Champlain Valley Fair

Double-decker carousel

Double-decker carousel

Jett and I like street fairs. We like county fairs. We like state fairs. So of course we went to the Champlain Valley Fair when it was in town in August. The “Champlain Valley” encompasses several counties in northern Vermont, but not the entire state, so it is somewhere between a county fair and a state fair. It is large and the venue was the Champlain Valley Expo, where the Escapade was held in July. So we got to see the same facilities used in a different way.

We also, of course, stuffed our faces with the usual assortment of fair foods. Funnel cake, french fries, sno-cones, bratwurst. To our credit, I think, we passed on the deep-fried oreos and bacon.

One weird thing on display: an old, gas-powered washing machine. Never saw one of those before.

Sand sculpture

Sand sculpture

We also came within an inch of buying into satellite TV. Dish had a nice fair special and we got to the point of handing over our credit card before we discovered – and the salesman discovered – that the RV service did not support DVR. Well, Jett has to have a DVR. So we will keep looking.

But despite that disappointment it was a fun, sunny day at the fair.

Gas-powered washer

Gas-powered washer

The ever-changing view from the marina

Even on a dreary day the view from the marina office is pleasant. On a sunny day – or a stormy day with sunny breaks – the view can be absolutely breathtaking. I particularly like the marina when the sun gets low in the sky and long shadows mix with bright boat profiles.

The marina at its best

The marina at its best

Stormy day

Stormy day

Stormy day

Stormy day

Before dusk

Before dusk

Serenity

Serenity

Simple beauty

Simple beauty

Bored at the marina

The marina was very busy this summer, except for those few days when the weather was bad. But even on those days I had maintenance chores to keep me busy: power-washing the pontoon boats, replacing worn boards on the docks, etc. Now, post-Labor Day, business has fallen off the cliff.  On Sunday the wind was blowing so no one wanted to be on the lake. No rentals, no gas sales. And no maintenance chores.  The resort is planning to replace the docks next year, so no more dock maintenance is needed.  The pontoon boats are all clean and the minor maintenance tasks have all been completed. What to do, what to do?

Sudoku. For about an hour.

Reading. But the book I am on now hasn’t piqued my interest yet. Another hour.

That leaves about 8 hours to fill.  Fortunately the marina office has a fine internet connection.  Also, fortunately, it was the first week of the NFL season, the Red Sox were fighting for first place in Toronto and my four fantasy baseball teams could all be monitored as the real games were being played.  Thanks to the internet, I was able to follow the play-by-play progress of all of these in real time.  It brightened an otherwise very dull day.

There were some very exciting, nail-biter NFL games, the Red Sox won a back-and-forth affair on a Big Papi homer and my fantasy teams all did very well (one has a 27-game lead in a 12-team league!).

Thanks, internet, for entertaining me at “work”.

 

RV water torture

Anode rod

Anode rod

Our fresh water overflow problem is back.  After mysteriously disappearing two months ago, it reappeared after I (belatedly) replaced the anode rod in our hot water heater a couple of days ago.  To perform that little task, I had to turn off the water supply for about 20 minutes.  A few hours after turning the water on again, the overflow reappeared. Drip, drip, drip. Torture.

Now please understand that the hot water heater cannot be blamed.  Yes, water could flow from the fresh water tank to the hot water heater if the water pump was activated, which it was not.  Turning off the water was a simple act of closing the valve at the utility post.  I did not do ANYTHING with the water controls in the RV. So I cannot think of any reason why this simple task would cause the problem to resurface.

Several attempts to “fix” the problem (i.e., make it disappear again) – by turning the 4-way water flow valve that was replaced earlier this summer – have had no effect.

Frustrating.

For those of you who have no idea what an anode rod looks like, see the photo.  This is a zinc rod which has the effect of protecting the innards of the hot water heater from corrosion by sacrificing itself to corrosion.  A chemical engineer could probably explain it further.

Headstone hunting

Pine Grove Cemetery

Pine Grove Cemetery

As you may know, I have been spending a large portion of my free time researching Jett’s ancestors. One branch of her family lived – and died – in Vermont. According to my records, six of them were buried in the Pine Grove Cemetery in North Springfield, VT. Despite it being the permanent resting place for most of Springfield’s earliest settlers, it is an active cemetery – with its own FaceBook page! This is your opportunity to be friends with a cemetery.

