrain to our left.    We were on 190 which goes right past the other State Park, Fountainbleu, where our fellow RV Care-A-Vanners are all staying.  We decided to take a quick ride through the park to see what we were missing.   This park is very nice, it sits on the north side of the lake and the Tammany Trace Bike Trail goes right through it.   We would definitely want to stay here if/when we come back.

While in the car I was playing about 7 different games of Words with Friends.  Once of those games was with my sister Jeanne who kept me posted about the Bears game - thanks Jeanne!

Once back at the rig (around 3:30), we got a phone call from a Cincinatti area code - it was one of our fellow workers who had heard about our ride through Fountainbleu and was inviting us back for dinner.  We had just got home and really didn't feel like going back out so we regretfully declined.   Once we're in, it's hard to get us to go back out (except for ice cream).

12/12/13 - Working for Habitat in Mandeville

12/9 thru 12/12/13 

After relaxing for a week at Fairview it was time to get back to work.   We started our 2nd Habitat build on Tuesday (12/10) bright and early - 8:00 A.M in Mandeville.  We have about a 20 minute commute in rush hour (I thought those days were over).    This build is very different from the one we did in Kentucky.    There are a lot of outside projects - porch ceilings, siding, soffits, fascias, and porch stairs need to be built.   I doubt we will be doing any inside work here.   The weather is cool (40's-50's) but when the sun's out it's pretty comfortable.   There are three houses and 10 RV Care-A-Vanners working on them plus three construction supervisors.   

We are receiving more supervision on this project than we did in Kentucky.  We had one construction supervisor there and the direction he gave us was to do what we would do in our own homes.  

Marty and I are working together on porch ceilings and other vinyl trim for the porches that I never even knew porches needed - it's scary how much I'm learning!  We didn't work together too much in Kentucky so this should be interesting.  

Using his head

Because the weather was so cool on Tuesday and Wednesday we had to cut the vinyl strips for the ceiling by hand (my job).   Very tedious but not as hard as what Marty was doing - he had to hammer, manually, all the strips into the ceiling above his head - my neck hurts just thinking about it.   It would have been nice to use a chop 
saw to cut the strips but the vinyl would probably have cracked.    We did go to Lowe's Tuesday night to buy a palm nailer for Marty but when he tried it out on Wednesday it didn't work so it was back to hammering by hand.  

One of the couples working with us are both bluegrass musicians.   They are going to play at a small Christmas pot-luck we're having next Friday.   We got a small taste of their talent at lunch on Wednesday.
Lunch time jam session
Thursday was a wonderful day on the build - the temperature was warm enough for power tools!!  We worked with one other couple in the morning putting up the OSB board for the ceiling of the porch and then installing the vinyl slats.   The guys got to use a palm nailer and us girls got to use a chop saw, so much easier than cutting by hand.   What took Marty and I all day on Wednesday was done in about 3 hours on Thursday.    I was a bit apprehensive about using the chop saw but once I saw how much quicker things went I became a convert.    We were so busy working that we forgot to take pictures.  

12/2 - 12/7/13 - Weekly Update

We've had a quiet week here at Fairview State Park.   Monday thru Friday we had nice temps (high 60's to the low 80') and high humidity and then on Saturday we dropped down to the high 40's and cloudy.  I'm not complaining, this is way better than Chicago's weather.

Monday, 12/2/13

We stopped at Cafe du Monde (in Mandeville, not New Orleans) and had our first beignets since we've been in Louisiana.  They won't be our last - :).   After that we headed over to Becky's for a short visit, then a quick trip to the grocery store and Home Depot.  Once back at the rig, Marty worked on reinforcing the file cabinet which has had a few issues every time we move the rig - it looks like it will hold now.   Then it was back to Becky's to see the two youngest kids (Meredith and Ben) as they got home from school.   Back to the rig for a quick dinner of Boudin cooked on the grill and toasted marshmallows and Monday was done.

See the dory hanging behind us - pretty impressive, isn't it?

