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Waterloo KOA

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Waterloo/Lost Island Resort KOA is located in Waterloo, Iowa.  This was an overnight stop for us between northern Minnesota and Southern Missouri.  We had reserved a Deluxe Patio Pull-Thru site, it gave us a quick easy in and out and let us have a patio for dinner and the dog to relax.

The site was gravel and the streets throughout the campground are also gravel and dusty.  We were disappointed.  We paid extra for this site and the weeds and cracked patio were not at all welcoming.  The trash in the fire pit and the surrounding area also were disappointing.

The site wasn’t anymore spacious than the pull thru sites immediately around us, we just has some patio furniture and other people’s trash.  There was satellite clearance if we had put out the satellite for our stay.  The satellite clearance was the highlight of our site.

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There is a gas station at the KOA which was extremely convenient while departing the next morning.  The cabins at this KOA were cute and are situated right on the lake that is the selling point, other than the water park across the street, of this KOA.


Standard Information

State:  Iowa

Discount Clubs:  KOA

Site Number: 62

Standard Review Items

Ambiance:  Open year round which is a benefit for Iowa since there are very few Midwest campgrounds that are open from middle-October through the end of April.

Cell Reception:  AT&T reception was four solid bars of LTE reception.

Drainage:  There was no rain during our stay.

Level Sites/Utilities:  Site was reasonably level, utilities were stable. 

Night Sky:  There are no street lights and utility boxes at each site were unobtrusive. 

Office Staff/Manners:  Office staff was friendly and efficient.

Overall Amenities:  Standard KOA amenities.

Pet Friendly:   Pets are welcome.  There is a Kamp K-9 which was located next to the playground.

Pet Services in the Area:  Didn’t check on availability.

Road Noise:  Some but it was unobtrusive.

Rule Enforcement:  We were there a little over twelve hours, thus noticed no violations or enforcement of rules.

RV Services:  Failed to check as we did not require any.

Satellite Friendly: There were no obstructions which would have obscured the satellite’s ability to acquire a signal.

Store:  Available within the office, contained a variety of convenience store items.

Storm Shelter Facilities:  Available but didn’t appear to adequate had the campground been full.

Wi-Fi: Available but we failed to connect.

Summary

Our site was disappointing for what we paid, but it was convenient.  Being open all year makes this a KOA we would return to should the need arise.


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Gardening and the Fulltime RV’er

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I loved being able to grow stuff when we still lived in the house.  Didn’t matter if it smelled good or tasted good, there was this innate pleasure making something blossom from nothing.  Those lovely hyacinths were grown this winter in the torrential downpour that was this winter in Oregon. 

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Here is Mindy our mint plant.  Not only is she pretty and smells and tastes great but she keeps the creepy crawlies out of The Gump.    Mint is great at deterring spiders, scorpions, ants, and other insects.  Haven’t ever needed an insecticide and it’s all because of Mindy.

We use Smart Pots, which are available on Amazon, and are very RV friendly (even if you are unlucky enough not to have a toy hauler).  These awesome pots are fabric which means they are squishable when loading up the RV.  These pots also facilitate healthy plant growth, even when the weather isn’t so cooperative.  You can plant flowers, herbs, almost anything really that you could in your home garden.  Just be forewarned, travel to California with live plants is not advised as there has been numerous reports of plants being confiscated by California agricultural inspection stations.

DSC_0074  Our poor beat up cilantro and basil plant!  The cilantro has taken a beating from the rain the last two months.  However, it is still fragrant and otherwise healthy.  Fireball likes to snack on the cilantro when we aren’t looking in the evening.  The basil is struggling a little, it would like the weather a tad warmer than it has been.  It will thrive when we hit the desert for this winter.

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We also have two mums, a dahlia and a lavender plant currently.  This is the first time I have ever successfully grown lavender.  It smells fantastic and it feeds the local bee population.  I attribute the lavender success to the Smart Pots.

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So, if you miss gardening, the smell of fresh flowers, and the taste of herbs then what are you waiting for?  Home grown tomatoes are just one Smart Pot away from growing in your RV too.




Fool Hollow State Park

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Fool Hollow State Park will always hold a fond place in our hearts.  It was our first camping trip ever and the first time we ever used The Gump.  Scary, exciting, and mesmerizing all at the same time are just a few of the emotions we experienced.

This beautiful state park is away from the hustle and bustle of Phoenix.  We went after Christmas and before New Year’s Day in 2015.  We were both recovering from bad colds and it was a spur of the moment decision.  I knew nothing about planning a successful trip, we forgot to pack our pillows, and we had never been in the region before.  We were perfectly set-up for failure!

