Monthly Archives: November 2018

Doing Disney: Hollywood Studios

I’ve been terribly remiss in my postings lately – we’ve been on the go and having fun! I didn’t even select a throwback Thursday post! Sorry.

After purchasing our shiny new annual passes, the first park we hit was Disney’s Hollywood Studios Theme park. I’m old enough that I still slip and call it MGM studios! It’s hard to break old habits …..

Disney decorates beautifully for the holidays and it’s always a pleasure to visit during those special times. Each park has its own themed tree and unique décor. Hollywood Studios shows its holiday spirit with the decked-out Sorcerer’s Apprentice, and even the toy soldiers had decorative scarfs. Christmas music drifted from every speaker.

Although we had just visited last December, Hollywood Studios had a new attraction – Toy Story Land. We wandered through, but all of the rides (being new) were super-popular with super-long lines. We’ll wait until we can FastPass those on a return trip, and just focused on the old favorites: Rock N Roller Coaster, Tower of Terror, Star Tours, etc.

If you’re not familiar with FastPass, it’s a mechanism to “reserve” a time for a particular ride in advance, allowing you to skip the majority of the line. IF you have a ticket, you can reserve online 30 days in advance (60 days if you are staying at a Disney resort). Otherwise, you can visit a FastPass kiosk at the park when you arrive. It used to be that you could ONLY obtain a FastPass on the day at the park. Now with the advance booking, we find that the FastPasses for the uber-popular rides are booked up, all of the time. I have heard rumors that additional passes open up during the day, but I’ve never gotten lucky yet. Jeff hates the new system because popular rides are booked immediately by people who may never even use the passes.

We took a lunch detour over to the Boardwalk, a quick 15 minute cruise by boat from Hollywood Studios. The resorts also decorate for the holidays, with some of them really going all-out. The Beach Club Resort constructed a giant gingerbread carousel – impressive! It spins around and everything.

025Seeing all of the gingerbread made me want a cookie. Of course, one was conveniently available for sale. Yum! The price was exorbitant, but hey – it’s Disney!

After a late lunch at the Brewery, we sailed back to the theme park to catch “For the First Time in Forever: A Frozen Sing Along Celebration”. It’s one of my favorite things! They added a special holiday ending, with songs from last year’s “Olaf’s Frozen Adventure” short film. Very cute!

The best thing about having an annual pass is that you don’t HAVE to do a marathon day just to maximize your ticket value. I remember trips where we arrived at rope-drop and park-hopped until the last one closed down  at 11 pm! Since we can go back any time, we can take it all in measured doses. I like that. By dark, we wandered back to our car, tired but not exhausted.

Ready for the next time.



Doing Disney: Tickets

r-1466051002-WaltDisneyWorld1We are in Orlando, home to Mickey Mouse! This is the first of a sporadic series on visiting the Mouse, especially during the holiday season.

We moved to Florida way back in 1984. I think the cost of a one-day park hopper ticket back then was in the $20-25 range. In today’s dollars, that’s about $50. However, ticket prices have risen far faster than inflation – a one day 4-Park Hopper pass can set you back upwards of $160! Yikes! And that doesn’t include parking at $25 per car! Add a hotel stay, meals, and souvenirs, and I wonder how families can afford a Disney vacation. It’s just super expensive.

So, what can you do to bring the admission ticket cost down? First, if you buy a “one park” ticket, rather than a park-hopper ticket, it is less costly. The difference is that a Park Hopper pass allows you to visit more than one Disney World Park in the same day, while the “one park” ticket does not. It’s not a bad idea to focus on only one park in a day, because getting from one park to another takes more time than you may think – anywhere from 1 to 2 hours. That’s time that you can be spending enjoying the park, rather than standing in line for the monorail or waiting for the bus. I find that one full day still isn’t enough to see everything in one park – especially if it’s busy. On the other hand, if you only have a couple of days and really want to see all 4 parks, a Park Hopper will at least allow you to see the highlights of each. Also, some parks stay open later than others (sometimes much later) and having the Hopper will let you maximize your day. It just depends how ambitious you want to be.

If you buy multi-day passes (3 or more days), the cost per day decreases. It used to be that unused days of multi-day passes never expired. About 3 years ago, we brought in a 1980’s era paper ticket (which used to be manually stamped with the date) that had one unused day left and Disney honored it. That is no longer the case. All Multi-day tickets purchased now have an expiration date and you have to be very sure that you’ll use all of the days within the allotted time. Read the fine print! (Older tickets purchased under the No Expiration option are still honored.)

