Saturday, February 28, 2009

We're All Here!

The last four of our long-termers (those volunteers staying for at least a month) arrived today. Some of the previous long-termers left at 4 AM in order to catch flights home; the previous Project Directors left by car late this morning. We have two couples and a single young man who will be staying over longer. That brings our LT team to 13 members.

We sat out on the deck between the trailers, enjoying the 87 degree temperature and sunshine while I was able to review all of the notes I have taken during the last week with our construction foreman and the fellows who will be crew leaders. We're going to have to be sure everyone has hats and sunblock!

After the cooks returned with the van from their food stocking expedition, we loaded up most of the new crew and took them out to see the three current project sites as well as the new one that hasn't yet been started. We didn't keep exact track, but Forry drove over 45 miles just getting to all four sites -- none of them are close!

Auntie Violet will finally get to travel to the Dulzura site tomorrow. The fellows moved one of the trailers to the side so that there will be room for her! It will be nice to no longer be driving back and forth.

Friday, February 27, 2009

It's Friday ----

And I'm tired! It's been a busy week. Today we took a look at where a fifth house may be permitted. It's just a few miles back into the hills from the MDS site. These people have a spectacular view from where their house was (and where the new house will be). It hasn't been through all of the permit process yet, so we'll have to wait to see if it transpires.

This little orange tree sits right in the middle of the drive entering the MDS site. It's just loaded with blossoms. You can smell it throughout the whole camp! There have been 4-5 little hummingbirds buzzing around it most of the day. We think they are black-chinned hummingbirds... You can occasionally get a glimpse of their purple throats as they flit by.

We sat and watched them this noon while sitting out on the deck waiting for Forry and Kerry to bring back the pizza that is the closing tradition for this MDS crew.

This afternoon we went to the San Diego airport with one of the fellows to pick up our cooks for the next two weeks who came in from Phileadelphia. The couple has cooked for many camps. We took them out to dinner with us at the little diner a couple of miles down the road from us and had an enjoyable visit.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Orientation Continues

We are gradually getting things figured out as we try to pump the minds of the current Project Directors for every tidbit of information we can think of to ask about. This morning we met the local Mennonite Church coordinator at the bank to add our signatures to the bank cards so that we can write checks. We had met Mel before when we were here in December delivering the Hitchhiker RV and the pickup. Mel took us to the airport for our flight back to SeaTac. It was good to see him again. We took him to lunch at Denny's after we got all of the papers signed.
In the afternoon, we met up with Kerry, the current PD, and went out to two of the current house sites with him.
These pictures are of House #3 as the fellows are unloading bales of shingles from the back of the pickup and putting them up on the roof. They plan to start shingling it tomorrow. When Forry and I first saw the house last Monday, the inside walls were up and they had just hauled the roof joists up ready to install the next day. It's amazing what has been accomplished in these few days. The sheeting is up on the roof, the windows are in, the house has had the reflective siding put on and been wrapped with vapor barrier.
We then went House #2 which is going to be solar heated. It, too, has doors and windows in and the sprinkler system installed. We didn't go to House #1 today, but the crew reported at supper that they had finished sanding the wall board and put the first coat of paint sealer on.
We did go to check out the site for House #4. It's WAY back in a canyon up a road that turns from asphalt to gravel to dirt. It's going to be an interesting spot to get cement trucks and supplies into.
We had lasagna for supper at the project site tonight. I was impressed with the high spirits and morale of the mostly Canadian crews who have put in a very busy week.
One thing we noticed today was the increased presence of Border Patrol vehicles along the various roads we traveled. Kerry mentioned that he had observed the same thing. We wondered if it had anything to do with all of the arrests of members of the Sonoran Drug Cartel they were talking about on the news yesterday.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Costco; the Van Hunt

Today was one of those days that makes you wonder where it went -- and what was it you did?

We went to San Diego today for a Costco run, but first had to swing by the MDS site to pick up my iPhone that I had left in the office yesterday. I decided that I had to start driving in this mountainous country, even though I'd just as soon let Forry do the driving. If he's going to be making the runs for building supplies and airport pickups, that means that I'll have to be on my own checking on sites, going to meetings, etc. So, I drove the stretch from Diamond Jack's to the MDS site. It's only about seven miles as the crow flies, but it's a s-l-o-w fifteen miles by road and takes at least a half hour. The road is VERY curvy with lots of up and down.

