Miscellaneous, Maryland and Old Town Alexandria

It’s worth mentioning that while Lee was seeing Washington D.C., most days I was at the Goose Bay Marina in southern Maryland.  Although I was very grateful that we found a place to stay in Maryland, I have to say I was not a huge fan of this campground.  Even though it was on the water, it was mostly very long term seasonal sites (almost all had a deck or a shed or enclosed gazebo or some kind of an outbuilding) and there were only 8 spaces crammed together for “transients” near the back.  The cell coverage was not that great, and there also wasn’t  a good place to walk the dog.  There was a nice field where they stored boats behind us, but it became super swampy when it rained and boy did it rain a lot while we were there.

Our spot, we were lucky most of the two weeks no one was beside us

 

 

Some of the seasonal sites were really nice

 

Walking Jack was challenging because there was lots of trash, food, and fish parts on the ground. On three separate occasions he found chicken legs someone had just thrown on the ground and few things eat as fast as a pupper who finds something to eat on a walk! Crunch. Gulp. Gone.

 

The marina views were nice

 

And we did have a couple gorgeous sunsets

What was cool about the area is we were surrounded by history. Down the street was the home of one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence and almost everywhere we went there were historic signs. Unfortunately it wasn’t really close to anything so I spent most of my time at home while Lee went to D.C.  Don’t get me wrong I didn’t begrudge him those trips but I just didn’t care for the campground and by the end of our stay was more than ready to leave.

Port Tobacco was nearby that is an historic town

 

Lots of local seafood restaurants but their hours were so sporadic we never got to try any of them.

 

The oldest continuous Jesuit church was also very close

 

The cemetery was amazing

 

With great views of the river

 

The Mudd family (the doctor who treated John Wilkes Booth) was from here and although Dr. Mudd wasn’t buried here his relatives were

 

The best part of the whole two weeks in the campground (aside from the proximity to D.C.) was the Halloween celebration.  We are rarely in a place with small kids on Halloween, but there were tons of them in this campground.  In order to stay safe I put the candy out and then stood pretty far away so I could see the costumes. Southern Maryland is not that into mask wearing and I actually saw one kid with a mask on his costume get hassled for wearing it by other kids.

 

 

 

The costumes were great.

 

One of the last things we did before leaving was to visit Oldtown Alexandria.  Lee has a friend Julie who lives in Alexandria, and she and her husband Pruitt met us there.  We were really worried about finding a parking space that would fit the truck but after doing some research Julie recommended a street lot and we were early enough that it had a spot that we could fit in. Barely. 

Totally inside the line.

 

…and no rubber touching the curb. Judges say 10.0!

 

We have visited many historic towns in our travels and I find that they are either welcoming or not depending on the locals.  This area was super welcoming and we really enjoyed exploring and our lunch. 

They close the main street on the weekend

 

The shops were great and very dog friendly. We didn’t take Jack but we certainly could have.

 

.

 

My favorite part was the street performers. This gentleman has been performing here for 20 years. He told us he played clarinet in the Navy band.

The Halloween decorations were great

 

I wouldn’t want to live this closely packed with others but I did like the small courtyards.

 

Check out the tiny blue house. When these were subdivided occasionally there are really small ones.

 

From left: Julie, Pruitt, me and Lee

We certainly got our money’s worth out of Maryland, but I was excited to move on.  Next up we stay in New Jersey, because that was the only campsite we could find near Delaware.  

 


Supporting our Blog

We very much appreciate your support of our blog.

  • You can purchase the ebook telling the story of how we became full-time RVers.
  • You can purchase our recipe book filled with 80 recipes we have cooked in our RV and taste tested by Lee himself. You can purchase the kindle or paperback version on Amazon or buy the Apple version on iTunes.

November 2020 Budget

November was a super busy month and it is important to note here that we are making lots of choices that we wouldn’t make if we were on a tighter budget.  The pull (for me) to continue to live frugally and sock money away is definitely there, but I also feel like we are making up for all that time we spent living on so little.  It’s an interesting mental struggle to be sure, but as you can see from the $7,263 in monthly expenses in November having fun won out.  For more details see below. (For what it’s worth, we are still putting some money into savings every month. So even though we are spending more than we have in quite some time, we are also saving. – Lee)

 

Campground Fees – This is an area that shows what it costs if you really don’t pay attention to the cost of where you are staying.  Several of the places we stayed were $50 a night which definitely adds up.  $1,297 is still cheaper than a mortgage 🙂 (This is what it looks like when you have to stay somewhere, as opposed to being able to stay wherever you want. It’s also a very accurate reflection of the absurd prices people charge on the eastern seaboard. – Lee)

E-Cigarettes – Because we were in Virginia and the prices were the absolute cheapest I have seen them I stocked up.  Trying to stay ahead of the curve here because they are getting harder and harder to find.  When we get to Charleston I am going to try and find another solution. (I have nothing to say. I am a model of self restraint. – Lee)

Clothing – T-Shirts, T-Shirts, T-shirts !! $300!

Dining Out –  We spent $575 which wasn’t that bad considering.

Entertainment – At $217 this was a bargain for all we did.  We saved a ton of money by using our America the Beautiful pass and many other things we did were free or near free.

Gifts – This was definitely my contribution to the big month at almost $1K.  It’s nice to have money again and I want to share it.  Trying to share the wealth a little though so it’s not all going to Oliver 🙂

Groceries – It’s $891.  I know, I know …don’t ask me why this is so high.  We eat what we want though which is super nice. (Costco. I also don’t always strip out things that are non-grocery from Walmart. I am going to really focus on that in 2021. – Lee)

Home Repair – We spent $812 on this category.  It’s pretty weird how many things are breaking at the 6 year mark.  The biggest part of this is Lee bought a new to him phone.  It was $482 which was much better than the $800 price it could have been.  His phone was super old and just wasn’t working properly anymore so it was time. (The largest expense that wasn’t the phone was our TV antenna, which broke off and cost $129. Another $100 was a stove cover and LED ceiling lights. – Lee)

Personal Care – I got a pedicure (they had partitions around every station which was cool) and a wax.  Lee by the way is cutting his own hair now and doing a tremendous job.

Tolls and Parking – I talk more about this in a later post but we spent $14 every time we crossed the Chesapeake Bridge and that added up.  $254 in tolls…I miss the west. (Oh my God don’t get me started on tolls. I LOVE paying for roads I already paid for. Such BS. – Lee)

Truck Fuel – This was incredibly reasonable at $286!  Super happy about this category. (I tried to go mostly downhill all month. – Lee)

 

(Well, that was boring, here’s the cool stuff! – Lee)

Additional monthly data from Lee…

For October we used 362 GB of data on our AT&T unlimited plan, across all of our devices. (Total for the year is 40.321 terrabytes)

We took3,655 pictures, bringing our total for the year to 16,687.

This month 100% of our nights were spent in only five places, because although we are traveling, all of our travel is short hops, which is a new way for us to travel, so we’re not staying anywhere just overnight, but for at least a week at each stop.

The least expensive was the first two days we spent at the NC state fairgrounds at $30 per night. Our favorite was Delaware Seashore State Park at $32 per night. The most expensive was the Four Seasons  at $51.42 per night.

The total cost for our “rent” was $1297, which averaged out to $43.23, a 15% increase over last month.

We put a total of 723 miles on the trailer, pulling it for only five days! Our shortest travel day was only 115 miles, and our longest was 189 miles. Our total travel miles year to date is 5,640.

We put a total (travel and non-travel) of 2,459 miles on the truck over 46 hours of engine time, with a year to date of 13,784 miles on the truck.

Year to date we’ve traveled 13,784 miles, 5,640 of which was pulling the trailer, with year to date engine hours of 442 hrs, 35 mins, 33 secs.

