Sunday, November 29, 2015

State of Residency

Killeen, TX, our current mailing address, is home to Kathy's mom, Evelyn. For our visit back to Texas, we parked in one of the city's oldest mobile home parks which is now known as Cicada Springs RV Park, a gated RV community. Kathy's mom remembered the area from her youth and Kathy vaguely remembers partying at a friend's mobile home that was once housed there. The current owner is updating all the RV pads and offering long term and short term parking. Affordable and clean, it was an unexpected pleasure in a town we typically see as run down and dirty. 

Going through our closet at Evelyn's house, I located my teacher credentials, should I need them. We both decided we didn't need any of our other clothes even though we wouldn't be returning until the middle of winter. We did get a chance to rotate the jeep's tires and got a windshield installed in our RV. thanks to the 2nd crack it's endured since we bought it. The weather was cold and rainy but it dried out long enough for the installation which was even cheaper than the first one we had installed over a year earlier in Houston.

Frances was under the weather with some kind of bug so we took her to a local vet. We thought maybe she had a urinary tract infection. We left her at the vet almost all day but they still couldn't get enough urine to test. Nearly $200 later, we were given pain pills and antibiotics, although the urinalysis was mostly inconclusive.  We weren't very impressed with the young vet, especially after she misread Frances' blood work and told us she may have diabetes.  We decided it was time to head to Houston for a visit to our favorite vet, Dr. Cooper, at Westbury Animal Hospital.

Much to our dismay, it just so happened that the Houston rodeo was going on the same time we were planning on being Houston.  All of the RV parks in or near town were full so we ended up staying at one of our favorite state parks, Brazos Bend State Park, located about 25 miles south of Houston. The park offers hiking, biking, birding, fishing, an observatory and plenty of alligator watching. We've stayed here before without the dogs because Kathy was afraid the alligators would be right outside our RV door waiting for Frances to join them for dinner. 

We tried to make dentist and doctors appointments while we were in town but had no luck. We took Keila to the vet and Frances came along for emotional support. We discussed all her issues with Dr. Cooper and were told that yes, she's old but that no, it's not time yet.  Keila old and slow, but still healthy. We told Dr. Cooper about Frances' trip to the vet in Killeen and he took her to the back for a quick ultrasound to ensure she didn't have bladder or kidney stones. She was good, too! We took the pups back to the RV and prepared for our gathering with friends at the 59 Diner.

We were happy to see our former neighbors, the Tax family, our bowling teammates, Connie and Sam, Delyce, a former co-worker of Kathy's, and her friend, Bethany, who would soon be starting her own wandering adventure by traveling around the country in a modified van. You can read her blog about single life in a van called Somewhere I Feel Free. Please visit her blog at

We truly enjoyed seeing our friends again. Bethany shares my passion for manatees and suggested Blue Spring State Park in Florida. I can't wait!
As we departed Houston, I made arrangements to meet Gerald, a friend, supporter, and former boss, for lunch. Gerald was my boss while I worked in the Parole Division of the Texas Youth Commission. He has the most integrity of any person I have ever met, consider him a mentor and think of him often. We met at Dickeys BBQ, a chain restaurant.

A few more miles down the road found us staying at the Mission Tejas State Park in Grapeland. This historic area has all kinds of significant site,s including an old farm house and a mission. It's hilly roadway and trails called to Kathy and her mountain bike while I relaxed in a long, hot shower courtesy of the park's clean public restrooms. We rarely use public facilities at the parks and campgrounds we frequent, but these were nice and clean and I could run the hot water as long as I wanted without worrying about running out. We shared the entire campground with one other RV. It was a great quiet place before we reported to our first paying job on the road in northeast Texas.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Leaving the Bosque

Our volunteering commitment at Bosque Del Apache in New Mexico was an awesome four months that passed quickly.  The winter was nearly truly gone, save for a final snowy farewell. We were honored at a pizza luncheon and received our Blue Goose pins, the symbol of the US Fish and Wildlife Service.  We also received lanyards and gift store credit based on our hours of volunteering. Kathy and I received $36.00 each!  I offered to sing a song I created but no one wanted to hear my off key repertoire'. 

We loaded the RV, connected the Jeep, gave our new dear friends Mary and Fay a hug goodbye and headed south.  