We were going to take a new back-country route by Otay Lake to San Diego, so Forry wanted to drive that stretch. We had hoped to see lots of birds at the lake, but saw lots of fishermen instead. Once you pass the lake, you are out of the country and into populated areas with housing subdivisions and strip malls. We were thankful to have Sally, the GPS unit, with us. She took us right to the store. We had only a few things to pick up. It seemed funny not to stock up on fruits and vegetables like I usually do, but we will be eating at the MDS site for the next two months so didn't need to.

We have a group of 16 short term volunteers coming in this weekend by train. We don't have enough vehicles at the project site to pick them all up (they are Old Order and do not drive) and then to ferry them to work sites during the week. We drove over to the airport to check on renting a large (12 passenger) van, but couldn't get any answers from folks there. So, I've spent a good share of the evening on the computer checking out rental places. It seems there are not very many available. We may just end up renting a 7 passenger minivan and using the 10 passenger one at the project site. They may end up holding their luggage in their laps!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Dulzura; the Border Patrol

These are pictures from the Mennonite Disaster Service's Dulzura Project site:

Theses are some of the RVs being used for housing by the long-termers. We will probably move out and store the one that is second from the right and put Auntie Violet in its place (we're only permitted for six living units on site).

This is the office trailer.

From left to right: the bunk trailer, the shower trailer, the kitchen trailer (the short one) and the dining hall.
We had lunch today with Project Director Kerry Eidse and the two representatives from the Salvation Army and the Long Range Planning Committee, Robin and Dawn. It was a good session. I have a much better handle on what we'll be needing to do over the next two months. We're going to have an interesting weekend as some of our long-term workers will arrive before this session's people leave on Saturday morning...

On the way back to Diamond Jack this evening we once again passed through the Border Patrol checkpoint: The first pictures are of the lot that is FULL of green and white Border Patrol vehicles.

The next pictures are the "line-up" as you approach the checkpoint.
I think they are getting used to us -- or maybe the MDS magnetic signs on the toad -- today they just looked and waved us through without any questions about our citizenship.
At one of the houses MDS is building, you can see the town of Tecate which is partly in Mexico and you also have a good view of the fence that is being built between our two countries.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Checking out Dulzura

Today we drove over to the Dulzura MDS Projct site. It took about a half hour to get there from Diamond Jack's. We met Jo Eidse one of the co-directors, but didn't get a chance to meet Kerry.

We looked over the site. It looks a whole lot different than it did when we dropped off the Hitchhiker RV in December. They have built decks between the bunk house trailer, shower trailer and the kitchen trailer. Jo has also planted flowers and three palms.

We got addresses from Jo and sent to take a look at each of the three houses that they have started. The first was getting its second layer of mud on the drywall, the next was awaiting solar panels (they will not be on the electical grid) and installers for the sprinklers before they can move on to insulation and drywall. At the third house, the crew was hauling the roof trusses up onto the framed house.

We saw a femaile black chinned hummingbird today at the MDS site and a Cassin's kingbird along with all of the other ones we've been seeing.

Sunday, February 22, 2009


Boy, is Diamond Jack's ever loaded with birds! It's been here quite a while, the trees are very mature -- and the man across the yard has three feeders out. There are at least three kinds of woodpeckers -- the acorn we saw yesterday, a downy woodpecker and red-breasted sapsuckers (another life bird for Forry). We saw scrub jays, Western bluebirds, Oregon Juncos, ravens, an oak titmouse, and a few that we are going to have to watch for a better look to identify them.

We drove down to Highway 54 later in the afternoon to pick up some groceries -- and get a Coldstone ice cream fix. We came back to Diamond Jack's via the direct route -- and I know why they don't suggest that one bring an RV that way! I wouldn't even say they were s-curves, more like J-turns, making a tight turn then immediately turning back the other way!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

On the Road

We left Wellton by 9 AM this morning (early for us!) and headed for California. It's quite interesting to watch the scenery change from the cacti and creasote bushs to sand and sand dunes. As we climbed into the mountains south of San Diego, it began to look like someone had dumped out huge bags of boulders.