So I took a (very long) day trip to North Springfield recently to see if I could locate the headstones of Jett’s ancestors. It was also my first genealogical graveyard trip and an opportunity to test some of the headstone photography tips that I got at the Escapade. I loaded the car with some paper towels and “Awesome” cleaner (to clean dirty markers) and took, in addition to my cell phone, my trusty Mexican-bought digital camera, mostly to see which was better at capturing headstones.

Burlington to Springfield is about two and a half hours. I had no trouble finding the cemetery or gaining access, but I was somewhat daunted when I got there. It is a large cemetery with thousands of headstones. I was thinking it might take me several hours to find the headstones I was looking for, if, indeed, they existed at all. But I quickly figured out that the pre-20th-century headstones were all in the northwest quarter of the cemetery, which cut my estimated search time by 75%.

I was looking for two families: the Cooks and the Winchesters. As it turns out, I would have found both very quickly if I had started my search at the top of the hill rather than the bottom. But I didn’t, so I spent about 30 minutes discovering that Springfield was loaded with Woodwards, Bisbees, Howes and Lelands, but not many Cooks or Winchesters. But I found them, eventually.

The people I was looking for:

  • Salmon Winchester incription

    Salmon Winchester inscription

    Salmon Winchester, died 1887. I believe his name is pronounced like a 2-syllable “Solomon” rather than like the fish. He was a soldier in the Civil War. One of the things I learned from this trip – from cleaning his headstone – was that he was a member of “Co. A 3rd Reg. Vt. Vol.” A little research revealed that the 3rd Vermont Infantry (which Salmon’s company was incorporated into) was a highly regarded and decorated force in the Union Army. It suffered the highest casualty rate of any union unit in the war. I would like to research Salmon a bit further to find out what his personal experiences were.
  • Springfield House

    Springfield House

    David Winchester, Jr., died 1858.  Salmon’s father. He was a prominent man in Springfield and, for a time, a proprietor of the town’s only hotel. In addition to providing lodging, it provided libation and eventually became a target of the temperance movement.
  • Abigail Clarke's broken headstone

    Abigail Clarke’s broken headstone

    Abigail Clarke Winchester, died 1871. David’s wife and Salmon’s mother. Not much is known about her other than she was the wife of a prominent citizen of Springfield. She was born in Raynham, MA, and I have to wonder how a homebody like David Winchester, Jr., managed to find a court a woman from southeastern Massachusetts. Her headstone was in the worst shape of the six, broken in half.
  • Susan “Bessie” Cook Winchester, died 1917. She is the link between the Cooks and the Winchesters.  Born in North Springfield, lived in North Springfield her entire life, died in North Springfield.  She was the granddaughter of Thomas Cook, one of the earliest settlers of Springfield, who came to Vermont from Rhode Island in 1795. But he died in New York and is not in the Pine Grove Cemetery. One of her brothers, Selden Cook, was a very prominent businessman in Springfield, operating a department store there for many years.
  • Oliver Cook, died 1863.  Son of Thomas Cook, father of Susan Cook Winchester and Selden Cook.
  • Polly Bruce Cook, died 1842. Wife of Oliver Cook. Her parents were reportedly Quakers and some of the earliest settlers of an adjoining town, but I have not been able to corroborate that.

The Vermont connection was broken when Abigail Winchester Stone, the daughter of Susan and Oliver Cook, married and moved to Massachusetts.

I found all 6 headstones and took pictures of them all with both cameras (conclusion: picture quality was pretty similar with both cameras). I then drove down to Springfield and spent about 90 minutes doing some research in the public library there, with the assistance of a very helpful librarian. I didn’t learn a lot that I didn’t already know about Jett’s relatives, but learned a lot about the town. For example, it wasn’t settled until the violence of the French and Indian War died down and an outpost was built there. And that the first roads were Indian trails. And that the original site of the town – along the Connecticut River – was abandoned because the land was grabbed up by speculators (the cost of over-speculation, I guess).

All-in-all, it was a very interesting and productive day. I hope to get an opportunity to do similar cemetery research when I get back to Massachusetts.

I am beginning to wish that some of our ancestors died in Florida. It would be a nice way to spend some time this winter. But, no, they were a bunch of northerners.

Night lightning

Night lightning

Night lightning

My dogs hate thunderstorms, so lightning of any kind is usually not welcome in our home. But recently we experienced a spectacular nighttime lightning storm that was almost totally thunder-free. It eventually turned into a real thunderstorm with rain, wind, thunder and lightning, but for about 20 minutes it was simply a spectacular light show that rivaled the best fireworks extravazanzas.