We burned a total of 121 gallons of diesel, and averaged 13.8 mpg for all of our travel, with a year to date total of 1306 gallons at 11.9 avg mpg.

We used the TSD Logistics card four times this month!

Here’s the breakdown of our visits to truck stops using the TSD card. The “street” price is the price on the pump, and the actual price is what we ended up paying, including the fees.

DATE Gallons Actual PG Street Actual Savings % Saved
11/1/2020 18.64 1.92 49.56 35.78 13.78 27.80
11/7/2020 30.52 2.00 82.38 61 21.38 25.95
11/24/2020 30.19 2.00 80.28 60.53 19.75 24.60
11/29/2020 27.67 2.09 73.6 57.86 15.74 21.39

We LOVE using the card. In those four visits we saved $ 70.65, more than an entire fill up!!!

If you haven’t already read about the TSD Logistics card, you can read our post about it here.

Before the travel map, let me explain why the map has stuff that hasn’t been in the blog. There was so much going on in Washington DC that the posts about just that one stop has taken us all the way through November and into the first week of December. We left the Goose Bay Marina November 1, so all the stuff that we did and saw while we stayed at Four Seasons, Delaware Seashore, Kiptopeke and Americamps will be coming up in blog posts. So there are already ten posts in the hopper for you.

Here’s our travel map for October…

And our year to date travel map. In 9 days we will be rolling in to Charleston to see Kyrston and Jeremy and Oliver, having made a giant loop!

 

Jack says Merry Christmas, everyone!

 

 

 


Supporting our Blog

We very much appreciate your support of our blog.

  • You can purchase the ebook telling the story of how we became full-time RVers.
  • You can purchase our recipe book filled with 80 recipes we have cooked in our RV and taste tested by Lee himself. You can purchase the kindle or paperback version on Amazon or buy the Apple version on iTunes.

Smithsonian Art Museum – Part Two

This is Lee again, continuing my visit to the Smithsonian American Art Museum from the last post.

Picking up right where I left off…

 

George Washington, 1853, oil on canvas, Rembrandt Peale

 

 

Thomas Jefferson, 1805, oil on canvas, Gilbert Stuart

 

 

Abraham Lincoln, 1865, photograph, Alexander Gardner

 

This is my favorite photograph of Roosevelt. The photo most people associate with him is the one taken in a convertible, cigarette holder clenched between smiling teeth. It’s jaunty, and upbeat and friendly. I’ve included it below. But I always think of him as the ultimate badass. One of history’s most powerful and effective people. A real life superhero.  Love this.  that is the face of determination. – Trace

Franklin Delano Roosevelt At Yalta, 1945, gelatin silver print, Samariy Gurariy

 

 

 

And the other half of the true American superhero team…  and ladies that is why I love my husband – Trace

Eleanor Roosevelt, 1946, oil on canvas, Bernard Frydrysiak

 

While we’re on the subject of heroes….

Rosa Parks, 1983, painted limewood, Marshall Rumbaugh

The Four Justices, 2012, oil on canvas, Nelson Shanks

George S. Patton Jr., 1945, oil on canvas, Boleslaw Czedkowski

 

Douglas MacArthur, 1952, oil on canvas, Howard Chandler Christy

Dwight Eisenhower, 1947, oil on canvas, Thomas E Stephens

 

I am, and always have been, fascinated by this man. This is J. Robert Oppenheimer, who oversaw the research and design of the atomic bomb for the Manhattan Project. His team at Los Alomos is the one that tested the first nucelar weapon on July 16, 1945, and later he remarked the event brought to his mind a quote from the Bhagavad Gita; “I am become Death, destroyer of worlds”. Just a few weeks later the United States dropped atomic bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The first bomb killed 100,000 people instantly. Mostly civilians. After the war ended, Oppenheimer became chairman of the influential General Advisory Committee of the Atomic Energy Commission. He lobbied aggressively and tirelessly against the further use of nuclear weapons. I cannot even imagine what it must have been to live the rest of his life trying to undo, or make up for, what he did. He suffered from depression, and things did not go well for him in the ten years after the war ended. Over time his efforts raised the ire of defense professionals, and eventually in the 1950s he was discredited and essentially kicked out of influential politics and policy making. He spent the rest of his life trying to continue his work to protect humanity, and eventually died of complications of throat cancer in 1967 at age 62. Personally I think he was a madman.

J. Robert Oppenheimer, 1946, gelatin silver print, Lisette Moddel

 

 

Monekana, 2001, bronze, Deborah Butterfield

 

I totally fell for this. Completely creeped me out.

Duane Hanson is known for super realistic sculptures that often cause viewers to pause with uncertainty about what they are looking at. the museum replaced the original National Enquirer on the table with a more recent one.

Woman Eating, 1971, polyester resin and fiberglass with oil and acrylic paints and found accessories, Duane Hanson

 

 

 

Vessel, 1997, eastern white pine, mesh and tar, Martin Puryear

 

 

Here is another beautiful image that has great detail.

Cotopaxi, 1855, oil on canvas, Frederic Edwin Church

 

And another,

Cayambe, 1858, oil on canvas, Frederic Edwin Church

 

Just look at the detail of the buildings and people!

 

 

The Slave Auction, 1859, painted plaster, John Rogers

The Wounded Scout A Friend In The Swamp, 1864, painted plaster, John Rogers

The Freedman, 1863, bronze, John Quincy Adams Ward

Cho-Looke The Yosemite Fall, 1864, oil on canvas, Albert Bierstadt

 

Love the ship detail of this painting about the Arctic expedition of Isaac Israel Hayes

Aurora Borealis, 1865, oil on canvas, Frederic Edwin Church

 

 

Firebird, 1983, Isaac Witkin

This is one of my favorite things, and I almost missed it.  It’s tucked off into a contemporary art niche.

It’s a large sculpture, and has wonderful detail and little nooks and bonuses all around it. It’s called 35 year portrait, by Robert Arneson.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Katharine Hepburn, 1982, oil on canvas, Everett Raymond Kintsler

 

 

Abraham Lincoln, 1887, bronze, Augustus Sait-Gaudens

 

 

The Grand Canyon Of Yellowstone, 1893, oil on canvas, Thomas Moran

 

And to wrap up, here are my absolute favorites. These were the show stoppers that grabbed me from across the room, pulled me right to them, and held my attention for quite a while.

First, the original first Samuel Morse telegraph, “What Hath God Wrought”, May 24, 1844, which permanently shrunk the world.

 

Preamble, 1987, license plates on vinyl and wood, Mike Wilkins.  That’s pretty cool take a minute and read it – Trace

 

 

I could stare at this one all day. I don’t know why. I just really, really like it. I’ve looked at some other stuff by Andrew Wyeth and I don’t like most of it, but a couple are nice. But this one, if I had a house, I would want it hanging there.

 

Dodges Ridge, 1947, egg tempera on fiberboard, Andrew Wyeth

 

But this one is my most favorite of all the artwork in the entire museum. It’s by Abbot Thayer, who, it turns out, grew up near Keene, NH where we lived for 15 years. He lived in the shadow of Mount Monadnock, and was instrumental in protecting it from development. Thayer is known for his paintings of angels, but there’s more to him. He was a lover of birds, and also liked to study natural camouflage. He was the first to write about disruptive patterning, and masquerade, where an animal mimics something in the environment. He also discovered counter shading, and eventually the US Navy accepted his proposal for counter shading ships as a means of camouflage.

 

Angel, 1887, oil on canvas, Abbot Thayer

And that’s the end of my tour of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Thanks for sticking with me to the end. The next post will be about visiting Ford’s theater, something I have wanted to do since I was a child, and a few miscellaneous things that didn’t amount to a post of their own.


Supporting our Blog

We very much appreciate your support of our blog.

