The Fall and Early Winter Wrap-up

Now that I have gotten the Marine Corps Marathon behind me, it is time to summarize our activities post marathon to present. There will be no further mention of my physical condition issues. I promise.

Our annual trip to Southeast Georgia, Kings Bay Submarine Base specifically has been for the purposes of catching up with friends, seeing our dentist and our family practice folks for the annual check-ups. When we left Kings Bay last year we had it in our minds that we would likely change our annual appointments to somewhere further west. Somewhere along the way we realized that the marathon would put us on the east coast, so we decided to make one more annual visit to our pseudo home port.
We do not regret the decision. We really did have a good time visiting our friends and trying to relax between the various health maintenance appointments we made.

Thinking back to the marathon and specifically to the corner of 15th and Constitution and the appearance of our friend Michele, I can now tell the rest of the story. Jim and Michele were in the country on business and pleasure as I mentioned. The pleasure part of their trip included coming back to St. Marys to visit some of the many friends they had made while Jim was assigned as the British Representative to Trident Refit Facility and Strategic Weapons Facility Atlantic. We were fortunate enough to be able to spend an afternoon with the two of them catching up on all that has gone on in our lives. When I saw Michelle on the marathon course, Jim was nowhere to be seen. He had gone up to the Washington Monument. As it turned out shortly after I passed by Michele, Jim returned and still excited by having picked me out of the mass of humanity streaming by Michele told Jim to try to catch up with me. So, picture this, a tall thin fellow running along the course in a suit and of course wearing dress shoes to match the suit. He was not able to catch up to me before he realized how he must have looked. When we heard the story we all laughed heartily. Anyway, we really enjoyed reconnecting with Jim and Michele and learning what their two wonderful young adult children are accomplishing. It was a real treat.

Of course we tried to spend as much time with our good friend Trish as we could. In recent years that has gotten more and more difficult as she has taken on so many more wonderful activities. We were able to share several evenings out with Trish that included some great dinners at some of our favorite restaurants and some new ones as well. I was also able to spend some time at Trish’s house taking care some “honey do list” items. Trish always presents me with some challenging projects that test my skills. She did not fail in that regard this season. I am happy to say that I was able to complete a re-cabling project that I had proposed last year. My job was to tie all the pre-wired cable connections in the house to the TV antenna that had formerly only serviced the master bedroom. In the development where Trish lives there is no cable. While she has satellite TV for the living room, she has always relied on an antenna in the master bedroom and rabbit ears in the kitchen. With the advent of digital TV she has had pretty bad reception in the kitchen and had just given up in the master bedroom. I was able to restore quite clear reception in both rooms as well as allow her to choose between satellite and over the air for the living room with no unsightly runs of cable along the walls. I was pretty proud of that job, especially when we tuned the first TV to the “new” antenna and realized not only how many channels we had gained, but the quality of the reception.

Trish remains one of our closest friends and we are hoping that she will be able to meet up with us from time to time as we travel around the country.

Of course we were also able to renew our friendships with all the good people working/volunteering at Eagle Hammock RV Park on Kings Bay Submarine Base. It was fun catching up with everyone and hearing about their various adventures since we last saw one another. Since we have been such consistent volunteers at Eagle Hammock we have also made acquaintances with many of the winter Georgians who have been staying at the park for parts of several winters. It was good to see those folks as well.

I would be remiss if I failed to mention our good friends Kitty and Rich. Rich is a retired Navy dentist who continues to work for the Navy as a dentist while Kitty continues to be the best most creative home chef in Camden County. We were fortunate to be able to spend an evening out with them as well as a farewell dinner at their home the night before we left. Kitty and Rich are great hosts and we really are better for having known them over these many years.

While we were away this past year, the Submarine Base had a change of commanding officers. The new commanding officer just happens to be another friend of ours, Captain John O’Neill. While we were stationed at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, John was commanding officer of one of the submarines undergoing maintenance at the yard. We got acquainted with them socially and really had some wonderful times together. In fact it was Shelley O’Neill who encouraged me to start this blog in the first place. Over the years I have thanked and damned her for her suggestion, sometimes in the same thought. That said I really do appreciate the gentle push she gave me. Even though sometimes finding time to write what I write seems more like work than I am interested in involving myself, this has been a wonderful release for me.

John and Shelley invited us to their home for Thanksgiving Dinner. What a treat that was. We got to meet their three children whom have all grown into wonderful young adults in the case of the older two and a super young teenager in their younger son. While I was at the shipyard one of the community activities I was involved with was to be a float judge for the annual Winter Carnival Parade. There are two things I remember from that event. The first was the absolutely raw temperatures and wind we were exposed to while judging the floats. Of course the people in the parade were exposed to those same elements much longer than we judges were. The other thing was when I approached a float built by one of the local Brownie Troops, Shelley came from around the float and said, “Frank, be gentle, there just young girls.” She was of course referring to her daughter and her friends. While that float was not an award winner, it was still pretty good. The young float builders were really young. When we met the O’Neill’s children on Thanksgiving I couldn’t believe they were the same kids we had met in Maine. That young Brownie is now a junior in high school and her older brother, a senior is bidding for an appointment to the Naval Academy this spring. Their younger brother is in middle school and wise beyond his years.

We had a great time with the O’neills and their neighbors, the local admiral, over a wonderful dinner. John and Shelley share Connie’s and my concerns about processed foods and therefore strive to prepare meals from the freshest and healthiest produced ingredients. The result was that we enjoyed a very healthy based dinner that I was able to moderate by eating way too much. We were able to spend two other evenings with John and Shelley over our time at Kings Bay. On our way to Balcones Canyonlands Wildlife Refuge we were able to spend an overnight in Shelley’s hometown, Brenham, Texas. Brenham is also the home of Blue Bell Ice Cream, which I have written about in earlier articles. Shelley, you will be surprised and shocked to learn that they were talking about closing the ice cream plant today due to the weather. I am not sure how that turned out.