I decided to see if I could capture any of these vivid bursts of light and, in doing so, found a use for the “burst” mode on my cell phone’s camera. When I press and hold the snap button it produces a series of still shots. In the past this has annoyed me as my natural ham-handedness with the camera has produced multiple shots when I really wanted just one. But with the lightning show all I had to do was point at the sky, hold the button down and then discard the 90% of the shots that were uninteresting. With technique you are pretty much guaranteed to capture some flashes.

Another flash

Another flash

Staining the docks

Before (almost)

Before (almost)

The "test patch"

The “test patch”

One of the tasks of a marina guy is to maintain the docks. This includes replacing worn board (I have replaced about 25 this year) and staining the docks. Replacing the boards is a matter of using a crowbar to rip up the old one, then screwing down a new one. Not hard, except on the knees. Staining is simpler – just use a roller to apply the stain. The only hard part is to do it while keeping the docks operational, which means doing only half the width of the dock at a time and carefully planning how to get to the boats and the gas pump at all times without stepping on wet stain. I started with a “test patch” – one of the small finger docks – then moved on to the rest after the marina manager approved.

Because it can only be done in the “down time” when there is no other activity, staining the launch dock took almost two months, start to finish, with almost 7 gallons used.

As Jett would say, “A good job done.”

I included the bottom photo just because it shows how beautiful the marina can be on a perfect day.

After

After

A perfect marina day

A perfect marina day

Apple Island fauna

Two fawns

Two fawns

The Apple Island Resort is not exactly in the middle of nowhere; it is on US Route 2 – a heavily-traveled road – on the shores of Lake Champlain, just a few miles from Burlington, Vermont’s largest city. Yet I have been surprised several times by the sudden and unexpected appearance of wildlife of various sorts. First, two fawns (the second is just barely visible above the white post) surprised me on the third hole of the golf course. They just came out of the adjoining woods, walking straight onto the fairway and headed straight for my ball. They were maybe 50 feet away from me. They were unafraid and, for a moment, walked directly at me. I was somewhat fearful that a doe or buck would charge out of the woods and try to butt me, to protect the young-uns. But the fawns turned and romped back into the woods and I continued my round, unmolested.

Then there was the fox that crossed our path as I walked the dogs down one of the resort roads one morning. It just ran by us, probably no more than 25 feet away. I was totally surprised, having never seen a fox in the wild(?) before. It happened so quickly that I couldn’t get a photo. And it apparently surprised the dogs as well as they just watched it run by, mute. Rusty barks at and chases anything that moves, so having him remain silent and motionless as he watched the fox was a huge surprise.

Crane at the marina

Crane at the marina

The marina also has some wildlife. There is the crane that lives in the area and uses the marina basin to fish. I haven’t identified the type of crane, but it is smaller than a sandhill.

A large-mouth bass for several months was living under the launch dock. I would see it every morning as I was working on the boats. I regarded it as my pet and admonished people to not fish for it (fishing off the docks is prohibited anyway, so I was well within my rights to yell at them). But someone must have gotten it as I have not seen it for a month.

Then there is the muskrat that startled me one morning by popping his head up out of the water near the dock as I was walking by. Again, his appearance was so brief that I didn’t get a photo, but it is another animal that I have never before seen in the wild.

Finally, there are the dogs. We allow dogs to be taken aboard the pontoon boats. They are not exactly wild animals, yet one of them was responsible for the only animal-inflicted injury that I have received this summer: a bite on the calf. The owner assured me that his dogs were friendly, but I know dogs and one seemed to be acting aggressively, so I kept my distance. But as I was carrying the paddles (he and his companion were renting the canoe) to the shore, I got a bit too close and the damn dog lunged and nipped me. Not a bad bite, but bad enough to break the skin. Fortunately it did not get infected and is now nearly healed.

Didn’t he know that I am a dog person?

Dog bite

Dog bite

Jett’s digestive issues

Jett will probably kill me for posting this, but it is an important topic that significantly affects our life on the road, so I think it should be covered.

Jett has, for many years, suffered from occasional bouts of pancreatitis. I am sure that she would want me to immediately point out that hers is NOT caused by alcoholism (in fact she almost never drinks alcoholic beverages of any kind); rather, she is one of the unlucky people who have pancreas divisum, a congenital abnormality of the pancreas.

Due to this physiological variation, she has suffered occasional episodes of severe abdominal distress for over 10 years. Several of these episodes have landed her in the ER. She has learned to live with the condition, meaning that she is very careful with her diet (e.g., light on fatty foods) and is able to recognize the early signs and just stop eating when they appear. The good news, if any is to be found, is that she will never be overweight because she can’t eat much and the condition isn’t fatal. But each episode is very unpleasant.