Last day 
the sun struggles to rise amidst the clouds
Storms roll in
No Carlsbad since the snow returns
El Paso awaits

One more drive around the refuge 
Beautiful snow
Grateful for a final Crane fly in from the south
One more morning...left at noon
Memories in digital medium

Texas, just a few hours south, held onto a few more glimmers of winter and we were prepared for ice and freezing fog.  We slept in the Walmart parking lot in Horizon City, TX, just east of El Paso and watched a spectacular red sunset over Juarez, Mexico out our door.  We were saddened by the enormous amount of plastic bags along the highway heading east.

Frances was excited to discover she no longer had to wear boots for walks as we could finally walk in parking lots or the sand with no more sticker grass!  After breakfast at What-a-burger, Kathy's favorite, we drove through frozen fog.  Stunning white landscapes and smoky white ground clouds dancing over black top brought us safely to Monahans Sandhills State Park. This is Texas' answer to White Sands but with smaller dunes and darker sand. Monahans is a cool desert delight.

As the fog lifted, we drove around the park and found a large dune to explore.  Kathy jogged quickly to the top.  I scrambled up after her.  We could see for miles!  The day became warm and we visited the visitors center.  I watched birds at the feeders and learned about the local search for oil.  Yes, even this park had an oil derrick on it.

The next morning found us driving on through Odessa and Midland and then south through fracking fields with desert scrub, again filled with plastic bags.  I'm so glad we usually remember to take our reusable cloth bags shopping.  

Large trucks flew past us at high speeds because out in west Texas the speed limit is 80 mph.
We stopped for lunch on a backstreet in Garden City, neither a garden nor a city.  We liked it here for one reason. The locals don't like oilfield people either.  Signage expressing as much was everywhere.  

Based on advice from Kathy's former work husband, Mike, we landed in the Brady City Park campground.  We watched a car of suspicious characters as we took the dogs for an outing until they finally departed. We saw ducks and a bridge walkway over the city creek as we sauntered through a pecan orchard.  It was very green and pretty.  Winter had already left this area.  

I went grocery shopping alone at Lowes, one of Kathy's favorite grocery stores that she discovered in Alamogordo. We find Lowes are always clean and carpeted.  After shopping, I drove around town looking for a friend who lived in there in 1999.   I drove through what would have been her neighborhood and remembered she had died.  I burst into tears, guilty that I had forgotten that I had already learned about her passing.  I wondered about her husband, Charlie? How did he fair?  If anyone knows of Sally Sanford and Charles please let me know.  I tried to call but there was no phone service for Verizon customers in this area of Texas.  

The next day, we drove further south to areas of Texas which we are more familiar - old stomping grounds and finally, Killeen.  

Sunday, October 25, 2015

It's All About the People, Part 1: A Reason

So you, our loyal readers, know we have seen some terrific places and scenery from Texas to Alaska, New Mexico to Minnesota and Maine to New Jersey.  The pictures of sunsets, wildlife, and landscapes have allowed you to be with us on many of our adventures, but many of the things we experience are not about where we are.  It's about making connections with the people whose paths we've crossed and who have crossed ours.  Our blog title, "A Reason, A Season, Or A Lifetime," is really about the people we meet and discovering where they belong in that list.  While in New Mexico, we had the opportunities to connect with some from each of those categories.  

In November, shortly after settling in and surviving the Festival of Cranes, we went into town to go shopping.  More often than not, shopping trips are an excuse to get back to civilization and find some local cuisine.  This was one of those days.  We settled into our booth at one of the local diners and began to peruse the menu.  Seating was arranged so that we were sitting directly adjacent to a booth - separated by only a short wall.  While deciding what to order, Kathy's ears picked up the term "ARD" being spoken at the booth adjacent to us.  She leaned in to me and said, "They must work for the school. They're talking about special education." ARD stands for Admissions Review and Dismissal and usually refers to a committee or a meeting.

Kathy had learned much of the alphabet soup of special education as I have taught students with special needs throughout my career.  I put my teacher ears on and quickly learned the waitress's son was the student being discussed.  After the customers, who we presumed to be school administrators, departed, the waitress appeared to be very upset.  When she came to our table to ask for our drink orders, I asked if I could help.  She nearly broke down as she explained that her son had been suspended for bringing a knife to school and that an expulsion hearing was just a few days away.  I introduced myself, apologized for eavesdropping, and asked if I could I could be her parent advocate. We exchanged phone numbers and, after enjoying my Indian tacos, told her I'd call the next day to set up a meeting.  