Disney offers discounted ticket prices to members of the US Military, that’s another option to check out if it applies to you. I would not recommend buying theme park tickets from sources other than Disney! They may be counterfeit. You can research and purchase your tickets online direct from Disney and pick them up when you arrive. You can also purchase tickets at any of the Disney resorts, at the theme parks, or at guest relations at Disney Springs.

Despite our nomadic life, we have retained a Florida mailing address and our Florida residency. That qualifies us for the Disney Florida Resident special discounts! There’s no discount on a one-day pass, but the savings on multi-day and annual passes are substantial. Since we will be here in Central Florida for several months (and back next October), we have elected to purchase Annual Passes.

Several varieties of Annual Passes are available, depending upon whether you want to include the water parks, and whether black-out days are imposed. We went with the Florida Resident Silver Annual Pass. It’s a Park-Hopper pass, so we can go to multiple parks on the same day if we want. Annual passes include parking fees as well as grant modest discounts on selected dining and merchandise. There are black-out dates during the peak Christmas holiday and summer times, but we wouldn’t go then anyway. It wasn’t cheap ($510 each), but it is the best value for our time here, all things considered.

We have our passes, mouse ears at the ready – it’s time to go see Mickey!!



4-book-clipart-17I’ve been a voracious reader since childhood. Before e-readers, a significant challenge was ensuring sufficient reading material to last through long plane flights and business trips. I used to stash extra paperback books in my carry-on luggage, but still sometimes needed to quickly peruse the airline bookstore for supplemental materials. My siblings and I call that fear:  Lackobookaphobia. We love books.

Giving away my extensive library was one of the hardest aspects of preparing for full time RV living. It’s simply not possible to take a thousand books with you! Fortunately, we now have e-books as an option.

I was actually an early e-book adopter. Before there was Kindle, public domain e-books could be downloaded from various sources to be read on my Palm Pilot (remember those?!) or computer. But the selection was very limited and reading on such a small screen was not optimal – and reading on a computer screen wasn’t particularly comfortable or portable.

Then came the era of the tablet computer. More books became available in electronic format, although purchasing them was just as expensive as buying the hard copy. I didn’t really embrace e-books as a regular reading “thing” until we were counting down our last few years before launching our RV life. At that point, I made the decision not to buy any more hard copy books, only e-books, and begin building my electronic library.

While purging our possessions, I kept only a few carefully selected hard copy resources – a few cookbooks, crochet pattern books, sheet music, and a couple of small books that have sentimental value. Other than that, it’s all gone – given to friends or donated to charity. Now, virtually all of my reading is done on my Kindle or iPad.

Although I have re-purchased some favorite books over time, the vast majority of my reading materials are free books that are made available by authors through outlets like Amazon. Giving away books is a mechanism for authors to become more widely known. There are just so many authors and books out there nowadays, new writers get lost in the noise. However, if more of their books are downloaded, even for zero dollars, they rise higher in Amazon’s search algorithms, and will gain visibility to (hopefully) realize better sales in the future. Sometimes authors will give away the first book in a series, hoping you’ll get so hooked on the story line that you’ll buy the rest. (And that approach has worked a time or two on me!).

So, where do I find all of these free books?  Read on!

First, you can just go to the Amazon Kindle e-book store and click on any genre that interests you. Then click on “best selling” books. The results screen has two tabs:  best selling paid and best selling free. Click on the “best selling free” tab and you’ll find pages and pages of books that are absolutely free!

You can also sign up for a free service called Bookbub. After registering on the site, you can select the book genres you are interested in reading. Then you’ll receive a daily email with a list of several books that are being offered for free (or almost free) in your selected genres, complete with a link to an online store to purchase it. Usually, the vendor is Amazon. I’ve downloaded hundreds of free books this way.

A similar service is Robin Reads. Just like Bookbub, you sign up to receive a daily email with free or bargain Amazon e-books. I haven’t used this as much as Bookbub, but I do occasionally pick up books that way.

If you are an Amazon Prime subscriber, you are given one free Kindle book per month through their “First Reads” program. Each month, Prime subscribers can select one book from six Editor-selected, pre-release titles. I wouldn’t become Prime just for that, but it’s a nice bonus if you’re already a Prime subscriber. Amazon sends a monthly email with the title selections as a reminder.