When she experienced some digestive issues in mid-July, few days before the start of the 56th Escapade, the first thought was “Oh, no, not another pancreatitis attack!” But the symptoms were not quite the same – less severe, which was good, but more persistent, which was bad. The pain finally drove us to an “urgent care” facility the day before the start of the Escapade where tests were done which led to a shocking initial diagnosis of “hepatitis.” She was then transported to the University of Vermont Medical Center for additional tests. There the diagnosis was revised: she did not have hepatitis but did have “elevated liver enzymes.” Some palliative care got her home in time to get to the Escapade, but she spent the week in discomfort.  The UVM doctor recommended that she come back for more tests if she didn’t improve. She didn’t improve, so the day after we returned from the Escapade we were back in the ER. A CAT scan and an ultrasound produced a diagnosis of “blocked bile duct” on Friday night, followed by a very uncomfortable weekend before she could consult with her regular doctor. He advised her to submit to an endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) procedure at UVM and, on Thursday last week, she did. The doctors were able to confirm the blockage and were also able to install a temporary stent to allow the bile to flow again. They said they saw no sign of cancer, which had been a concern as cancer could have been the cause of the blockage.

I wish I could report that Jett immediately improved and the whole painful mess is behind us, but that would be an overstatement. She was in extreme discomfort through the weekend, due mostly to the trauma the procedure wreaked on her very sensitive esophagus. The throat pain subsided on Monday, to be replaced by abdominal pain. Today (Tuesday) her doctor had her go back to the hospital for more blood tests which showed that she did not have pancreatitis, as feared.  Rather the suspected cause of the severe pain was the trauma to the pancreas due to the ERCP.  In any case, the conclusion was that there was not much that could be done.  She just has to be very careful with her diet and keep hydrated.  By evening she was considerably better.

It has been a rough stretch for her, but we remain optimistic that this, too, shall pass.

56th Escapade

General session

General session

When Jett and I first heard that the 2016 Escapade – the national convention for the Escapees RV Club of full-time RVers – was to be held in 2016 in Vermont, we immediately resolved to be there. One of the reasons we accepted our summer jobs in South Hero, VT, was that we would be just 15 miles from the Escapade venue in Essex Junction, VT. We even made getting the week off a condition of our employment.

So the Escapade, held July 23-29, is now history. We are glad we went, though Jett participated only minimally due to poor health (ongoing digestive issues – more on that in a subsequent post). It was a large event – over 1,200 people living in over 700 RVs (and we probably had the shortest trip of all as many traveled thousands of miles to get there). It was amazing to be surrounded by so many other people “living the dream” as they say. I attended many of the very informative seminars and learned a lot. As a side benefit, we got the RV in motion after several months of just sitting, which is always a good idea.

The first amazing thing we observed was how efficiently the “parking team” got everyone situated in a water/electric site. Though there was a constant stream of arrivals on both Saturday and Sunday, there was never a line of RVs waiting to get parked. We were parked within 5 minutes of arriving. It is almost like they have done this before. Or maybe they have done this 55 times before (this was the 56th Escapade).

One row of RVs

One row of RVs

Our site for the Escapade

Our site for the Escapade

The seminars varied widely in topics. I attended one – surprisingly entertaining – on toilet odors and how to control them. I also sat in on two very interesting and informative genealogy seminars, one on how to do local research and another on how to photograph gravestones (which is harder than you would think). Other seminars included volunteering in federal parks and refuges and workamping in general. The general sessions were also interesting with the best one featuring Kay Peterson, co-founder (with her husband, now deceased) in 1978 of the Escapees organization. The success of her effort was demonstrated in the announcement that the most recent membership number was over 130,000. Jett, in one of her distressingly rare moments out of bed, sat with Kay and had a nice chat. Wonderful ladies both.

Jett with Kay

Jett with Kay

The toilet odor talk

The toilet odor talk

Social events included a concert, an amateur talent show, a potluck supper, a fundraising chili cookoff (very successful – over $6,000 raised for charity), a pet parade and, on Friday morning, a “hitchup breakfast” to give everyone something to eat before they left. Jett volunteered for the potluck supper (with me filling in because she felt so lousy) and I volunteered for the hitchup breakfast (a breeze, except for getting there at 6:30am). We met some wonderful folks, all of whom planned to attend the 57th Escapade in April 2017 in Tuscon, AZ. We didn’t commit but would very much like to be there. Escapades are fun.

Chili cookoff

Chili cookoff

Pet parade

Pet parade

Pet parade

Pet parade