Within a few days we had met, reviewed her sons documentation, and prepared for an expulsion hearing.  According to him, he had mistakenly carried a pocket knife into school after he had been unpacking boxes in his room and forgot to leave the knife at home.  At school, a teacher had noticed it clipped in his pocket, asked him to turn it over to her.  Since the school rules do not allow weapons, he would have been expelled immediately and, if he were not a special education student, the case would have been closed and he would have no recourse.

Since he was protected by educational law, the school must review his case at an expulsion hearing to determine if his disability could have caused his inappropriate behavior.  As I reviewed his school documents, his mother told me things had changed for him in junior high and now his first year of high school was looking even more grim.  I learned he had a moderate learning disability which could affect his working short term memory, so forgetting to leave the knife at home might be excused by the committee.  I further learned that he should have been taking the majority of his classes in a regular education setting with his non-disabled peers, but, since his junior high was short staffed in special education instructors, they had combined the moderate and more severe classes together.  It apparently was easier for the special education teacher to keep him in her self contained setting rather than providing him support in the regular education classroom.  

He was trapped!  Instead of being in special education for 1 1/2 hours a day, he was segregated from his regular education peers for 6 1/2 hours a day.  This was done only for the convenience of special education personnel at the junior high.  When he transitioned to high school, they simply maintained the schedule given to them from the junior high without review.  It was quite obvious to me that this parent needed an advocate who could explain to her what the school's responsibilities were and ensure that she was not buffaloed by school personnel who clearly didn't care about adhering to federal education law where her son was concerned.    

The hearing began with the evidence , aka the knife, being misplaced.  When it finally turned up, it was much longer than a three inch blade so, according to the school, it was a mandatory expulsion. During the ARD,  the assistant principal was hostile and unprofessional, spending most of the meeting leaned back in her chair with her arms crossed or typing away on her cellphone.  The committee did not want to budge on the expulsion so I decided to play my trump card.  

"What is his current placement?"

His current placement was in a self contained special education classroom for child with emotional disturbances.  

"Had he ever displayed inappropriate behavior?"

No. He was a model student who helped modify other student's behaviors.  

"What was his disability?"

Learning disabled.

"And his current placement is what???!!"

At this point, the administrator sat up and finally paid attention. She realized that the school had not been protecting the student's right to least restrictive placement for over two years.  There's no way this kid should have been in restrictive special ed classes for the majority of his school day. 

"Mom won't sue if we can fix this now," I said.  Now that we had the team's attention, we worked collaboratively to create a new schedule for the student and the principal had the suspension taken out of the system and his current grades promoted to a level that will allow him to pass the semester if he continued to do well.  

On our way out, the assistant principal walked up to me and asked, "Who are you???"  I left with a very happy mom and student and hoped that I changed a life for a reason.   


Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Gila Cliff Dwellings

Gila Cliff Dwellings was on my top four tourist destinations for our instate travels while living in New Mexico.  It seemed to get pushed further down the list of travel priorities, as we found so many other interesting things to do, so it was January before we headed there. 

Mapping the route was cumbersome because snow had already hit the mountains and one route had a low bridge we wouldn't fit under. We decided to play it as safe as we could and drove south to Deming and then back north up the winding roads to the Mesa Campground. We decided to stay here because of the steeper road grades closer to the Gila National Park and after driving there in the jeep - it was the right decision. Turns out we timed our trip just right as the snows from the previous day had melted off roadways and remnants lined the shadowed forest.  When we arrived, we disconnected and set up camp.  There were only 3 other campers in the campground, which overlooks a beautiful reservoir. 

Turns out we timed our trip just right as the snows from the previous day had melted off roadways and remnants lined the shadowed forest.  When we arrived at the park, we disconnected and set up camp.  There were only three other campers in the campground which overlooks a beautiful green reservoir.  

Our site had one small issue. When we turned on the water, the knob got stuck on and we could not shut it off.  I hopped into the jeep and drove to the camp host site.  No one was there and hadn't been there for some time.  It spooked me a little.  I drove back to the site, got the tool box out and ended up fixing the spigot ourselves.  The valve ball had become rusty and got stuck.  

That evening we took a family walk around the park, which we had to ourselves.  Keila, our thirteen year old Labrador, was tired and walked slowly while Frances, our four year old toy poodle, wanted to run through every site and sniff everything.  