We cut off of Interstate 8 at the Japatul Exit, turned left at the stop sign; drove 5 1/2 miles on Lyons Valley Road; turned left and drove 7 1/2 miles on Skyline Truck Trail; turned right and drove 4.7 miles to Lawson Valley Road; went 2/10 of a mile and turned hard left back on to Lyons Valley Road; drove 9/10 of a mile to the sign for Diamond Jack's RV Ranch. The direct route down Lyons Valley Road has too many switchbacks to navigate with a 37 foot rig (plus the toad), so they sent us around the back way.

It is so quiet here! After the continuous sounds of trains every thirty minutes plus the noise of the switching as well as the sound of the freeway and of sirens, it's quite a change. This is the closest place we could find to the Dulzura MDS Project Site. We'll stay here this week and commute back and forth.

There is a family of acorn woodpeckers (a new life bird for Forry!) living in the trees here. There are six palm trees in the center area that they are busily rapping away at to find insects. I also watched one retrieve an acorn from a hole in the trunk of a palm.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Yuma Territorial Prison

We decided this morning to stay in Wellton another night and make a day trip to Yuma to sight-see. We had visited the Yuma Territorial Prison almost forty years ago before it became a State Historic Park, but thought it would be interesting to see it again. I had only vague memories of most of it, but did remember the Dark Cell and the cells cut into the caliche. Most of the plaster and the roofs are gone, but you can still see the granite and caliche structures with their interior steel strap cages. The prison was abandoned back in the early nineteen hundreds and had a great deal of vandalism until it was resurrected as a park.

This is a picture of our guide (a volunteer from Washington State) as he was using Forry as a stand-in for the warden in a story he was telling us. His tale was of an attempted prison break where the warden was held at knife point by a group of prisoners. The prisoner with the knife in the warden's back was shot by another convict (a convicted murderer) who had grabbed a revolver dropped by one of the would-be escapees. That convict was later pardoned and was quoted as saying that "he was the only person ever sent to prison for murder and then pardoned for committing another murder."

After the tour, we hiked down the hill to the prison cemetery where 104 convicts who died while incarcerated were buried. Some were murdered by fellow prisoners, but a great many died of tuberculosis or consumption. There was one wooden marker in the museum that has survived -- all of the rest have been destroyed or stolen. The close-up of a grave shows yellow linanthus growing between the rocks piled on the cairn.

The City of Yuma has a Cactus Garden on the hillside above the cemetery. I found out there that the odd prickly pear cactus I had a picture of yesterday's blog is aptly named "Beaver Tail Cactus." My flower book says that barrel cacti do not bloom until late summer -- this little one must not have gotten the memo. The columnar cactus is one of over fifty varieties of this genera. It is fascinating to see all of the different kinds. We did see some ocotillo with red flowers on their tips as we came over the pass to Yuma. None of the rest we saw at lower elevations were in bloom and there was nowhere to pull over to get a picture on the pass.
After we left the museum we tried to find the Quechan Tribal Museum on the Fort Yuma grounds. The Quechan Tribe (one of the Colorado River Tribes) now owns the Fort property. They are using a few buildings for their headquarters but the majority of them are in too decrepit a state to be used. The tribe is trying to find grants to restore the Fort -- and their museum. A lady we asked about the museum did tell us that there was a rummage sale going on at the Methodist Mission Church also featuring fry bread. The Catholic Mission was closed except for scheduled masses, but we found the Methodist one. It celebrated its one hundredth birthday five years ago. There were only three Quechen ladies at the rummage sale -- one went to the kitchen and made us fry bread, rolling out her balls of dough while I watched. We ate the bread with honey and powdered sugar (since we had hotdogs at the prison, we opted not to have the bean ones). This lady had the touch! They were the crispist, lightest fry bread I've ever eaten -- and I try them every chance I get!
As we talked with the ladies, we discovered that one of them was going to be 97 years old this year! She had her own teeth, no glasses and walked around quite well. She was a bit hard of hearing and spoke English (the other lady told me that many of the elders did not). She told me she remembers being baptized in this mission church building when she was about 5 years old.
Birds seen today: Yellow Rumped Warbler, Gila Woodpecker, Say's Phoebe