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We packed up the dogs, Pickles, Leo and The Gump and left a sunny Phoenix for cooler temperatures in North Eastern Arizona.  Wally as you can see was interested and ready for adventure.  Leo meanwhile was complaining bitterly about riding in Lana like he always does.  Ride out was basically uneventful, although there was some bucking from The Gump but we didn’t know any differently.  Our second stay in two months at the park, one of the rangers discovered there was a problem with our hitch (La Mesa failed to install a couple of safety pins) and we were very lucky nothing catastrophic occurred.  Pins were overnighted to the park and one of the wonderful rangers delivered them to us.

20151231_122900  There’s me, Sangria, and Pickles hanging out on the patio on one of the first days after we arrived.  The weather was cool but beautiful.  The best thing, we were one of the only people in the park.  It was QUIET, I mean hear the birds chirping, twigs snapping as wildlife moved about QUIET.  Coming from the city, this blessed quiet was most welcome and none of us could soak in enough of the peace.

20160105_135548  The snow started and the dogs would lay just inside the patio doors while Dave worked.  The office was chilly but between Wally’s sweater and Sangria sleeping on the bird’s cover they were pleased enough.  Dave on the other hand was chilly, luckily I had packed sweats and long pants for both of us.  But let’s be honest, after a decade in Phoenix we weren’t exactly swimming in cold weather clothing or gear. 

20160107_082236  The beauty and solitude of the park only intensified when the snow fell.  It was magical and it was exactly what we were hoping would happen.  Wally loved snow, he would run and frolic for hours with joy.  He was struggling at our house in Phoenix with the tile flooring and we were unsure how well he would adapt to life in The Gump.  This trip alleviated all of our concerns and amazingly, we watched his activity level improve and his joy at snow was worth all the worry and concern.

20160107_081641  There he sits, working from The Gump for the first time.  Our data connection was non-existent on AT&T.  Luckily we realized this before he went back to work after the first of the year and he made the trip into Flagstaff for a Jet Pack and a signal booster.  Signal booster was a complete waste of money and was quickly returned, but the Jet Pack soon proved it’s expensive worth.  He was able to work, uninterrupted the whole time off the Jet Pack with no service let down in comparison to the house.  Proving our concept of ditching the house and actually living life had viability.

20160107_085456  There they are, our four precious and precocious flock.  Leo spent our time at Fool Hollow talking to the birds and chipmunks he could spy out the window.  He loves to lay in that exact same spot today and still chatters at every critter that catches his attention.  This is a rare photo because it shows Wally asleep on a piece of furniture which is something he rarely ever did. 

20160107_075235  The park is beautiful and empty during the winter.  Only one loop of the park was open during our stay and we had 30 amp  power, water, and sewer.  We could go out and walk the dogs in the snow and not worry about running into other campers as they played out rolled around in joy.  The roads were well maintained when it snowed and there was never an issue getting in or out of the park because of snow and ice.

Standard Information

State:  Arizona

Discount Clubs:  Not applicable

Site Number: 14 and 25

Standard Review Items

Ambiance:  It’s gorgeous and relaxing in winter.  In spring and summer months it is mostly packed and quite busy.  It would still be gorgeous but not nearly as quiet.

Cell Reception:  AT&T reception was non-existent.  Verizon was three solid bars of LTE reception.

Drainage:  There was little to no rain during our stays and we do not recall any issues with drainage.

Level Sites/Utilities:  Site was reasonably level, utilities were stable. 

Night Sky:  There are no street lights and utility boxes at each site were unobtrusive.  Night sky was clearly visible with little to no light pollution from the closest town of Show Low.

Office Staff/Manners:  No office staff but the rangers were all incredibly friendly and helpful.  Saw the camp host I think once as we were driving out on a propane run.

Overall Amenities:  There are no “amenities” other than the great outdoors.

Pet Friendly:   Pets are welcome.  There are plenty of places to walk with the dogs and the scenery and wildlife will keep their noses active.

Pet Services in the Area:  There is a local vet in Show Low but there is no Avian vet unless you are willing to drive to Phoenix.

Road Noise:  None and by none I mean none, it was rare we would hear them snow plowing the roads.

Rule Enforcement:  It was mostly just us the entire time, so there was no issue with rules.

RV Services:  There are mobile RV services available in Show Low.

Satellite Friendly: We did not yet have our satellite installed during our visits.  Given the tall Ponderosa Pines I would suspect that rooftop satellites would struggle to acquire signal.

Store:  No store available.

Storm Shelter Facilities:  None, but natural disasters requiring storm shelters are unheard of in Arizona.