We had an early Thanksgiving as well as the real celebration by traveling to Charleston, South Carolina and spending the weekend before Thanksgiving with Marie, our friend and Pat’s lady friend. Of course Pat came down from Maryland and there was a long list of other guests as well. We had a great dinner and a really good weekend even though I was still suffering pretty badly with shingles. I remained in the Misery Zone I discussed in my last article for some time.

Pat’s son Shaun was shipped off to Officers Candidate School in Newport, Rhode Island in September with a December 3rd graduation date. Connie and I flew to Rhode Island to help Pat complete the launch. We were able to stay in a timeshare condo with friends of Pat’s and then acquaintances of ours, now friends, Ed and Luonna. The activities surrounding the graduation were great fun to be involved with and the socializing was just wonderful as well.

Our relationship with Ed and Luonna has matured to the point that we made a point of looking them up when we visited Pittsburgh in January. We had a great time with them in a much more relaxed setting while in Pittsburgh.

Getting back to Newport, as well as spending time with Pat, Marie, Ed and Luonna, we also got to see Shaun’s mother, Lesa and her husband John. It was fun to catch up a bit with them during all the excitement of the events.

Shaun got the new officer good deal of the year as his next school start date has been delayed. So, to keep him employed he has been assigned to assist Navy Officer Recruiters in Atlanta, Georgia. This is great for Shaun because Atlanta is the home of his girlfriend. We wish them the best as they work on their relationship and Shaun works on recruiting some of his friends and former classmates.

I mentioned a trip to Pittsburgh earlier. For a couple not liking the cold anymore, it seems we have spent a lot of this winter in colder areas than we should. Anyway, Connie’s brother in law is in the fight of his life with prostate cancer. We know that once we get involved in our winter job at Balcones and then our summer job at Yellowstone National Park we will have a hard time getting to Pittsburgh for visits. Therefore, we decided to take a week and drive up to see Jim as well as the rest of the family who may have been around. While we didn’t get to see too many of the extended family this trip due to most being away at school or permanently moved out of the area we were able to see some we failed to see while in town during the summer. It was a good trip even with Jim being so ill. While we were there, Jim seemed to rally giving us the opportunity to share several hours of storytelling and remembering. We are hopeful that we will be able to visit him again.
Shortly after our return to Kings Bay from Pittsburgh we made our preparations to depart. This time we tried to tell everyone we know that it was probably the last time we would be in the area for some time to come. Over a dinner with Trish and another couple, Jim and Windy, we thought we made it clear we were not planning to return next fall. However, two nights later at Rich and Kitty’s house, Trish was surprised to learn we were not coming back. When she told Wendy, she too somehow had missed the announcement. Apparently we were not as clear as we thought. We are sorry for that, but the fact is we will be way out west come fall and it does not make sense to cruise all the way across the country. There are too many things to see and do around this great country of ours to confine our falls and winters to one location.

Before we got out of town I was able to capture some pretty special images of the wildlife on the lake at Eagle Hammock RV Park as well as a sunset without clouds captured from Rich and Kitty’s backyard. I have included them in a photo album linked below.

Fall and Early Winter 2010-2011

Our trip from Georgia to Central Texas was interesting to say the least. We had a drop dead date of February 4th for our arrival at Balcones. However, as we watched the weather moving across the country we were concerned about the conditions we would encounter. We pushed pretty hard for the first two days getting us to Gulfport, Mississippi, before the weather deteriorated to a horrible thunderstorm. We were well camped by the time the skies opened up. However, we did venture out in order to meet up with our friends Kim and Chris and Chris’s parents for a dinner out at a really good restaurant. Chris, a Master Chief Petty Officer was assigned to Naval Support Activity La Maddalena, Italy, while I was assigned to USS Simon Lake, homeported at La Maddalena. The last two times we came through Gulfport, we had not been able to get together with Chris. One time the family was out of town. The next trip we were able to see Kim and Chris’s parents who were visiting from Illinois, but Chris was deployed to the Middle East. That made this trip pretty special as Connie had not seen Chris since we left Italy in 1996. It was a great reunion and we were really glad we had been able to make it work with our deadline and our need to dodge the weather.

We spent two nights in Beaumont, Texas because the weather forecast was for damaging thunderstorms the day following our arrival. We certainly didn’t want to be on the road during damaging thunderstorms and the high winds associated. So, we spent the day off the road by going to a movie and staying warm and dry.

Our next stop was Brenham after a day of two hands on the wheel all day long due to a persistent north wind. We found a cute little place west of town that was perfect for our needs and the owner was super appreciative of our service to our country to the tune of a fifty percent discount from the published rate.

We made correct decisions not only regarding which days we traveled, but which route we took. The result of those decisions was that we got here on time and without incident. One more day on the road and we would have had to layover again. Last night northern and central Texas got a pretty good coating of snow and ice. We arrived at Balcones Canyonlands Wildlife Refuge early Thursday afternoon and after getting settled on our site we took a little drive to check out the local grocery stores and locate the closest Starbucks. We then settled in for what was forecast to be a cold and snowy evening. As it turned out the temperatures did not get as low as predicted. It did snow, but it was probably only about a half inch deep. It really was a beautiful sight, but we hope it isn’t one we will experience again anytime soon. We will be here well into May and based on the orientation we completed this afternoon, I suspect there will be plenty of stories to tell. Please enjoy the images I put in the web album and stay tuned for what is to follow.


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