  • You can purchase the ebook telling the story of how we became full-time RVers.
  • You can purchase our recipe book filled with 80 recipes we have cooked in our RV and taste tested by Lee himself. You can purchase the kindle or paperback version on Amazon or buy the Apple version on iTunes.

Smithsonian American Art Museum

Hey, wanna hear a funny story?

On the day I went into town to visit the Smithsonian American Art Museum, it was raining. Not like pouring rain, but drizzling steadily. It had been raining for a while, and so everything was fully wet. I had an umbrella, so that was no big deal. This was the second to last day I was there, so I was an “expert”. I got off the train at LeEnfant Plaza, as usual, and hopped on another line, to the Smithsonian station, and when I got out, I unlocked a scooter and told my phone to give me directions to the museum. Ugh. 

 

 

It was a full mile. Even going 10mph on a scooter that was going to be 6 minutes in the rain, probably with the scooter spraying water up from the wheels. And although I am not an expert in fluid dynamics, I know that going faster in the rain does, in fact, keep you from getting as wet as if you go slowly. Not by much, but I don’t like to get wet. Of course, I am also standing in the rain thinking all this through, five feet from the protection of Metro entrance canopy, so I’m not quite as smart as I would have you believe. Anyway. I was on a schedule. I had a timed entry ticket. I needed to eat something before I went to the museum. My phone showed a McDonald’s across the street from the museum. My camera bag backpack is nearly waterproof. It’s only drizzle. I love zipping around on the electric scooter. I have an umbrella. Science says I won’t get very wet. 

Off I go with my umbrella in the drizzle and the wet pavement on my 10mph scooter.

First of all, the same science that said I wouldn’t get very wet also says that an umbrella at 10mph is a lot like a sail and will be hard to hold on to. Science also says that scooter wheels slip and slide more on wet pavement than dry. And science says it’s hard to steer a scooter in the rain at 10mph with one hand. 

I don’t how I got through that mile without wiping out or getting splattered by a car or a bus, but it sure as hell wasn’t science, and I was more or less soaked by the end of it. So I pull up to the McDonald’s and run in and grab myself some quick lunch, then I come back out and lo and behold, what do I see, right in front of me?

 

Well, sure, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, obviously. It’s a pretty building, isn’t it? This particular picture is from Google street view, that’s why it’s a clear day. I wasn’t about to stand in the middle of the street in the rain getting even more wet to take a picture, not even for a funny story. Here, let me help you out….

 

 

That right there is the Gallery/Chinatown Metro station. Conveniently located almost on top of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Enjoy the art!

Susan B. Anthony, oil on canvas, Carl Gutherz, 1895

 

In general I am fond of bronzes, but this one really spoke to me. I walked all the way across a room straight to it. 

Girl Skating, 1907, bronze, Abastenia St. Legere Eberle

 

 

 

Diana, 1899, bronze, Augustus St. Gaudens

 

 

After The Bath, 1910, oil on canvas, Charles Walter Stetson

 

In Arcadia, 1926, bronze, Bessie Potter Vonnoh

 

In the hopes of initiating a more active musical life at the White House, Teddy Roosevelt commissioned this piano from Steinway & Sons. It expresses patriotic pride through eagles, garland, and shields with the coats of arms of the first 13 states. 

America Receiving The Nine Muses, 1903, oil and lacquer on wood piano lid, Thomas Wilmer Dewing

 

 

Rising Sun, 1914, bronze, Adolph Weinman

 

Descending Night, 1915, bronze, Adolph Weinman

 

I really love this one. I was disappointed that there was no way to get high enough to really get a look at her face.

The Vine, 1921, bronze, Harriet Whitney Fishmuth

 

 

 

Venus and Adonis, 1895, bronze, Frederick MacMonnies  I love that Venus has a woman’s body here – Trace

 

Bacchante and Infant Faun, 1894, bronze, Frederick MacMonnies

 

 

Undine, 1880, marble, Chauncey Bradley Ives

An Undine, also spelled Ondine, is a mythological figure of European tradition; a water nymph who becomes human when she falls in love with a man but is doomed to die if he is unfaithful to her. Take a look at her face. I think that tells you what happened. 

 

I love this painting, and I cannot explain why. Maybe because it looks like Aubrey Plaza. 

Sophie Hunter Colston, 1896, oil on canvas, William Leigh

 

I also love marble sculpture. It’s all I can manage to not touch them. 

Cleopatra, 1871, marble, Margaret Foley

 

The Libyan Sybil, 1861, marble, William Wetmore Story

 

 

 

 

The golden light in this painting is just mesmerizing, particularly on the sails of the many boats gathered tightly at the base of Gibraltar. 

Clearing Storm At Gibraltar, 1860, oil on canvas, Samuel Colman

 

 

Looking Out Of Battle Harbor, 1877, oil on canvas, William Bradford

 

Lake Scene, 1875, oil on canvas, Edward Custer

 

What I love about this painting is that I was drawn to the boat and the sliver of brightly lit water to the right, and then as I started to turn away, I saw this little person, and thought “I wonder where he’s going?”

 

 

California, 1860, marble, Hiram Powers

 

Clytie was a water nymph, daughter of Oceanus and Tethys. Look at that perfect ear. 

Clytie, 1865, marble, Hiram Powers

 

The picture below is a breathtaking 10 feet wide by six feet tall. It is truly spectacular. From the card next to the painting: “Bierstadt’s beautifully crafted paintings appealed to an international market captivated with the idea that the West represented a new Eden, a chance to start over after the Civil War. The landscape depicted is a medley of classic western features. The distinctive falls on the far left, balanced on the right by a peak that deliberately recalls the Swiss Alps, evoking a favorable comparison between the American scenery with the most recognizable mountains of Europe. The scale and majesty of the painting were a metaphor for America’s equally grand cultural ambitions, and paintings like this one were an essential aspect of growing curiosity and tourism in the American west. Despite this painting’s impressive size, it was intended to hang in a private home, a reminder of Bierstadt’s ambitions to paint for a very wealthy clientele. 

Among The Sierra Nevada California was considered a “Great Picture”, a term reserved for paintings deserving a solo exhibition and public unveiling. Similar to a red carpet premiere today, such pictures were revealed when velvet drapes were pulled back. Advertisements in the papers and advance reviews whetted the public’s appetite. The artist sold advance tickets and spectators stood in line to take their turn to take in the work of art. To enhance the experience, printed broadsides described the scenery in great detail, and visitors were encouraged to read the descriptions, admire the painting, and roll up the piece of paper and use it like a telescope to minimize the viewing area so the viewer could focus on a small area at a time.

Accordingly, I have included a couple of much closer detail shots that I took, after the full painting. 

Among The Sierra Nevada California, 1868, oil on canvas, Albert Bierstadt

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

During the Revolutionary War, Congress gave Washington almost dictatorial powers. In 1783, after the Treaty of Paris ended the war, he specifically declined the continuation of those powers, resigning his commission and becoming an ordinary citizen promising to bear in mind that “as the sword is the last resort to defending our liberties, so it ought to be the first to be laid aside when those liberties are firmly established”. His retirement did not last long; five years later he was unanimously elected as the first President. 

Washington Resigning His Commission, 1841, plaster covered in metal leaf and paint, Ferdinand Pettrich

 

 

Lydia The Deaf Flower Girl Of Pompeii, 1853, marble, Randolph Rogers

 

Eve Tempted, 1839, marble, Hiram Powers

 

 

 

I love this one a lot. I just like the angles and how balanced it is. 

The Lost Pleiad, 1874, marble, Randolph Rogers

 

 

 

“This statue was among the most popular of the 19th century. More than a hundred thousand people saw it during its tour across America mid century. It depicts a Greek woman who has been captured and chained by a Turkish warrior. The statue referred directly to the Greek struggle for independence during the 1820s, but also evoked the issue of slavery in America. It was the first nude statue to be widely accepted by the American public. By emphasizing that the slave was stripped by her captors and not nude by choice, Powers gave the public permission to view the statue without embarrassment.”