A fantastic free source of e-books is your Public Library. When I lived in Broward County, I checked out dozens of books using the Overdrive application on my iPad. You have to have a library card and your library has to support e-book lending for it to work. Once checked out, you have a period of time (usually 14-21 days) to finish the book before it is automatically “returned” to the library (deleted from your device). Titles and quantities available to be borrowed are limited, but you can put yourself on the waitlist for popular books. You’ll receive an email when the title is available and granted a grace period for you to snag it before it moves on to the next person on the list. You don’t have to physically go to the library to check out books, and automatic return means you never have to worry about late fees, either!

Having access to these free book resources is great! I’ve downloaded and read books that I wouldn’t otherwise have taken a second look at. Some books have been good, others not so much. But since they’re free, it’s no risk to try them out. Sometimes, though, there are specific books that I want to read, and those I’ll pay for. Often, I’ll ask for Amazon gift certificates for Christmas and Birthdays, for this purpose. It will take quite a while, but eventually I’ll re-purchase all of my favorite authors and series.

Living this mobile life, it’s fantastic that I can carry an extensive library – and it doesn’t take up any space or weigh an ounce. Technology is wonderful!


Random Stuff I’ve Learned While Roaming the Country In An RV

Random MusingsHere are a few tips, observations and random musings gleaned from our life on the road:

When you hook up your sewer hose, make darned sure that all of the “hooks” are engaged and the hose is securely seated against the fixture. Otherwise you will end up with a disgusting smelly mess when you go to dump the tanks. Don’t ask me how I know that.

Did you know that California passed a law prohibiting shops from providing disposable plastic bags for free? You have to take your own shopping bags or purchase a re-usable plastic bag from the store for no less than 10 cents each. Same goes in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Since I re-use plastic grocery bags to scoop the kitty litter box, I was forced to purchase rolls of disposable plastic bags from the pet store for that purpose. Does that make sense to you?

Investigating the local cuisine of every area is fantastic! We’ve enjoyed New Orleans Cajun and Creole cooking; Arizona authentic Mexican food; fantastic smoked salmon in the Pacific Northwest, and finger-licking Memphis barbeque. In New Mexico, green chili capital of the world, you can have your New Mexican dish served with green chilis, red chilis, or both (Christmas). Christmas is the best!

I’ve attended Sunday morning service at different denomination churches all over the country. I find that the similarities far outweigh the differences. Maybe we would get along better if we focused on the love of Jesus rather than sectarian differences.

When you buy an RV, make sure it is livable with all of the slides in. We have spent days at a time with our slides in – while in transit, while getting warranty repair work done, and while at campsites where we can’t effectively level. Aside from having a few cabinets/drawers that are inaccessible, we can live quite comfortably. That’s good design.

If you travel to higher elevations (like, Santa Fe at 7500 feet), things you bought at sea level will randomly spit at you when you open them. Mustard. Hand lotion. Shampoo. The occasional can of root beer. You have been warned.

Check your tires’ inflation pressure early and often. Inflation pressure varies significantly with altitude and temperature changes. Since both can vary greatly during national travel, it’s better to over-check than not. Investing in a tire pressure monitoring system is even better.

The desert has a lot of spiky, dangerous plants, but the worst is the teddy bear cholla cactus. A furry-looking plant with a deceptively gentle name, its easily-detached segments studded with a million tiny fish hook spines exist solely to cause you harm. They will hurt you. Avoid at all cost.

If you belong to a Credit Union, they likely belong to the Credit Union Co-op / Shared branches scheme. That grants you access to a nationwide network of “sister” credit union branches at which you can conduct business: deposit checks, make withdrawals, arrange for wire transfers, and complete essentially any transaction that you can perform at your home location. It effectively turns your local credit union into a national bank. That’s been extremely useful for us as we travel.

After travel, please be careful while opening overhead bins as items may have shifted during your flight. Also, the refrigerator.

Wine tasting at 3 wineries is about my limit for one afternoon. Any more than that and I’ll get loopy and buy too much wine. Then we are forced to drink it. Such a problem.

That’s all for now!



Full Circle

040We’re back in Orlando, Florida! Land of palm trees and balmy breezes. Home to Mickey Mouse, and our official mailing address. Also home for our son, Sean, his long-time girlfriend and her family, as well as several other good friends.