Wi-Fi: None during our stay.

Summary

We loved everything about Fool Hollow.  The quiet, the solitude, the woods, the rangers, and the lake.  Dogs were happy, bird was content, and Leo was engaged.  Given a choice of state parks in Arizona, off season Fool Hollow is our park of choice.


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Regional Gems: Dot’s Pretzels

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All images taken from the Dot’s website since a box never lasts long enough to snap a photo of and we haven’t yet found them in NE Minnesota.

I know what you are thinking, it’s a pretzel how can it possibly be worthy of a special mention?  Trust me, one pretzel and you too will be hooked.  We both suffer from an inability to eat just one or two and reseal the bag, a handful is the normal minimum amount.  These spicy, salty pretzels are so delicious they become addictive before the first bag is finished.

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The pretzels are amazing but even more amazing, is the rub they sell.  We’ve had it in burgers (Dave swore six ways to Sunday they were the best burgers I had ever made) and roasted a turkey dusted with the rub.  It was so good, the turkey didn’t last long enough to take pictures of it. 

They are available in North and South Dakota and Minnesota.  Otherwise, jump online and order a two pound bag of pretzels and one bag of rub as soon as possible.  You can thank us later!

The Basilica of St. Mary and the Swiss Guard Exhibit

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Wednesday we went to The Basilica of Saint Mary in downtown Minneapolis.  We went to view The Life of a Swiss Guard exhibit specifically and to visit the Basilica in general.

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A couple of quick logistic tips first.  The Basilica is located in bustling downtown Minneapolis immediately adjacent to I-94 which is currently under construction and traffic is a mess as a result.  Parking during the week is challenging.  There is parking via permit under the freeway, visitors can utilize the parking garage at Minneapolis Community and Technical College but it isn’t high profile vehicle friendly.  There is street parking available, $2 for two hours.  We did learn that you can park along the street within the Basilica grounds without a permit despite the posted signs from Kathy Dhaemers, Associate Director of Sacred Arts.


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For the non-Catholic readers of the blog who may be wondering what differentiates a church from a basilica, simplest explanation is that a basilica is a Catholic Church with special designation from a Pope.  In this case, in 1926 Pope Pius XI elevated the Cathedral to that of a minor basilica.  It was the first basilica in the United States and the became known by it’s current name of The Basilica of St. Mary.

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The inside of the Basilica is very reminiscent of Catholic Churches built in the Twentieth Century.  Soaring ceilings, beautiful stained glass, wooden pews, and an alter above the congregation.  In ever sense of the phrase, this a “high church” example of architecture and reverence.  The artwork in beautiful but subdued.  The statuary reminds the parishioner that they are in a Church and not a stadium meant to hold a thousand people.

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The Exhibit: A Day in the Life of the Swiss Guard was a collection of photographs and some artifacts.  The photographs were quite stunning, showing the everyday life of what it means to be a member of the Swiss Guard.  It is far more than a fancy uniform standing guard at the Vatican.  Every member of the Swiss Guard is a practicing Roman Catholic and a member of the Swiss military.  These dedicated men are the equivalent of the U.S. Secret Service.  They are the personal bodyguards of the Pontificate and don’t ever let their brightly colored, ceremonial uniforms fool you into thinking differently.

DSC_0031  I loved this photo.  It was one of several with young boys slipping on parts of their father’s uniform. You can clearly see his fascination and reverence in this photo.

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The exhibit wasn’t overly large but it provided a wonderful glimpse into the Swiss Guard.  When we spoke with Kathy, she said that they have exhibits at the Basilica on a regular basis.

As we left the Basilica we strolled the hallways and then through the grounds on the way back to truck.  The huge oaks make the lawn shady on a warm and humid summer’s afternoon.  On our way out, we ran across this original architecture drawing on linen for the basilica.  It is a beautifully preserved piece of history.

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If you are visiting the Minneapolis area and don’t mind a wee bit of traffic congestion, then please schedule a visit to the Basilica of Saint Mary.  The quiet beauty of the Basilica makes the hustle and noise of the city fade away.  The staff is friendly, helpful, and eager to answer any and all inquiries.


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Ramsey Park Redwood Falls, MN

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When we stayed in Morton, MN we talked about going to the Ingalls Homestead which is located in the area.  We decided against it in part because of weather conditions, Fireball at three months was still to young to be left alone for multiple hours, and lastly the fear of disappointment if reality distorted the lifelong mental image in my head.  So, for now The Ingalls Homestead remains on the “Bucket” list.