Tuesday, 12/3/13

We were at Becky's around 10:30 to put a dory (think rowboat/canoe) up on the wall in the back porch to give her more floor space out there.   Marty, after much thought, and with  Becky and my able assistance devised a very clever system.   We cut a 2x4 and screwed it into one of the stud supports, then we attached a hinge.   We did the same thing to another stud and then screwed a 44" 2x4 to the hinge on each.    Then we attached chain to the 2x4 and to the ceiling support.   The fun part was getting the boat up there, it's not too heavy but is a bit awkward.  

It's very important to place the marshmallow exactly right.

On Wednesday Becky was working until 7 so we picked up Meredith and Ben after school and brought them back to the park.   We cooked burgers and toasted marshmallows - we bought Hershey bars but forgot the graham crackers so no s'mores - yet.    FYI--  six year old boys have a lot of energy and like to play with fire!  Becky came to pick up the kids and we hung out for a little longer around the fire, then Marty took the kids for a little walk and showed them the graveyard across the road from where our rig is parked.    When they came back it was time to say good-night.

Ben and Meredith, expert marshmallow toasters!

I don't understand how my
 hands got so sticky!

Thursday, 12/5/13

We took a walk on the "swamp trail" this morning.  It runs about 1/2 mile along the Tchefuncte River which runs along the north side of our campground.   The trail is on a boardwalk and is a nice scenic walk.   The Tchefuncte River flows into Lake Ponchartrain which is on the north side of New Orleans. We are about 45 minutes from New Orleans via the causeway over Lake Ponchartrain.  

We also discovered that there is a Great Harvest Bread Company in Mandeville.  When we lived in Oak Park we had one and loved their bread (and free samples).   We bought a loaf of Popeye bread (excellent for turkey sandwiches) and a loaf of white chocolate raspberry bread (excellent anytime).   They also had lemon cake which I had to try since I'm still missing the lemon cake that Portillo's used to sell.  This was good but not as good as Portillo's.  I guess I'll keep searching for the "perfect" lemon cake.  

Friday and Saturday, 12/6 and 12/7/13

Nothing exciting over the last few days.  We did go to Camping World in Hammond, LA to fill our propane tanks for the first time (we have two 30 pound tanks).   We use our furnace as little as possible so this was the first time we needed to fill them since June when we bought the rig.  We have had cold days but have mostly used the electric fireplace and a small electric heater that we bought at Walmart.   Since electricity is included at most campgrounds it makes more sense to use our electric heaters rather than the propane furnace.   If it's real cold (20's or low 30's) we will turn the furnace on for a few minutes to take the chill out of the air.  

We also went to the post office in Madisonville to drop off Jacob's "ABC" book - Yay, it's done!!  Here's a sneak peak of one of the pages, can you guess the letter?  

12/1/13 - Fairview state park

12/1/13 - Sunday

It's hard to believe we're already  in December - where does the time go?    I guess what they say about the older you get the quicker the days go by is true.    Since I worked as a school secretary for the past 15 years, my life (and vacations) have been based on the school calendar.   It's very strange to be able to travel in the fall, we've never really had that opportunity (except one memorable year in 2008 when we went on a bike tour of Tuscany in October  with the blessing of my incredibly nice boss, thanks Mary B.).

We left Abbeville, LA  around 10:00 this morning.   It was our quickest ever hitching-up,  it only took about an hour to pack up, close up, hitch-up and get on the road.    We saw frost on the ground as we drove east on I-10 towards Mandeville, LA.   The frost didn't  bother us because we knew temperatures were forecasted to be in the 60's today and into the 70's later in the week!

After  a relatively short drive of 150 miles we reached our December home in Fairview State Park.    This is a nice quiet park.  There are very few campers here and we have a  nice site with a fire ring, picnic table and grill - what more can anyone ask for?