The Greek Slave, 1841, marble, Hiram Powers

 

 

 

This is Cordelia, youngest daughter of Shakespeare’s King Lear. In the play, she battles to save her aging father’s kingdom. The Smithsonian used the face of this sculpture as the model for the mannequins used in the First Ladies exhibit at the Museum of American History.

Cordelia, 1865, marble, Pierre Francis Connelly

 

The Headless Horseman Pursuing Ichabod Crane, 1858, oil on canvas, John Quidor

 

 

 

 

 

Margaret Leupp, 1845, marble, Henry Kirk Brown

 

Cupid Stringing His Bow, 1874, marble, William Henry Rinehart

 

I love the details in the “Puck” statue.

Puck, 1854, Harriet Hosmer

 

 

 

 

Will o’ The Wisp, 1858, marble, Harriet Hosmer

 

 

Boy With Broken Tambourine, 1854, marble, Thomas Crawford

 

I love statues, and I love marble statues, but I REALLY love marble statues of children. 

La Petite Pensee, 1867, marble, Thomas Ball

 

Sleeping Children, 1859, marble, William Henry Rinehart

 

 

Still Life With Fruit, 1852, oil on canvas, Severin Roesen

 

The statue below, Reproof, really caught my eye, and I looked at it for a long time. It wasn’t until I was building this post, weeks later, that I realized why I was so entranced by this 1878 work of art. Below is a screen grab of a 1989 video (apologies for the bad quality, it was 1989, HD was not a thing yet!) of our oldest daughter, Kyrston, and our cat Dodger. 

Reproof, 1878, marble, Edward Thaxter

Kyrston: Life Imitates Art, 1989, flesh and blood, Lee and Tracy Perkins

 

 

This is a massive museum with TONS of art, and this post is long enough already, so I am going to split it into two separate posts. 

The next post will be the rest of it!

 


Supporting our Blog

We very much appreciate your support of our blog.

  • You can purchase the ebook telling the story of how we became full-time RVers.
  • You can purchase our recipe book filled with 80 recipes we have cooked in our RV and taste tested by Lee himself. You can purchase the kindle or paperback version on Amazon or buy the Apple version on iTunes.

Smithsonian National Museum of American History

Written by Lee.  Happy Thanksgiving everyone – Trace

Tracy and I were really bummed that the Natural History museum was closed, that one is her personal favorite, but right next door the National Museum of American History was open, albeit with COVID mitigation conditions. (UPDATE: This visit was in mid October, and as of this writing, 11/26/20, ALL Smithsonian museums and the National Zoo are completely closed.) Once again I needed to get free tickets online because they were only allowing a limited number of people to visit.  Can I just say I am super annoyed about the Natural History Museum.  The last two times we have come it has been closed and that was the one thing I absolutely wanted to do again.  I am glad Lee got to go to the History Museum again though. – Trace

The NMAH is on the National Mall, on the North side, on Constitution Avenue, towards the west end, near the Washington Monument. There’s an entrance on Constitution and an entrance on the Mall side, but the Mall entrance was closed due to Covid. Most places are down to just one entrance. Only a few of the more maze like galleries were closed, the majority of it was open. 

 

 

 

This place is just MASSIVE. There are 3 floors, each broken up by East, Center and West. 750,000 square feet. (Still only HALF the size of the Museum of Natural History!) The exhibitions are wonderful, of course, covering a ton of topics and just packed with “relics”. I spent an entire day there, and several times I experienced over-saturation. There’s just so much. When I was a smoker, I would have stepped outside to take a little break. Without that habit, it’s hard to know when to just find a quiet corner and take a minute. You could easily break this place into four visit of 3 hours each and REALLY experience it. It just gets harder to read the cards and think about things after a while. 

These exhibits are pretty big so taking pictures was hard, but here are some of my favorites. 

 

 

 

 

 

1935 $100,000 Note and 1778 $40 note

 

 

 

16th century Japanese coin

 

This is a 168 pound stone ring from Yap. Yes, it’s money. It’s largely for ceremonies, and some are even larger. Plus it’s fun to say “Yap”

 

The money exhibit had various examples of money going back to the earliest forms. 

 

 

#5 is Nez Perce tribe Wampum. My entire life I have wanted to see Wampum. I had no idea it was a bracelet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Early credit cards

 

 

 

That is a cool statement and completely true – Trace

 

I really, really miss the McDLT.

 

 

This was something I had never seen before, or even heard of. Apparently in the early days of cars, driving them onto a platform and then securing them and rolling them over was how to work on them.

I was amazed to see that they had a Tucker!!! I’ve always wanted to see one of these, and just sort of assumed I never would. 

 

 

George Washington’s document box from 1787

 

Thomas Jefferson’s original desk, of his own design. It was on this very desk that he wrote the first draft of the Declaration of Independence. I think if it weren’t behind glass I would have been unable to resist touching it.

 

 

This is the printing press that Benjamin Franklin used in the beginning of his career when he was learning his trade in the 1720’s in England. He personally identified it while he was still alive.  I love love Ben Franklin.  He is one of my favorite historical figures – Trace

 

 

 

One of my favorite exhibits was “Within These Walls”. A house from just Ipswich, MA that was taken apart and relocated to the museum, and a wonderful series of exhibits telling of the lives of five of the families that owned the house over the course of 200 years. It’s very hard to explain how the house is presented in some places whole, in others a cross section, and in others as “exploded”. Truly remarkable exhibit. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This was just for Tracy, who used to work for Simplex. 

So I worked for Simplex Time Recorder. It has been bought and sold and is currently owned by another company but that is super cool that it was in the museum.  I worked for many years in Gardner, MA- Trace

 

 

The nuclear “football” used during the Clinton administration.

 

Eisenhower’s summer uniform, worn during WWII

White House Secret Service uniforms, designed at Nixon’s request for formal events after he saw the grand and elaborate uniforms worn by palace guards in Europe

 

One of the filing cabinets broken into during the Watergate burglary.  Now that is neat.  You have to appreciate the person who grabbed this and held onto it as a piece of history – Trace

 

The top hat Abraham Lincoln wore the night he was assassinated.

 

George Washington’s bedside chair

 

 

 

 

Like I said, there is so much to see, it was hard to focus and remember to snap pictures, and lots of the pictures I took just didn’t turn out well because there were people in the way, or it was too dark, or the things were just too hard to photograph. 

But I wanted to share some details of the thing that just knocked my socks off. I had no idea it was there, and when I saw the entrance I didn’t really understand what I was looking at until I went inside. It just took my breath away. Apparently I saw this 20 years ago when we went with the kids, but I have no memory of it. I was pretty busy with all those kids.

The Star Spangled Banner – The flag that inspired the national anthem

They don’t allow photography inside, and that really bothered me until I read why, when I got home. 

“The Star-Spangled Banner is an extremely delicate object. While it’s amazing that a flag intended to be used for about five years has survived almost 200, there’s no guarantee that it is going to be around forever. It’s our job as museum professionals to protect this precious object, and the greatest threat to the flag over the long term is light. The flag’s fibers absorb the energy from light, which causes harmful chemical reactions and deterioration. The flag chamber and the viewing area next to it are lit as dimly as possible to minimize the amount of light that hits the surface of the flag. While the short, intense burst of a flash might seem like an insignificant amount of light, it can be very damaging to a textile as fragile as the Star-Spangled Banner. Take that burst of light and multiply it by a thousand and you begin to see the accumulated damage. Three weeks ago we were averaging 30,000 people a day through our doors. If you stood in other popular spaces in the museum, like the pop culture gallery, you would see hundreds of flashes going off in the space of a few minutes. So why can’t you just take a picture with your flash off? Well, in a perfect world you could, but it is too difficult for our security staff to police every possible…ahem…flasher. Many times people with auto-flash on their cameras and phones don’t even know how to turn it off. Preventing everyone from taking a photo is the only realistic way to fulfill our obligation to protect the Star-Spangled Banner while keeping it on view for all to see.”