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Wellton, Arizona

We took off this afternoon to explore the town of Wellton and the area, looking for any museums or sites of interest. There's really not much around here other than the railroads. There's a small grocery store and a Dollar store in town. Right now, it is heavily populated with wintering RVers. We counted 8 RV Parks in this little town, if you look at it from Google Earth it looks like a sea of flat roofs. Many of the parks are actually lots for sale as sites for motorhomes or park models. Some of them have nice brick fences built in the whole development around each lot. We only saw a couple of fairly nice houses in town, most of the rest looked like they were built in the fifties -- and weren't kept up too well.

On the other side of the freeway, there is a new develpment with an 18 hole golf course that has two fairly large lakes. There are several VERY nice houses built along the golf course with more under construction. There's a brand new strip mall with a grocery, pizza place, realtor, a couple of restaurants, etc. We bought a few groceries there. They had very little fruit -- no berries -- but I bought a nice whole chicken I stuffed and roasted for dinner.

The picture above is a cholla cactus in their little park. The one below shows the nasty little barbed pieces that fall off for the unwary person or animal to step on!

The next picture is of a cactus related to the prickly pear -- but with different shaped leaves. I've not seen this variety anywhere else.

We saw this beautiful gully full flowers outside of one of the RV parks. I think they be creopsis, but I have misplaced my SW flower book...

We saw this little guy along the road. I got a picture with my camera, but he's just a speck in the picture. This one is from Forry's camera -- he didn't have his big lens, but he got a pretty good shot of the road runner anyway.

Tomorrow we'll pack up and move on -- one more stop before we get to Dulzura!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Crossing Arizona's Desert Country

This morning we got everything put away ready to travel, said good-bye to Patty, the mastiff, and headed west. Instead of going directly to I10 and then to I8, we took Highway 287 then Highway 84 and drove the two lane road through farming country until it met up with Interstate 8. Since the rains of the last week, the farmers are out tilling ground. The fields are very flat and are rill irrigated. We could see remnants of last year's cotton fields and recognise pecan trees, but other than that have no idea what is being grown.

After we were out of the farming area and past the Sonoran Desert area, we began to run into large dairies and HUGE feedlots full of Holsteins. There were literally acres of them. This picture is a long ways off, but you can get a bit of an idea of how far they stretch.
We are at the M&M RV Village in Wellton, Arizona where we will stay for two nights then head on towards California.
This is another one of those sort of funky places, not very pricey, but right close to the railroad tracks. There appears to be two rail lines that meet up here. There's lots of switching with trains setting over to the side while others pass the other way. It seems like there is a train every 30 minutes or so!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

A Bit of This n That

This beautiful plant is growing up the side of the motor home across the road from us. I don't know what it is, but it sure is pretty.

I spent most of today installing stuff on the new computer and redoing all my contacts and such. It's a good thing I have all of my contacts and my calendar on my iPhone. I was able to sync them back onto the new computer. That would really have been a mess if I'd have lost them too! I've been working on getting our taxes ready. I downloaded and printed all of the 1099s from my retirement account as well as the stock account. Fortunately I had printed off the summary of 2008 on Quicken before the computer crashed.

Also did several loads of laundry. Poor Forry had to empty the gray water tank again tonight so that we can shower in the morning (he'd just done it yesterday). It had rained hard again during the night last night. You can see all of the puddles behind Auntie Violet.
Forry started putting away the barbecue and the outside tables and chairs so that we can get an early relatively early start tomorrow morning. I took this picture at the same time as I took the sunset one above -- you can see the sunset reflected in Auntie Violet's slideout.

Monday, February 16, 2009

At Indian Skies RV Park

These are pictures of Patti, the mastiff who lives across the street from us at the RV Park. She is two years old and weighs about 130 pounds. Her owner doesn't think she'll get much bigger. I took these pictures for my sister Sherry's mastiff Deacon (who out-weighed her before he was even a year old)!
We had to go to the office to extend our stay until Wednesday. We had only planned to stay -- and paid for -- two nights which we got at the Passport America rate. We're only allowed the two nights at that rate, so paid the rest at the Good Sam rate which is $29.14 a night compared to Passport's $18.19.