We are parked back at the Orlando SE KOA, where we’ve stayed a couple of times before. This time, we’ll be here more than 2 months – the longest we’ve stayed anywhere since we started this crazy adventure almost exactly a year ago.

It’s both comforting and odd to be back here. I’ve almost gotten accustomed to constantly having to find my way to new places. Here, the roads and surroundings are reasonably familiar. Although we’ve never actually lived in Orlando, we’ve spent quite a bit of time here. I look outside my window to see palm trees, as I did for 35 years outside my South Florida homes. It’s nice to unpack and know that we don’t have to re-pack up until the end of January. It’s also nice to get our mail every few days, instead of every few weeks!

So what are our plans for this extended stay?

This KOA offers some ongoing fun activities, like 8 am aerobics, Saturday breakfasts, movie night, craft fairs, and bingo night. Last time, we were so busy running around playing tourist, we didn’t take the time to enjoy the campground. I intend to participate as often as possible!

We also plan to visit Mickey Mouse as well as catch up on a variety of bus chores. Deep cleaning (inside and out) is needed after a dusty year on the road. I intend to sort and purge unneeded items. I brought some things because I had room, but have been surprised at just how many items haven’t been touched in a year. Purging and organizing can be very satisfying. Not to mention Christmas decorating and preparations!

The best part about being back here in Orlando is the ability to spend time with the family and friends who live here. In fact, the very first thing we did upon arrival was order pizza and head over to Sean’s place. We hugged and laughed and made plans for fun activities to come – starting with Thanksgiving dinner with the entire clan. We had way too much food, played games and laughed a lot. Big family gatherings are the BEST!

I’m looking forward to more great quality time with people we love.

Happy Thanksgiving!

298210I want to share with you a letter that I wrote for my brother-in-law last year. He was preparing a Thanksgiving sermon to deliver at his church and wanted stories about being thankful through the difficult times and even for the difficult times.

A major driver for embarking on this full time RV life of adventure was the loss of our younger son. A disruptive life event like that forces you to re-examine everything in your life, including priorities and goals. It changed my perspective forever. Here’s the letter from a year ago:

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper 
you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 
(Jeremiah 29:11 NIV)

I’ve always known that God’s compassionate hand was weaving my life’s 
tapestry. I’ve experienced too many unexpected twists and seemingly random 
“coincidences” that served to put me just where I needed to be. Some of 
those unexpected twists and turns seemed terrible at that moment, and it’s 
only by looking back at the pattern over time that I can see how those 
difficult experiences ultimately served my greater good. Like the time I 
was on the verge of losing my job, but then an opportunity for a much better
one just fell into my lap. That new job lasted 25 years and provided 
handsomely for my family. Or the time I fell in love with a beautiful 
brand new house, but we just couldn’t quite swing it financially, and then 
someone else contracted to buy it. However, that sale on the house fell 
through, the developer instead used it as a model and office, and two years 
later when our finances had improved, we were able to purchase that very 
same, never-lived-in house at a discount during the developer’s close out 
sale. It was our beautiful home for 20 years.

June 7, 2012, the worst day of my life, began like any other day. My 
husband and I went off to work. Our older son was away at college. Having 
just finished high school, our younger son, Nathan, was enjoying a few days 
of summer freedom before starting classes at the local community college. 
As usual, he had unspecified plans with friends. My mind was full of the 
minutiae of work, chores and dinner - until we received the phone call. 
There had been an accident and we needed to come to the hospital right away.
It’s all a blur now – the frantic drive to the hospital, interminable wait 
in the waiting room, being taken back to a private room where a sad-eyed 
doctor said “I’m so sorry … we did all that we could”. Our son, my baby, 
was dead.

What do you do when the unthinkable occurs? Initially, you just keep 
breathing, and do the next thing that must be done. Nathan’s death also 
meant the death of the hopes and dreams and future we had planned for him. 
We had to re-frame our entire lives around his absence. Despite it all I 
knew, even then, that somehow this was God’s plan for Nathan’s life. He 
got to experience all of the delights and frustrations of childhood, 
without having to go through the trials and disappointments of adulthood. 
Not a bad deal, really.

So at this time of year when we especially focus on giving thanks, what 
do I give thanks for?