I really enjoyed this exhibit, it was breathtaking. The stars are two feet across!

Since they don’t allow photography, I am going to use some of the material from the website, so you can see details about the restoration and preservation efforts. 

 

In 1998 teams of museum conservators, curators, and other specialists helped move the flag from its home in the Museum’s Flag Hall into a new conservation laboratory. First, the staff sealed off the work zone in Flag Hall from public access and secured the area. Next, they covered the flag’s back and front.

 

The team then reinforced the display frame and lowered the flag on cantilevered scaffolding.

 

 

The conservation team carefully vacuumed the flag and protected its fragile areas before rolling it onto the tube for transport to the new lab in its special crate.

 

The flag was moved to a new specially-built conservation lab Museum visitors observed the conservation process through a 50-foot (15.2-m)-long glass wall. A moveable bridge (gantry) gave the conservation team a working surface above the flag. The lab was equipped with its own heating, ventilation, and air conditioning system (HVAC) that kept the air free of contaminants and maintained a steady temperature and humidity.

 

The conservation team began treating the flag by removing the linen support backing that was attached in 1914. Over the years, this support had weakened and become soiled.

 

In order to remove the linen backing, the conservators first removed the web of approximately 1.7 million stitches that had held it in place since 1914. They used tweezers to grasp each stitch and small clippers to cut the thread where it pierced the flag. Then, lifting the released end of the stitch, they clipped the other end. They then lifted the clipped stitch away.

 

The conservators painstakingly removed the linen backing. They used small spatulas to separate the linen from the flag, then carefully lifted the linen and removed it in small sections.

 

After removing the linen backing, the conservators had an unobstructed view of the back of the flag for the first time in 85 years. Using a camera attached to a microscope, they documented its condition, including fiber deterioration and stains. Information obtained during this phase helped project curators and conservators decide on next steps in the conservation treatment.

 

Conservators used non-abrasive, dry sponges to gently blot surface dirt from the side of the flag that had been previously covered by the linen. The composition of the dirt was analyzed, providing more detailed information on the flag’s history.

 

Conservators turned the flag over and removed surface dirt from the opposite side, applying the same dry-sponge technique. Most of the dirt removed was made up of minute particles of carbon and oily residues.

 

Before the Star-Spangled Banner came to the Smithsonian, it had been patched and mended many times. Conservators carefully removed sixty of the most harmful repairs in order to relieve stress and allow the fabric to regain its natural shape.

 

After extensive research, conservators devised an effective and safe method for removing embedded dirt from the flag that had remained after the dry-sponge cleaning procedure. They carefully applied a solvent mixture of acetone and water to the flag using a very soft bristle brush with no metal components. Acid-free, conservation-grade blotting paper placed under the flag absorbed the dirt as it was released from the fibers.

 

To document the flag, conservators had it photographed. Because of its size and the confined space of the lab, the flag could not be photographed as a whole. The photographer took seventy-three separate images. Using computer technology, each frame was pieced together, like a puzzle, into a composite image.

 

Before conservators began the final phase of the work, they realigned the flag, taking out folds and distortions that occurred when Amelia Fowler “restored” the flag to a perfect rectangle in 1914. To complete the conservation process, they sewed the flag to Stabiltex, a lightweight polyester material, to support it and keep fragile areas in place. To prepare the flag for exhibition, conservators attached the flag to a heavier, dimensionally-stable underlay.

 

The flag was covered to protect it from dust and debris during the Museum’s renovation. It was then rolled and crated for the move to its new home. Once inside the new chamber, the flag was unrolled on the display table. The underlay was secured under the table with clamps. The table was then tilted to 10 degrees, the angle conservators concluded would provide proper support for the flag while allowing the best view of the flag.

 

 

I know I keep saying this, but if you get the chance, you should go. I feel kind of spoiled, that I was able to go to most places when there were very few people, but a little more crowd wouldn’t ruin the experience. 

I chose not to go here because I have been before but I was tempted.  By the way, looking at the flag completely gave me chills in person and I absolutely remember that moment from our last visit.  I should also mention that these posts Lee is doing only give a flavor of the places he is visiting.  They are so densely packed it would take 10 posts to cover it all.  If you have not been to the Smithsonian’s I highly recommend you go.  They are completely free and more important they are our history.  – Trace

Next time, the National Portrait Gallery and the National Gallery of Art. 

 

 


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National Museum of African American History and Culture

Written by Lee – Trace

This building, the National Museum of African American History & Culture, really caught our eye when we went for the march, partially because of it’s location.  It sort of stands all by itself between the mall and the Washington monument.  In fact it’s the only building (apart from the monument) that stands in that massive expanse of green made up by 14th , 17th, Constitution and Independence. And it’s just a beautiful building, architecturally. I had never been, it only just opened four years ago, so I was excited to see it. 

 

 

At the time I went, it was almost completely open, with only a few small rooms closed for Covid. They were, of course, taking aggressive CoVid precautions, and using timed entry passes to keep numbers down. (As of this writing, 11/20/20, they are closing indefinitely on 11/23/20) Admission is free, as it is a Smithsonian. 

 

 

When I visited, only one entrance was open, and they did a great job of keeping people separated. There are two floors below grade, and the experience begins at the bottom, so initially you descend. When you get to that section, the gallery and exhibit are about the beginning of slavery in America. The exhibits are very well done, and have a powerful impact. I was completely mesmerized and for a while totally forgot to try to take pictures, so I went back to the beginning, but it was also very, very dark and almost impossible to get any pictures.

The start of the experience is designed to evoke some pretty specific emotions, and it works. There are a lot of exhibits explaining what it would have been like for a person to be captured and shipped to the US as a slave. It’s dark, and the ceilings are quite low, and it feels very cramped and tight. There is also a distinct feeling of being “funneled”, propelled forward and onward through the winding maze of exhibits. It’s hard to stay in one place. It was very unsettling, and my hat is off to the designers, because in no time at all I was very uncomfortable and unhappy, and just really didn’t like the way it was making me feel. There was a lot of information, and suffice it to say that the message was clear. I had to stop several times and just take a moment to compose myself, catch my breath; the entire thing was like taking multiple body blows. I was happy to see that there were several discreetly places little nooks and alcoves once I was out of that initial experience that were clearly designed for people to take a moment and reflect, and face away from each other to get themselves together. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As I continued through the museum, I have to say it didn’t get any better. There were several times that I almost left, because it was so overwhelming. The exhibits were incredibly well done, and laid out well and sort of marched through time and related the experience of African Americans in the United States throughout history. And it was all pretty awful. In retrospect, I’m not sure what I expected.  I already knew this was a terrible story, and it’s not like it was heavy handed and over the top. The facts are what they are, and it was just hard to take in all at once. 

 I’ve certainly been asking myself a lot for the past few years what it might be like to be black in this country, and this was sort of like getting  hit by the freight train version of that thought.   I saw a lot of younger African American people reading these exhibit cards and I don’t think I will ever forget the expressions on most of their faces. It was a combination of resignation, sadness, outrage and indignation. 

 I will say that I have never seen that many people quietly reading in any museum. Most of the people there were reading every placard, and it was pretty quiet.  Even the youngest kids seemed engrossed.  I couldn’t really take a lot of pictures, because a lot of the stuff was too big, and if I pulled back it included people who were intently reading and I just didn’t feel comfortable taking their picture. So I do not really have a lot of photos of most of the historical stuff, but it’s outstanding. As you go higher up in the building it becomes less about those things and more about accomplishments and achievements, and while those were wonderful, they weren’t very photogenic. 