Our home for the next four weeks
Since we will be here until December 29th and since we don't have a sewer hook-up we will be conserving water by taking showers at the bath houses.   Luckily for us, these  are the nicest, cleanest and biggest   showers I've ever seen at a campground.    Once we start working with Habitat  next week and I have to get up at 6:30 and go outside to walk to the shower I may not be as enthusiastic -we'll see.

11/30/13 - Zydeco Breakfast

11/30/13 - Saturday

If you had told me a year ago that I would get up at 6:30 on a Saturday morning to have breakfast while a Zydeco band played in the background I would have said no way.   I hate getting up early and the best part of being retired is sleeping until 8:00.  But every Saturday in Breaux Bridge at the Cafe des Amis people line up early in the morning to get in for breakfast, music and dancing.  A few people told us we had to do this and that we would love it.  They were right!   The restaurant opens at 7:30 and when we got there at 8:00 we were lucky enough to get a space at one of the communal tables.   One of the men at our table comes every week for the dancing.  He had
breakfast and then once the music started we didn't see him again until we left (2 hours later).    The table behind us was a bachelorette party (at 8:30 A.M!) and they were having a good old time - did I mention they serve Mimosa's and Bloody Mary's.   They brought bottles of champagne and orange juice directly to their table and let them mix their own.  Marty and I didn't go out on the dance floor but my legs were sure tired from all the chair dancing I did!  We left around 10:30 and there was still a line to get in, once people are inside it's hard to get them out.

Since it was only 10:30 when we left the Cafe we needed something else to do.   I got out my trusty GPS App and looked up local attractions.  We found the Acadian Cultural Center which is part of the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve.     We arrived at 10:45 and it was a good thing because they closed at noon.   It was a small museum all about Cajun history and culture.  They show a movie every hour on the hour so we watched that - it gave us the history from about the 1600's to the present.  The movie was good but the volume was too low maybe my ears hadn't adjusted from the loud music from the cafe.    :)  

On our way back to Abbeville we made our 2nd and probably last visit to Borden's.   Chocolate malt for me and a strawberry shake for Marty.     Tomorrow we will be leaving Betty's RV Park - those ten days went fast.  We really got to see and do a lot while we were here - from A to Z - Accordians to Zydeco!

11/29/13 - Swamp Tour

Friday, 11/29/13

After a quick trip to the post office we were on our way to Breaux Bridge for a "Swamp Tour".  The weather was sunny but the temps are only in the high 50's so it's still jacket weather.

We took a two-hour tour with "Champagne's Cajun Swamp Tours" and our money was well spent.    We went through swamps and bayous and there is a difference;  a bayou is a body of water that is river like in nature, but generally shallower and the water movement is slower and a swamp is a seasonally flooded area with dense vegetation, the woodland equivalent of a prairie bog.   See what I'm learning!

Our tour guide was extremely knowledgeable and we learned a lot.  The water we were on is a federally protected bird sanctuary so during migration season there are thousands of bird on the water.  We saw so many different birds; snowy white egrets, cormorants,  anhingas, and my favorite of the day, the Great Blue Heron.  They have a wing span of 5 feet and were amazing to see.

Everyone on the boat was looking for alligators and finally one sharp-eyed man saw one - too bad it was the only one we saw.  We did see lots of turtles.

My First Alligator!

The highlight of the tour (after the alligator spotting) had to be when the boat got stuck and he asked the people on the left to shift to the right and then had the people in the back move to the front - it was pretty funny and we finally did get unstuck and no one fell out (although that could have been funny too - the water was pretty shallow).  Our tour guide was Brian Champagne, the owner of the company and I loved his Cajun accent - every sentence was "you all" this and "you all" that.

Here's a link that Marty posted on YouTube about our swamp tour

Looks like you can walk on it but
it's shallow, slow moving water
What a beautiful day!

After the swamp tour we headed back to Abbeville.   Rte 167 is the road between Abbeville and Lafayette and we've travelled it many times since we've been here.  On 167, in Lafayette, is the last remaining Borden's Ice Cream Shop in the country.  We had to stop since who knows if we'll ever come back this way.   YUM!