I am thankful for the time that we had our son. Friends of mine recently 
lost a child just days after birth. I got Nathan for 18 whole years. I got 
to experience Christmas’s and Halloweens, first days of school, soccer 
games, and band concerts. We baked cookies, battled over homework and his 
messy room, laughed together and had adventures. I saw him grow from 
adorable baby, through terrible twos and turbulent teens, into a caring, 
sensitive young man starting to find his place in the world. Shortly before 
he died, Nathan told us that his friends voted and we won for “coolest 
parents”. How many parents of teenagers get to hear that? Nathan knew we 
loved him, and we knew he loved us. There was nothing left unsaid, no 

I am thankful for the incredible outpouring of love and support we 
experienced in the days and weeks following Nathan’s death. Our family, 
friends, coworkers and church family just surrounded us and lifted us up 
during those initial days of shock and grief. Their support and 
understanding helped, more than they can know. Now, knowing just how 
much that support means, I try to reach out to others who grieve. I can 
offer the perspective of someone who’s “been there” and gotten through it.

I am thankful for the healing gift that time brings. It has been more 
than 5 years since that terrible day. It takes time to re-define your 
life after a major disruption. Gradually, we have been able to adjust and 
make new plans - wonderfully exciting plans - for an early-retirement 
adventure, living and traveling full time in a motor home. Had Nathan 
lived, we would still be helping and supporting him financially, and would 
never have been able to follow our dream this soon. I would happily delay 
our plans if I could have Nathan back. But I can’t. This was part of God’s 
plan for our life and we intend to fully embrace the adventure. We leave 
just after Thanksgiving.

Most of all, I am thankful for God’s gift of eternal life. I have not 
“lost” Nathan, he is not gone – just transitioned back to the Spirit 
form, our true form. We are all Spiritual beings having a human experience. 
I often feel Nathan’s presence and I know that he hangs out with me.  
We can still be together, just not in the same way. Our physical 
separation is painful, but it is only temporary. One day, I’ll transition 
from this physical body and we’ll be truly together again. There will be 
lots of hugs! In the meantime, I choose to make the most of this life 
that God has granted me.

I am grateful that we are blessed with the financial means to take this incredible journey. I am grateful for our robust health, which allows us to take full advantage of this grand adventure. I am grateful for the family and friends that encourage and support us. I am grateful to Almighty God for His guidance and His Angels that protect us. We are incredibly blessed.

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Two Myths of Fulltime RV Living

mythDespite all of my research before embarking on this nomadic lifestyle, I still retained a few misconceptions. Let me dispel a couple for you.

Myth 1: RV living is less expensive than living in a stationary home.  The costs of RV living add up quickly: campsite fees, telecommunications (phone / TV / internet), insurances (RV, vehicle, health), food, and entertainment. Maintenance/repair is a never-ending fact of life for a home that experiences the equivalent of an earthquake every time you travel down the road. And having motorhome service done isn’t cheap! Depreciation on the RV is a hidden, but significant, expense, depending on what you spent on your RV. And if you have elected to retain a home base or a storage unit, those costs can be quite significant. And that assumes that the RV and toad (or tow vehicle) is paid off – monthly loan payments added to all of this can simply bust the budget for many people.

We owned a paid-off 4 bedroom home in South Florida before we retired. When you add up all of the costs of home ownership (utilities, taxes, insurance, maintenance), it would have been less expensive for us to stay put than go on the road, especially the way that we are doing it (which is NOT on the cheap). Of course, we wouldn’t have this life of adventure, either! It IS possible to cut your costs and live relatively inexpensively, by following some of the tips below:

  • RV selection: Buy a (quality) used RV, one that has already taken a depreciation hit. A shorter than 40 foot rig has more options for campgrounds than a Big Rig, many of them less expensive. If you are handy and can do some of your own maintenance and repairs, that can also save big.
  • Campgrounds: Stay in the more basic campgrounds, or boondock.  Stay longer at one place to take advantage of weekly/monthly/seasonal discounted rates. You also will burn less fuel since you aren’t hauling the RV around. Become a work camper to get a free site, and maybe even get paid a little. Some people do well with certain campground memberships (like Thousand Trails), but check the fine print carefully to ensure it makes sense for your needs and travel style.
  • Other costs:  Downsize your belongings to just what you can carry with you – no storage fees or expensive home base. Cook rather than going out. Maximize free activities like hiking and bicycling. Take advantage of campground or coffee shop wifi, rather than using your own data plan. Live with “over the air” TV channels instead of subscribing to an expensive satellite TV plan.