We had an early campfire and the dogs enjoyed staying outside with us, as the air was cool and crisp.  As we headed in for bed, Frances freaked us both out.  As Kathy was trying to come into the door, Frances saw a raven that she decided was going to kill us all.  She lept out of the RV and started to chase the raven. She ran about a block in the blink of an eye. Kathy went after her, trying not to show any hint of panic, even though she was.  We knew Frances was a runner and that once she locked onto a target her hearing suddenly became disabled.  Luckily, after becoming satisfied that the raven was no longer a deadly threat, she to Kathy's calling voice, quite pleased with herself.  It was the first time since leaving Houston that Frances had sprung herself.  Unfortunately, it would not be the last.  

After a big breakfast, we headed north to the national park in the jeep.  While driving the winding roads, we realized it was good that we didn't try to camp closer.  The roads were magnificent motorcycle roads except for the culverts on the corners but would have been treacherous in a 31-foot motor home. The drive was absolutely beautiful and the photo opportunities numerous.

After passing through the little location of Gila, we finally got to the park headquarters.  We went inside and got Kathy's Passport America stamp and information about the park.  A guided tour of the caves started in an hour or so but we could climb the path on our own and walk through the caves and explore.  We did just that.  

The climb was moderately strenuous and we took several breaks.  We chatted with one of the volunteers as we climbed.  He was an older man who told us he lived in the park's staff and had just completed training.  He would be helping the ranger on the guided tour and invited us to join him as he rushed ahead of us on the steep incline.  

The trail turned across the river and the temperature changed as we moved from the cool snow covered ground to warm, and then hot, barren rock walls.  When we finally saw the man-made pueblo in the natural cave openings it was awe inspiring and I felt I had come home.

I have always had a connection to Native American culture and the dwellings seemed familiar and the comfortable to me.  The southern openings allowed warm winter sunshine to heat the cave where early man had lived.  I looked through stone portholes and imagined life with a hundred or so neighbors.  Soot from long forgotten campfires stained the ceilings and rear wall while handmade bricks walled areas for rituals and privacy.  I really do think I could live in a place just like this but convincing Kathy might be a challenge.   

After our mental time travel, we made our way down and found the warmth had melted more snow and the stream was running fast and cold.  In the little town of Gila, we visited the local store and shopped for local jams and jellies.  Of course we bought green chile jam made by local native americans.  We learned of hot springs in the area and made our plan for the next day.  

Our second night in camp we skipped the fire and played cards.  We'd become avid Spades players thanks to our friends Fay and Mary, fellow volunteers at Bosque del Apache NRW. We needed to practice, though, because they had been winning too many games.  We played a few hands and discussed playing strategies before bed.  

The next morning, we grabbed our swim suits and headed back up to Gila.  This time we turned toward the Gila River.  We knew we found the right place when we happened upon naked man putting on a pair of jeans next to his motorcycle.  Luckily, he and his friends had finished their soaks and were leaving.  

We checked out the self pay box, found the restroom to change, and selected a natural stone-lined hot spring pool to soak.  The temperature was about 105 while the other two pools were a little cooler.  We stayed in the pool closest to the road, where signs asked people to be family friendly, aka WEAR CLOTHES.

It was a wonderful pool except it needed to be cleaned.  The algae on the river rock bottom released with our movement and began floating in the water with us.  After realizing this, we tried to not stir anymore up.  After a long warm soak while watching the Gila River amble by, we were refreshed and ready to head back to camp and then home. 

We saw several javelinas scramble up the rough terrain on one corner of the road and wild turkeys on another as we drove back to the campground.  We decided to stop at a historical marker which boasted of an native american camp in the area.  We actually found many pieces of ancient broken pottery just laying in the grass.  It was nice leaving them for others to come and discover as well.  

The drive down the mountain seemed easier than the one up, but the sky was clouding up and we needed to watch for an incoming winter storm. We decided to stop in Demming for lunch.  It was just a mile or two off our route home and gave us time to check the weather. Kathy found us a little restaurant in a historical old downtown building. In fact, it was a garage in an alley that advertised soul food.  Sure enough, it was real southern cooking with ribs, greens, and pecan pie.  Yummy!

Back on the road, we opted to go back through Hatch, the route we had come.  The storm seemed to go south, but as we got to Hatch it was obvious the snow had come through this area too.  Luckily, the roads were not icy and the snow was light.  We made it back to the refuge to find a wonderful white blanket of snow.