We got a few things done today -- I mainly worked on the new computer getting everything reinstalled. I have been unable to locate my pictures that I thought had been backed up from the hard disk on the old computer...
Forry worked at putting all of the Pressure Pro units on the tires of both Auntie Violet and the toad. One unit screws onto the stem of each tire. He used his compressor to make sure each tire was at the pressure he wanted it, then screwed on the units. Then we "set" each tire up on the unit that goes on the dashboard. I hadn't realized that you could take the monitor along in the toad as well when we are traveling away from Auntie Violet.
We did make a quick run into town late this afternoon as I was out of yogurt. Went to both Walgreen and Walmart and picked up odds and ends.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

A New Computer

Well, we did it! Took the computer back to Costco. The fellow from the Returns Desk had the computer sales guy come up and talk to me. After I told him my tale of woe and of all the hours spent with Microsoft and Dell technical service, he looked at me and agreed I had a lemon! He immediately slapped a "NOT FOR RESALE" sticker on the computer! Then went with us to see what they had in stock. I finally ended up with another HP computer (which is what I had before the "new" Dell).

There's too much installing of stuff to do, so this is just going to be a short note.

Wish me luck!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

A Serendipitous Day!

We had a busy morning -- Forry installed the two new fire alarms we had gotten yesterday and I put up the new sun screens. The screens are attached with pins into suction cups. All of them had to be shortened after I got them hung. The mesh doesn't ravel, so it was just a matter of cutting them off to the right length. It was a warm morning and it was very dramatic to feel the difference after the shades were hung.

After lunch we went to see the Casa Grande Ruins. They are just on the outskirts of Coolidge. But when we drove up to the entrance, we were told that the visitor parking was closed as they were having an American Indian Music
Fest. We were told to drive back to the Safeway parking lot and take the shuttle bus in. We debated about whether we wanted to do that, but decided we would -- and am I ever glad! We walked around the ruins which are actually the first National Monument site. A roof has been built over the large building (Casa Grande) which was over four stories tall, made out of caliche mud plastered walls.

As we walked around the ruins, we could hear flute music coming from where they had set up stages on the edge of the ruins. There was a main stage for the featured performers and another where they had an "open mike" and anyone could play. This picture is of a flute player named Travis Terry. He's a Pima/Navajo who is an incredible musician. I got to use a set of bells as accompaniment to his flute! (He handed out a gourd shaker and bells.) There was a couple of lines of booths selling jewelry, CDs and gorgeous flutes. Forry has been eyeing the flutes at pow wows, so I broke down and bought him one for Valentine's Day. (He's been playing with it since we got home and he sounds pretty good!) In the picnic area they were selling Indian tacos. We watched them make the fry bread and then heap it up with hamburger, beans, lettuce, onions and tomatoes. They were really scrumptious!

The main performances started a little before six (the schedule said 5:30, but it's Indian country...) and it was neat to sit and listen while we watched the sunset over the mountains in the distance. We hadn't planned to be there after dark, so hadn't brought heavy coats (I had on my sandals!), just our light jackets. In the desert it gets COLD when the sun goes down! We held out until about 7:30, but by then were just too cold to stay any longer. The heater in the shuttle sure felt good as we headed back to the car.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Moving Day

Today was a day to move. We said good-bye to Tom and Juni as they are heading to the Tucson area to visit Tom's sister who has been quite ill.

We paid a visit to Mac the Fire Guy before we left and ordered a fire extinquisher for the engine compartment (90% of motor home fires start there) along with one more small foam extinquisher for the toad. We also bought two smoke alarms as the only one that came with the coach is only an ionization detector. The ones we bought are dual sensors that have photoeclectric sensors as well as the ionization ones. This way we will have one in the bedroom as while as in the front of the coach.

We only travled eleven miles down the road to Indian Skies RV Resort in Coolidge. The Casa Grande Ruins are just outside the town and we do want to visit there while we are in the area. It looks like a pretty nice place. Just across the "street" from us is a couple from New Mexico who have a 2 year old mastiff named Patti. I, of course, headed over there with my picture of Deacon to get acquantied with her. She's pretty much full grown but only weighs 130 pounds -- he siad her daddy was over 230! I'll get a pictue of her tomorrow to share with Deacon.