The RV community is full of people who successfully live relatively inexpensively, but you have to recognize that there are trade-offs in comfort, amenities, and fun.

Myth 2: RV life is a never-ending, fabulous vacation. It’s true that we do have a lot of fun, but this is also real life with all of the real life stuff that must get done. Typically, for vacations, we postpone or delegate our life chores, so that we can devote 100% of the limited vacation time to play. With full-time RV living, all of those chores have to get done in between the fun stuff. Real life involves cleaning, maintenance, banking chores, seeing to health needs, working out, grocery shopping, cooking, laundry, and dealing with family drama. It’s harder, in a way, because we’re a constantly moving target. Handling banking business, getting maintenance done, making dental appointments and such is much more challenging when you have to schedule around location AND timing. You are also living with your significant other (and possibly children and pets) in a confined space that can seem much smaller after several days of adverse weather! You have limited space for storage and for food preparation. Outdoor weather influences inside temperatures in an RV much more noticeably than in a better-insulated “stick and brick” house. The process of packing up, moving, and unpacking is time-consuming and tiring. Every new camping spot requires figuring everything out again: locations of grocery stores, gas stations, banks, etc. If you are accustomed to having familiar surroundings, the constant location shifting can be disorienting.

Don’t get me wrong – we love this lifestyle. But we’ve learned to look at it just like that, a life “style”, not a vacation. We’ve learned to slow down, relax, and allow time for necessary life tasks, interspersed among the fun adventures. We do things together, but also separately, to give the other person some space. We’ve developed strategies to reduce the stress of moving days – such as, packing up the night before, and scheduling more time to get from one campsite to another to allow for unexpected problems or delays. We stay longer at some locations, to take advantage of longer-stay discounts and to make it “home”, for just a little while.

It’s not a fabulous vacation, but it’s a pretty fabulous lifestyle.

Oak Mountain State Park

001Our primary objective for visiting Birmingham lies in the mountain bike trails at Oak Mountain State Park. The International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA) has designated the trails to be one of their “epic rides”, an elite classification. So, we just had to check that out! Jeff will post his biking trail review separately.

Oak Mountain State Park has much more than just mountain bike trails. It is quite a large State park with many features:  golf course, campground, cabins, nature center, lakeside beach and boat rentals, archery, demonstration farm, horseback riding, and 25 miles of hiking trails. There’s literally something for everyone. Theoretically we could have camped here, but squeezing our big rig into the State Park sites would have been problematic. (Plus, I checked out the campground restroom facilities and they were not very nice. Pass!)

Even though many of Jeff’s past mountain bike trails have been multi-use, I prefer hiker-only trails. I just think it’s safer. So it’s really convenient when we can park at a trailhead and each set off on our own trail systems. After many days of unseasonably cold weather, we finally had a couple of nice sunny days with highs in the 60’s and gleefully hit the trails!

001We spent two afternoons exploring different sections of the park. Several of the hiking trails traverse the park lengthwise (7-8 miles long), while others intersect and wind, allowing you to make loops. I tackled one of the trails (the Yellow trail), hiking one end of it from the South trailhead and exploring the other end from the North trailhead another day. The trails are reasonably well-marked and in good condition, but heavy leaf litter tended to obscure the trail, forcing me to pay close attention. I only got turned around a few times, mostly at trail intersections.  The trail also featured a surprisingly challenging elevation profile (steep up, steep down, repeat!), making for a decent workout. The leaf color was fading but still evident in some areas, and the weather was absolutely beautiful.

This is a park in which both Jeff and I could spend many happy hours on the trails. But, it is time to continue on south to beat Old Man Winter. Next stop – Orlando!


Birmingham Civil Rights Institute

I grew up in Indiana. As a child, I had no direct experience with the awful Jim Crow laws which were, even then, in effect in Alabama. I was peripherally aware of the civil rights movement – it was all over the news – but didn’t fully understand why there was such racial tension.

The Civil Rights Institute in Birmingham is a large interpretive museum that depicts the civil rights struggles of the 1950’s and 60’s. The museum starts with a short video that shares the city’s founding and early history. Then the screen retreats into the ceiling and you are invited into a walking tour through the history of Birmingham’s role and contribution to the civil rights movement.