Eventually I got to the gallery of entertainment and culture, and that was a totally different, celebratory vibe. So that’s mostly what I have photos of. 

 

Nipsey Russell’s Tin Man costume from The Wiz

 

 

Diana Ross’ costume from The Wiz

 

 

Chuck Berry’s 1973 Cadillac

 

 

 

 

P-Funk Mothership

 

 

 

 

Michael Jackson’s stage costume from the Victory Tour

 

Prince’s paisley jacket and tambourine

 

Diana Ross dress from Billie Holiday biopic “Lady Sings the Blues”

 

Lena Horne’s dresser set and jewelry

 

Prince’s Platinum 1999 Album

 

 

 

Cab Calloway’s tuxedo

 

Dizzy Gillespie’s trumpet

 

Olympic Torch

 

 

9 of Carl Lewis’ 10 Olympic medals  That’s super cool – Trace

 

 

 

 

Joe Louis’ Boxing Gloves

 

Jackie Robinson’s jersey and cap

 

Ali’s training glove and the Olympic torch from the 1996 games

 

Brianna Scurry’s World Cup gloves and jersey

 

 

Michael Jordan’s 1996 NBA Finals jersey

 

A massive, beautiful, peaceful fountain in the room of contemplation.

 

This place had a massive impact on me, and this experience has already changed how I behave out in the real world. So. If you can, you should go. 

I would like to say here that it took Lee days to write this post.  As I am proof reading it I am surprised by how little he actually wrote.  This may be one of those places that simply cannot be described in words.  – Trace

 


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  • You can purchase the ebook telling the story of how we became full-time RVers.
  • You can purchase our recipe book filled with 80 recipes we have cooked in our RV and taste tested by Lee himself. You can purchase the kindle or paperback version on Amazon or buy the Apple version on iTunes.

The International Spy Museum

Written by Lee who got to visit the Spy Museum which really should be called the perfect for Lee museum – Trace

Do me a favor, take a few minutes and watch this with me. It’s fun!

When I was a kid I wasn’t really interested in anything at all, except maybe reading and being in my own head. For a while I lived with a pretty big family that wasn’t mine, and altogether there were seven of us kids, five of them boys. I was the youngest (except for a baby) and the scrawniest, and since I wasn’t interested in sportsball I was largely ignored and left alone, which was fine with me. I was a weird kid. In the summers we would frequently all get piled into this massive old station wagon and go to a drive in, for double features. Some of us would lay on top and watch the movies from up there, and since I was so young most of the movies were way over my head, so I would get bored. I saw a LOT of stuff I was way too young to see. I saw Carrie when I was 8. I saw Jaws. at 7. People don’t understand why I don’t like to swim. I saw lots of terrible “B” horror movies, which is probably why I hate those kinds of movies. Anyway, I always fell asleep long before the first movie was over.

In 1979, we went to a double feature of The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker, and it completely changed my life. After seeing those movies, I devoured every Ian Fleming book multiple times, and was fascinated by anything even remotely related to James Bond.  Of course this was before VHS rentals, so I could only see the movies on the rare occasion they were on TV. And when they were, I would record the audio with a desktop tape recorder and listen to them over and over. To this day I can recite entire chunks of some of those movies from memory.

I’m left handed, so as a kid my handwriting was abysmal. I had to constantly write to improve it, and my Mom suggested I write spy stories, so I did that. I wrote a lot of really bad spy stories that to this day I think were pretty good. My Mom said they were, anyway. After I had read all the Fleming novels multiple times,  I started reading other spy novels. Of course, none of them were quite the same, but that world and that topic just fascinated and intrigued me. It sparked a lifelong interest in the unseen parts of world history. It sparked a love of technology. Eventually all those stories I read and wrote and the fascination with technology morphed into an interest in film-making, and I spent almost all of my childhood making really bad spy movies with my friends. I got my first job bussing tables so I could pay for 3 minute rolls of movie film at K-Mart. That job is where I met Tracy. When I was 14 and she was 16 I talked her into being in one of my movies in a negligee because the villain needed a hot chick lounging around in his lair. This is an absolutely true story and shows Lee’s powers of persuasion at a very young age.  I will say that I was completely covered in this outfit, but it was a super risque thing to do.  To this day I am not sure how he talked me into it.  – Trace

When I graduated from high school I joined the Air Force and asked to be sent to England.  Ultimately I ended up being stationed at an intelligence base where most of the people who worked there spent all day and all night listening to the Russians. I didn’t work in intelligence, but my girlfriend and most of the people I knew did.  

When we came to D.C. one of the first things on my list to see was the International Spy Museum. I was so geeked up about it that I kept putting it off because if it was awful I was afraid it ruin the entire week. I couldn’t believe he kept not going and was so glad when he finally took a day and went. – Trace  But just imagine how happy I was when I finally walked in the door and found myself face to face with a 1964 Aston Martin DB5.

It’s almost like they knew I was coming. 

I had a mask on the entire time except for the few seconds I spent on this picture, and that guy just appeared out of nowhere. I felt bad and I got yelled at.

 

 

Did you know that starting last July Aston Martin is building these again? Each one is built by hand, and takes 4500 hours. It includes all of the gadgets and you can have one for $3.5 million. The first 9 have already been ordered, built and delivered. So you can get yours in the next round.

 

 

 

 

Just LOOK at that thing. Damn.

The museum has rigged up the car so that every 30 minutes the machine guns come out and vibrate, and the rear window shield pops up and the tire-slasher spins, along with sound and music. It’s pretty cheesy and delightful, and I shot some video of it. The process of trying to figure out how to best present that video turned into a love letter to the 1964 Aston Martin DB5. Enjoy.  Lee spent several hours on this.  He really does love these cars – Trace

 

 

Before I go any further, let me get some basic details out of the way. This place isn’t on the mall, or in the “touristy” area.  Spies are supposed to be unsung heroes, after all, living their lives in the shadows, hidden in plan sight. (Although it has often been said that a man who can walk into any bar anywhere in the world and the bartender knows he wants a vodka martini, shaken, not stirred, is the worst spy ever.) The museum is at L’Enfant Plaza, which is fun to say with an exaggerated accent. There’s a metro station nearby, and you can’t miss this place, it’s easy to spot from blocks away.

 

 

It is kind of weird that a spy museum would stand out like this – Trace

 

 

When I visited, CoVid precautions have all but one entrance closed, and the price of a ticket was pretty steep.

Adult (13-64) – $24.95
Youth (7-12) – $16.95
Child (6 and under) – FREE
Senior  / Military / Law Enforcement /Intelligence Community / College Student* (with valid ID) – $22.95

I didn’t mind, but as always I immediately thought of the hypothetical family of four that lives in my head and can’t afford to do much. $83 is pretty pricey for those guys, but luckily, I was all alone. I was tempted to ask them how people in the Intelligence community were supposed to get the discount because they’re mostly not supposed to tell people they’re in the intelligence community. But I got yelled at for taking my mask off to grab that Aston Martin selfie (which I absolutely should not have done, but i was so excited I just forgot there were other people in the world) and I didn’t want to be thrown out before I even got in. So I shut the hell up and paid my money.  The fact that Lee shut up and paid his money tells you everything you need to know about how excited he was – Trace

 

 

Once you pay your money you go to a bank of elevators, and you get a credit card that you use to participate in this whole complex immersion experience.  You create an undercover identity and as you move through the museum you do various interactive activities which in my opinion amounts to waiting in line for your turn to poke at a screen for a few minutes.