Ramsey Park however was very much on our list of places to go while in the area.  It is the largest municipal park in Minnesota and home to the Redwood Falls after which the town was named.  We took Sangria and Fireball and on a bright Sunday morning headed for the park.

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As is quite evident from the picture, Fireball was thrilled with the entire experience.  She tromped through grasses, flowers, and fields with the utter abandon and joy that can only be experienced through four puppy paws. 

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Sangria and Dave were more sedate and circumspect in their joy due to the humidity of the morning.  Sangria even got brave enough to dip her toes into the Redwood River briefly.

Our initial stop was too far from the waterfall to walk comfortably in the humidity and an over stimulated Fireball.  So, we clambored back into Lana and drove.  It was a beautiful drive, dappled sunlight filtering through the trees.

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The walk to the falls was fantastic, even walking over the suspension bridge.  Ok, I will admit it gave me pause on more than one occasion but over it Sangria and I went.

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The falls were worth the suspension bridge and the stairs on the trail.  It was a pleasant Sunday morning hike, my Chaco hiking shoes and Dave’s Chaco sandals served us both well.  No joint aches, no buckling knees, and no regrets the following morning.

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I don’t think Fireball or Sangria were as impressed with the falls as we were.

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Overall, it is a perfectly pleasant way to pass a morning hiking.  There is a campground in the park, although we are too large to park there.  There is also a museum within the park and lots of hiking trails.  The park was busy but not overcrowded for a beautiful Sunday at the end of May.

Regional Gems: Tequila and Ginger Liqueur

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Meet Burt, our crazy frog that holds the open bottle in this house.  As you can see, Burt truly enjoyed the CasAmigos Tequila.  Admittedly, agave doesn’t grow in South Dakota but since we discovered this tequila in South Dakota we are designating this as a regional find.

This is a delightful and rich tequila.  There is a definite bite to it but it is still smooth and easy to drink.  This is not just your average bottle of tequila meant to be mixed, rather this complex tequila is smooth enough to be sipped on its own.  It is great mixed as well, especially with a splash of lemonade, a lime seltzer and a couple of fresh jalapeño slices.

IMG_20170616_1626220  We found another bottle here in Minnesota and it immediately somehow managed to come home with us.  It makes for a pleasant accompaniment to homemade shredded pork tacos.

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As you can see, Burt is trying to guzzle the Spiritopia Ginger Liqueur we discovered in Winchester Bay, OR much earlier this year.  This is a liqueur that isn’t immediately something you taste and think, “Wowzer, I love this!”.  Instead, this is a liqueur that lingers on the pallet and warms your toes.

It mixes incredibly well with cranberry soda or pomegranate seltzer.  Dave also enjoys it straight over ice.  The bite that comes from ginger is definitely present from the first tentative sip until the last sip is enjoyed.  Unfortunately, the bottle is now empty and we have yet to run across it in our travels since we left Oregon.

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If you ever run across either of these wonderful finds do not hesitate to take a gamble and enjoy their temptations.

Mount Roosevelt Monument

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The second Saturday after Fireball joined our family, we decided to enjoy the beautiful spring weather and go for an easy hike.  We decided to take the dogs to Mount Roosevelt Monument which was reasonably close and was supposed to be an easy hike.

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As you can see, Fireball wasn’t at all sure what was going on and decided that sticking close to Sangria was the best plan. This was her first car trip of any length, so hard to blame her for sticking to Sangria like glue during the car ride.  As soon as her leash was on and she was out of Lana, she was completely at ease and raring to go. 

The trail is well marked and there are facilities in the parking area and several scattered picnic benches in close proximity to the parking area.

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The trail is gravel and winds uphill through the forest.  The forest wasn’t yet in bloom but you could hear the birds chattering.  The dogs had no trouble with the trail, even eight week old Fireball had no issues.  My old knees were not so sure, I was glad I had slipped on my Chaco sandals that morning.  In my opinion, the trail borders moderate for those with knees problems or who would occasionally like a handhold or paved path.  But, I made it up and down the trail and experienced no knee discomfort as a result.  I chalk that entirely up to my Chaco sandals and I immediately purchased a lightweight pair of hiking shoes from Chaco’s when we got home.

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The views were spectacular.   Any discomfort on the trail was worth it when you looked out across the Black Hills. 

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Dave climbed the tower.  I knew that it was wiser to wait with the dogs than press my luck.  Turns out I was right, Dave reported small, spiral staircase leading up to the top.  He did report that the view from the top was breathtaking.

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Fireball and Sangria enjoyed themselves immensely.  Both were completely fascinated by the abundant chipmunk population (all of whom were too quick for photos).  Fireball would have loved nothing more than to scamper off to chase them but much to her dismay, that wish went unfulfilled. 