006Although intellectually I understood the fundamental issues behind the struggle, the museum brings them to life. I was alternately shocked and horrified as I walked through the museum exhibits depicting the unfair treatment of Black’s in the 50’s, their struggles to overturn unjust laws, and the lengths that White authorities went to keep everything the same. The “Separate but Equal” philosophy is hardly equal when spending for Black schools and facilities were half of that spent on White schools. Blacks were paid less and relegated to less desirable jobs. A Black man could be lynched for simply smiling at a White woman. And Blacks had no voice, as most were prevented from registering to vote by rigged “literacy” tests. (A example of the type of questions asked included “How many bubbles are on a bar of soap?”). Deplorable.

The most shocking part is the video footage and depiction of the violence around that time. Riders protesting segregation on buses were bombed, beaten and arrested. Peaceful protest marchers (including children!) were arrested, beaten, and set upon by vicious dogs and fire hoses. Churches were bombed, including the 16th Street Baptist Church, located across the street from the Civil Rights Institute. Four innocent little girls were killed in that bombing – a statue erected in their memory stands across the street. What were the white supremacists so afraid of?


Thankfully, the exhibits don’t end there. Ultimately, right prevailed. Discriminatory laws were struck down and the culture began to change. A Black mayor was elected in 1979 and served faithfully for 20 years. Significant progress has been made, but as a country, we still seem to be divided along racial lines. What will it take before we can all see past the externals, and simply accept people for who they are on the inside?

My first conscious memory of interaction with a person of color was at the nursing home that my grandmother managed (we lived next door). I was maybe 3 years old at the time and visited often with my grandmother or parents who all worked there. The cook was a lovely Black woman who would indulge me in the vegetable beef baby food that I loved. I remember her gently helping me wash my hands at the sink one day and I asked her about her black skin. A childish, innocent question – “Are your hands dirty too?” And I’ll never forget her kindly chuckle as she replied, “No honey, that’s just how I’m made. My skin is dark and yours is light. See? God makes people all different ways and in all different colors. We’re the same on the inside, just different on the outside.” It made perfect sense in my 3 year old world.

And it still does.

Campground Review: Birmingham South RV Park

010Campground Review Summary

  • Name: Birmingham South RV Park
  • Dates of stay: Nov 14-18, 2018
  • Location: 222 Hwy 33, Pelham, AL 35124
  • Type of campground: Private / Independent
  • Cost: $43.17/night (Good Sam Rate)
  • Additional fees: none
  • Stay limit: none
  • Accepts mail / packages: did not ask
  • Cell reception: AT&T good
  • Website:
  • Pros: close to mountain bike trails
  • Cons: aging park, un-level sites

Full Review

Birmingham has been on our radar since the beginning of our travels, due to its proximity to what is touted as world-class mountain bike trails at nearby Oak Mountain State Park. We just had to squeeze it in during our first year loop. This campground is conveniently located 10 minutes away from the Park

This campground is a former KOA, now private. It offers quite a few amenities: camp store, game room, playground, pool (seasonal), bath house, coin laundry facility, camping cabins, pavilion and dump station. However, the facility is showing its age and could stand some maintenance.

012First the good stuff: The campground is attractively wooded and the roads are wide enough for even big rigs to navigate with care. The full hookups work well with stable power and good water pressure. Cable TV is offered, but since we can receive ample over the air stations, we didn’t bother with cable. (Our newly-repaired Direct TV satellite is blocked by trees and unusable). Our AT&T signal strength is very good here. The campground wifi is OK, but our AT&T hotspot works better. The nicely-heated bath house is a bit tired, but kept immaculately clean. The campground is conveniently located to the State Park, shopping is 10 minutes away, and travel to downtown Birmingham is only 20 minutes.

Now the not so good: The paved roads and sites are crumbling and rutted and desperately need re-paving. Our site is so slanted AND rutted, we didn’t even attempt to level the bus for our short 4 night stay. We are living with our slides in for the duration. If there was a better site elsewhere in the campground we would have requested it, but we couldn’t find one. In fact, we watched several other buses (our size) pull into adjoining sites and go through numerous gyrations, trying (ultimately unsuccessfully) to level.  The review sites gave this campground glowing reviews, so finding all of the sites to be nearly unusable (for us) was very disappointing.

The $43/night Good Sam rate seems pricy for what you get, especially considering that this is moderate-cost Alabama.  I doubt that we’ll be back.

Bottom Line: Good location, but high priced for a rutted un-level site.