 

I don’t know how that’s different from sitting at home playing games on an iPad so after the first minute or so of becoming Robin Sato, a freelance photographer from Puebla City, Mexico with the code name “Hourglass” I tossed the card in the trash and just enjoyed the exhibits. 

 

 

And, oh my, the exhibits. If you are a Sportsball fan, imagine being able to go to a museum where they have the very first ball, and/or the uniform or some other holy relic of every Sportsball hero you’ve ever heard of.  I got to see (really, really closely) things I have been reading about since I was a little boy. It was absolute heaven. Initially I was so excited I ran from display to display trying to see everything all at once.  In the first room I was thinking, “Holy crap I can’t believe they have that. That thing is legendary. It was considered a myth, a unicorn, for decades. And it’s right in front of me. There’s just a quarter inch of glass between it and me, I can smash that glass and grab it and keep it forever!” While most other kids were arguing with each other about sports and Star Wars, my friends and I argued about whether or not gadgets used in movies were real or not. And here they all were, spread out like a feast of righteousness. All my childhood friends who said they didn’t exist can bite me.  What can I say this place brings out the little kid and Lee.  And little kid Lee needs a firm talking to about manners lol – Trace

Don’t tell me the CIA didn’t use gutted rats as dead drops to move money, messages and microfilm back and forth between agents and handlers. They also doused them with pepper spray to deter scavengers. These were in use as recently as 2016.  Ok that’s just gross – Trace

The museum is organized into logical galleries and exhibits that are presented very well. The entire place has good flow, good lighting, and good signage. There’s a LOT of material, and for those who are into it, LOTS of interactive stuff, although most of that was closed/turned off/locked up due to CoVid measures. 

When spies need to plant a bug, secretly snap a photo, communicate covertly, or don a disguise, they turn to Technical Operations or Tech Ops. Meet the inventors, engineers, scientists, computer whizzes, artists, and tinkerers who fuse imagination and technical know-how to create the devices agents and handlers need to overcome challenges in the field. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You think rat carcasses are crazy? How about doodie? This is artificial dung made by the CIA.  I appreciate the creativity but seriously who thought this up?? – Trace

 

Underneath you can see that it concealed a transmitter and was used to direct aircraft to strike locations.

 

In the 1990’s, the CIA used Charlie the robot catfish. Outfitted with sensors and radios, it was able to “swim” beneath enemy watercraft and intercept and gather communications.

 

Agent Clint Emerson used this modified jacket up until 2014. It concealed all the tools he needed for surreptitious entry into buildings.

 

Easily overlooked, these ground spikes and rock are hollow, allowing handlers and agents to use them as dead drops. Techniques like this might seem quaint and outdated but dead drops are still in use today. Sometimes people find them by mistake.   This reminds me a little bit of our current day geocaching.  Wonder if that treasure hunt app was in some way inspired by spycraft? – Trace

 

This credit card is a micro dot bible. 1500 pages of text. The examples you can see are magnified at 5x, 50x and 100x.

 

This is the only known example of the KGB’s microdot system, using a modified cellophane wrapper from cigarette packs to make a light sensitive emulsion in the field. This image projector is what was used to read the microdots.

 

This suitcase radio was the first one used by the OSS in WWII.

 

US Intelligence designed this device to look like a tree stump then planted it in a woods outside Moscow in the early 70;s, A bug inside gathered communications from a nearby radar station. The solar powered stump stored the data, and relayed to a US satellite when it passed overhead. Eventually a US traitor revealed the location of the device to the KGB and they retrieved it. (This is a prototype that was used for training)

 

Ok that’s cool – Trace

 

This is one of the things I was the most excited to see with my own eyes. This is “The Thing”, as called by western intelligence for decades. I’ve been reading about this since I was a teenager. In 1945 a group of school children visiting the US embassy in Moscow gave this beautiful hand carved seal of the US to the ambassador. It hung in his office until 1952 when technicians discovered it contained a brand new and remarkable listening device. It had no battery and no circuitry, so nobody could figure out how it worked. 

 

 

It took two months for British Intelligence to figure it out. “The Thing” was a passive cavity resonator, activated by a radio beam from a van outside. When people talked, sound waves entered tiny holes under the eagle’s beak, vibrating a thin membrane which modulated the radio wave, sending it back to the van as an audio signal. 

 

This was a KGB bug built into the arm of a chair in the US embassy. Battery powered, it could be turned on and off remotely to avoid detection. It was used until someone forgot to turn it off and was detected during a routine bug sweep.

 

 

This is a test model of a bug the CIA successfully planted in the Soviet embassy in DC when it was under construction in the 1980s. Designed to look and feel and weigh just like a concrete block, it was dormant during construction, but after construction could be remotely activated, when it would drill a 1mm hole (see the drill bit below the silver cylinder drill motor) and then insert a microphone (small red piece at the bottom of the clear plastic tube) at which point an FBI listening post nearby would pick up and record the transmission. It was in use until a US traitor tipped off the KGB.

 

The United States and Russia played this game so hard that it is estimated that the construction of their respective embassies cost as much as 10x what they should have due to constant changes as bugs and other trickery were discovered. At one point during the early 1980’s construction of the US embassy in Moscow,  the building was found to be so riddled with bugs that two entire floors were torn down and rebuilt. 

During WWII, the British Intelligence officer Charles Fraser Smith was the original “Q” from the Bond movies. He was orphaned at 11 and eventually became a Christian missionary in Morocco. He learned valuable skills in getting by with almost nothing there, and began giving speeches around the country on the importance of creativity in procuring supplies with little to no resources. Impressed with his approach, visiting officers put British Intelligence onto him and he was offered the most unique role in all of intelligence.

Throughout his life he referred to his work as a “funny job in London”. He worked at the Special Operations Executive (SOE) and is credited with the ingenious gadgets that became a hallmark of tradecraft that endures to this day. After his first job, copying Spanish Army uniforms to infiltrate SOE agents into Spain, he then went on to develop and master the entire field of gadgetry, equipment and weapons. Perhaps his most famous invention was using a “left handed thread” to operate the screw on cover of a concealment container he theorized this design would evade detection because no German would ever think of trying to unscrew something the wrong way! He was also famous for his tools designed to allow escape. As someone of German descent I have to say this is genius.  I probably never would have thought to turn the screw the wrong way! – Trace

This 1942 canteen contained a silk map, a compass, water purification tablets, matches, needle and thread, tape, and a chocolate bar. The Ovaltine provided nutrition.

 

 

This 1960s CIA rectal toolkit contained ten escape tools and could be hidden inside the body.

 

 

In 1942 Fraser Smith challenged the Cumberland Pencil company to hide an entire escape kit inside an ordinary pencil. A small team working in secret managed to hand drill the pencils and insert a tightly rolled tissue paper map and tiny compass. Britain issued these pencils to bomber crews so they could use them to get to the escape tools if they were shot down and survived.

 

 

Allied spies and pilots used these small Fraser Smith radios to evade the enemy or escape once captured. The earpiece of the one on the right will give you an idea of scale. Astonishing for 1942.

 

Tony Mendez, the CIA chief of disguise during the 70s issued this fast disguise kit to every field officer It included a wig, a fake mustache, glasses, and mascara to quickly change the color of the mustache.

 

In addition to the various bugs and concealed weapons, there is an equally amazing number of ways to conceal and use cameras. Literally anything you can think of can be used. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And don’t tell me the Germans didn’t attach cameras to pigeons, because they did. 

 

It just goes on and on and on. There are exhibits covering just about every period of modern history and the role espionage played in that history , up to today.

Here are some of my favorite highlights from the collection. 

The Enigma

They have an Enigma machine, critical to Allies winning WWII. If you don’t know the Enigma story, it’s a pretty good one. Using the Enigma cipher machine, Germany was able to communicate with the U-boat fleet, and sink more than 5,000 ships, and 13 million tons of critical supplies and cargo. Few people know that Polish Intelligence cracked the Enigma long before WWII began, and after Poland was invaded, the two chief engineers who worked on the project were exfiltrated from Poland and eventually ended up at Bletchley Park.