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Fireball made it without needing to be carried downhill.  She didn’t try and pull me down hill faster than my knees would handle.  She was exhausted by the time we got back to Lana but very pleased with herself.  Sangria was more exhausted than Fireball to be honest, it had been a good long while since Sangria had to go walking on something other than a paved surface.

We would hike the trail again.  It is a decent workout without leaving one exhausted and sweaty in the spring. 


Farmers, Ranchers and Consumers

Warning: this post may come off a little preachy but it is a subject we both feel passionately about.

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We are blessed and privileged to live the lifestyle that we do.  We have traveled and experienced so much in the last year.  The number one lesson we have taken away over the last year?  We live in a nation filled with amazing people that do so much and ask nothing in return. 

This is the post that serves as the inspiration for the Regional Gems blog posts which will become a regular feature henceforth.  The average American consumer, and I count us amongst that descriptor, wants the most value for their hard earned dollar.  We shop big box stores because we assume their prices are the lowest, we do business online rather than brick and mortar stores because prices are lower, and we demand everything be as inexpensive as possible but with the highest possible quality.

Stuck in the middle are the farmers and ranchers that produce the food and raw materials that grace our tables and households.  They don’t live in big cities and live in places where the vast majority of the country would never consider living.  For the purposes of this blog post, it doesn’t matter if it is a family farm or a farm run by big business. 

Fields, crops, and herds all require human intervention.  Someone has to get up early to feed the herd, milk the cows, plant the seeds etc.  There are no farm or ranch fairies that come along and magically milk the cows or bring in the crop.  It takes a human working long, lonely hours to put milk on our tables, steak on our grills, and vegetables on our plates.

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Farm to table is a growing movement in the restaurant industry but it is too little, too late.  Restaurants that offer farm to table menus are too few and far between.  Do you really want to help the farmer and know where your food comes from?  Then stop searching for the cheapest food source and support your local businesses.

The best food we’ve had has been obtained at the small local grocer who is in contact with the local farmers and ranchers.  We’ve had beef that was so tender and flavorful it melted in your mouth.  It was raised locally, butchered locally, and available in the local grocery.  We’ve had farm fresh eggs that were so fresh the yolks were orange yellow and not pale yellow.  And these are just a few of the examples we’ve had the privilege to experience the last year.

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Farmers and ranchers are subject to weather and being unwanted as “civilization” encroaches on traditional farm land.  One bad season of rain or weather and an entire crop can be wiped out.  What, if any, of the crop that can be salvaged then increases the price to the consumer and the consumer complains on the rising cost of food.  The farmer doesn’t have the privilege of telling the crop that he will harvest when it’s just a wee bit warmer or when it’s light out, farmer doesn’t get weekends off or two week vacations when the weather is nice.

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Those precious green buds poking out of the ground are a family’s livelihood.  One tornado, one large hail storm, drought, or a multitude of other things can go wrong.  Consumers complain about pesticide use and want organic this and non-GMO that, but then they complain just as vocally when the price of food increases to meet their complaints on how food is produced.  How often do big city folks stop and think about where their food actually comes from?  We have made the conscious decision to shop local grocers and liquor stores as we travel.  There has been a negligible increase in prices but there has been a substantial increase in quality of life.

If you want to be part of the solution, then stop with the occasional feel good treat out at a farm to table restaurant and start with the cooking of farm to table food every day.  Your family, your health, and energy levels will thank you.  The farmers and ranchers will silently thank you.

Over the coming weeks and months, we will share those local grocers and products we have found to be exceptional. 

The Surprise New Tab – Catholic

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Recently the subject arose in one of the RV Facebook groups wondering if anyone knew of or maintained a RV group for Catholics, Roaming RV Catholics.  No one knew of one and so I volunteered to establish one.  The purpose of the group is to allow those in the RV community to share those Catholic spots they discover on their travels with others.

The above photo is of St. Christopher, Patron Saint of Travelers, who hangs in the front window of The Gump.  He was sourced and installed after we broke the window in Wyoming last Fall.  Now, he always looks in on us as we live our lives and The Gump as we travel down the road. 

We are currently in a small town in NE Central Minnesota and within two hours of where we are there are a multitude of Catholic shrines and one Basilica.  They are on our agenda to visit now that we unexpectedly have a little more time on our hands than we anticipated having.

I thought I would include this information on the blog because not everyone uses Facebook or is comfortable jumping into a group on Facebook.  If you have suggestions please feel free to drop us a line.  Feel free to join us on Facebook, and no group membership isn’t limited to those RV’ers that full time.