We went into town to Safeway to restock our rather depleted larder. Stopped at a Mexican-American cafe for dinner. The fellow who started it many years ago was a Mexican according to the menu. He is long departed, but it said they were still using his grandmother's recipes. Well, I suppose we should have figured when the name said it was Mexican-American...

Thursday, February 12, 2009


Today was a day for more seminars and a last chance to chat with, and buy from vendors. The picture is from the entrance to the fairgrounds. This morning we both went to a seminar on Digital Cameras, but didn't learn much. The lady mostly showed and talked about the camera equipment she had and why she bought it. I had been hoping she would do a basic review of what all the little symbols on the camera mean -- guess I'm going to have to break down and read the manual again!

While Forrest went to a session on Insurance, I went to one on Tech Tips for Women Only. The guy who taught it was most adament about NOT letting any males in the session -- not even to listen in! He spent most of the time explaining things that women had questions about, but had been unable to get an explanation (at least one they understood!) from their husbands. The guy runs an RV Repair business and spent quite some time explaining to one lady just what exactly he had done to her coach yesterday. I did learn a few things, though mostly about things I hadn't already quizzed Forry about.
We had leftover pizza for lunch (each of us who helped last night were given one to take home) and then Forry went to a session on Diesel Engine Performance. I, again, didn't see anything I wanted to go to, so stayed home and got started on another ruffle for the baby outfit.

This afternoon's final session was done by Mac, the Fire Guy. Mac is a retired fireman who does incredible classes that have to do with fire safety and teaching people how to use fire extinquishers (foam) effectively. We had gone to one of his classes a couple of years ago at Life on Wheels where he had done a pretty darn good job of scaring us to death. This time he still did a good job of scaring us. After the first time we heard him we ended up getting more fire extinquishers for the rig and replacing the one that had come with it. We do want to get one that mounts in the engine compartment, but he was all sold out by today (he had a class yesterday) so we'll have to order one and have it sent to us in Dulzura.
We went out to dinner tonight with Tom and Juni. We were very good ordering shrimp and salads, but then blew it with fabulous desserts -- Bananas Foster and Triple Chocolate Brownies (though we did share them...!).

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

How About a "Cactus Queen?"

We woke up to sunshine this morning -- it was really a nice day -- I even had my sweater off this evening for a while. I went to a good seminar this morning on Digital Scrapbooking. The gal who taught it was really sharp. I got some great ideas about how to handle pictures and what could be done with them. I bought her scrapbooking software package, BUT I am not going to install it until I get a new computer!

Forry and I both went to a session on RV Solar Shades. Tha's something we've been looking at for a long time, but were hesitent both about putting snaps through the coach skin and about having to climb up on a ladder every time to put them on. We've ended up getting ones that go on the inside of the windows, fastened with suction cups ("American made"). We got one large one for the front windshield and ones for each of the windows on the pilot and co-pilot side.
This afternoon I played hookie during the first seminar session as there wasn't anything scheduled that interested me. It was time anyway for some "me" time and I actually got some hand-sewing done on a baby gift I am working on.

I joined Forry later for a session on Unknown and Known Attractions in Southern Arizona. We got a quite of bit of information about some of the Indian sites that I would like to see while we are still in the area.
I had volunteered to help with tonight's Pizza Party so had to run help set up enough tables and chairs for the 312 people who had bought tickets. We had choices of pepperoni, sausage, or cheese pizza for everyone. They could each have two slices to start with and then when everyone had one run through, we opened up the line for seconds, and thirds, and...
After the pizza event, the competition for th
e Cactus Queen began. There were six contestants for the title, each one a bit more outrageous than the next:
Some of the "ladies" were quite hilarious, they had long stockings, garters and lacey red lingerie! After each was introduced and had a few words to say, the winner was decided by audeience vote.
I don't know when I have laughed so hard. The fellow with the red gloves was really funny -- he's got quite a beard and he didn't seem very happy about having been coaxed into the contest.

This is my FAVORITE picture of all -- that's the Cactus Queen winner posing with Forry!