Bletchley was the center of code breaking efforts and between the astonishing Alan Turing’s achievements in computing, and the accomplishments of women (75% of the workforce at Bletchley were women!) the length of the war was shortened by as much as four years.  Sadly Alan Turing’s efforts were never recognized during his lifetime, and as a homosexual (which was illegal in England at that time) he was convicted and his personal and professional life was ruined. His conviction led to the revocation of his security clearance, and rendered him unable to come to the United States and start a new life. He committed suicide a year or so later. It wasn’t until 2009 that the British government apologized for the appalling treatment of Turing, and he is now universally understood to be the father of modern computing. The efforts to obtain a pardon for his conviction led to the eventual passing of a law that posthumously pardoned 50,000 other gay men who were convicted and/or imprisoned for the same crime.

The secret of what went on at Bletchley Park was kept for over 30 years and today, it is a museum and memorial to code breaking. 

 

 

 

 

Trotsky’s Axe

There is an interesting exhibit on Leon Trotsky and they have some artifacts from his life and assassination, including the ice axe that was used to kill him. When Ramon Mercader, the assassin and agent of the NKVD, attacked Trotsky in his home, the blow to the head was not immediately fatal, and a struggle ensued. Trotsky’s bodyguards entered the room and beat Mercader nearly to death until Trotsky told them to stop so Mercader could be questioned. Mercader’s glasses were broken during the fight. 

Trotsky died the next day following surgery, and Mercader served 20 years in Mexico for the murder. The KGB awarded him the order of Lenin while he was in prison. Following his release he lived in the Soviet Union and Cuba, and was given the gold watch by the NKVD and made a Hero of the Soviet Union, their highest honor.  I should note I have never heard of these people either, but Lee knows their stories like many people know about Babe Ruth or Johnny Unitas. 

 

 

Virginia Halls’s Radio

Virginia Hall was a legendary badass, there is just no other word for her. There are many, many fictional novel and film characters that are straight ripoffs of this woman. She was an American who worked for the British Special Operations Executive (SOE)  and the American Office of Special Services (OSS) during WWII as a specialist in sabotage and espionage. She was placed in France in 1941, the first female agent to arrive with instructions from the Prime Minister to “set Europe ablaze.” She obliged, and created an entire network of resistance in France, operating safe houses, helping downed pilots to escape and just generally being a massive pain in the ass to the Nazis.

Legend has it that the head of the Gestapo routinely said he would give almost anything to “get my hands on that limping bitch”. She escaped France after helping 12 (!!!) agents escape from a Nazi jail and walked over a 7500′ mountain pass in the Pyrennes to Spain, where she was arrested for illegally crossing the border. America secured her release and she WENT BACK a year later to do it all over again. The Gestapo considered her to be the most dangerous woman in Europe. Oh, sorry, I forgot to mention: In 1933, at the age of 27 she shot herself accidentally in a hunting accident, and her leg had to be amputated, so all of that was done with a wooden leg. 

This is the radio she used to communicate with British Intelligence. It was powered by a car battery that she recharged by connecting it to a bicycle and generator that she would pedal. 

Badass. 

 

Spies Among Us

One of the most fascinating things I read about as a kid, and that people were constantly saying was complete nonsense, were “illegals”. Trace and I are currently re-watching “The Americans”, so this well done exhibit was particularly interesting to me. The Illegals Program was the Russian sleeper agent network of agents under unofficial cover. Most spies are related officially to embassies. If someone is a “cultural attache” or some other garbage title, they are usually spies acting under diplomatic cover. But the illegals were people who were extensively trained for 7-10 years in Russia to look, sound, and act like Americans. If you haven’t watched this show I highly recommend it.  The acting is exquisite and the two main characters Keri Russel and Matthew Rhys have amazing chemistry and actually fell in love and got married in real life during the run of the show. – Trace

They would eventually be “planted” here and live their lives, making contacts with specific types of people in order to get access to valuable intelligence that could be sent back to Russia. As I mentioned, during the Cold War this was like a ghost story, but now of course we know it was all true. (Rudolf Abel was an illegal, and he was arrested in 1957. Nowadays most espionage scholars are convinced that illegals have been operating in the US since the early 1950s, and almost all of them completely undetected.

We have seen satellite photos of the mock up American towns in Russia where training took place and lots of sleepers came “out of the cold” when the Cold War ended. And the head of Directorate S, the KGB department that ran the illegals program, Yuri Drozdov, gave many interviews after the Cold War about the program. What was once a thing that “absolutely never happened” is now “common knowledge”. What we didn’t know was the program never stopped.  In 2010 an entire ring of 10 sleepers were arrested. There is an amazing exhibit showing photos of these people, and the documents that were used to establish their identities, among other artifacts. 

Richard, a stay at home Dad, and Cynthia, an accountant with a big NY firm. 

Were actually Vladimir and Lydia. KGB agents that worked to provide money and supplies to other agents, and obtain intelligence on American activities in Afghanistan, Iran’s nuclear program, and arms reduction talks. 

 

 

 

 

There are also some great exhibits about other modern spies, traitors to the US. Aldrich Ames, John Walker, the Goldbergs, and others. 

One of my favorite exhibits was about how the Allies employed magicians, theater, and filmmaking experts to develop ways to create an artificial army, to fool the Germans into thinking we were going to invade at Calais, instead of Normandy. Other galleries include Covert Actions, Spying Throughout History, Making Sense of Secrets, and many more. All in all there five floors of thousands and thousands of artifacts and well done exhibits. Their Covid mitigation is excellent, and although lots of the stuff for younger folks is not available for sanitizing reasons, it’s still an excellent way to spend a day indoors. There’s also an excellent gift shop with one of the largest book sections I have ever seen in a gift shop, and probably 90% non-fiction. I stayed away.  I was shocked by this but Lee’s book section in the RV is completely full!! – Trace

I could go on and on and on about this place, but I have to stop somewhere (I have six other posts I have to write about our time in DC), so this seems like a good place to stop. Hopefully I’ve provided enough of an overview to pique your interest and encourage you to go. It’s pretty amazing. I took well over 800 pictures and struggled for days to cull them down to what I included here.  I cannot recommend this place highly enough, even if you aren’t an espionage junkie. You should go. 

Meanwhile, 42 years after my first encounter, James Bond is still my personal hero, even with all of his flaws. And after over 40 novels, 27 movies and 66 years, he’s still a favorite of the entire world. 

 

Deny everything. Leave no evidence. And I, was never here. 


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Hirshorn Sculpture Garden

Back to Lee’s posts about D.C visits.  Written by him – Lee

Most of the Smithsonian buildings are closed, due to CoVid, but even though the Hirshorn Museum is closed, the outdoor sculpture garden is not. And it’s free, which is lovely. It’s on the south side of the mall, just north (across Independence) of the Hirshorn between the Arts & Industries and Air and Space buildings. The Smithsonian Metro station is just 1500 feet away. 

There’s a handful of sculptures at street level and then you go down a level to a sunken garden that’s a good 20 feet or more below street level. When I was there all but the north entrance were closed.  

Jeff Koons, Kiepenkerl, 1987, stainless steel  That is super cool – Trace

 

 

Jaques Lipchitz, Figure, 1926, bronze

 

 

Claes Oldenburg, Geometric Mouse, 1971, aluminum and steel

 

Anthony Caro, Monsoon Drift, 1975, steel

 

Barbara Hepworth, Figure for Landscape, 1960, bronze

 

Henry Moore, Two Piece Reclining Figure: Points, 1969, bronze  

 

Henry Moore, Upright Motive #1: Glenkiln Cross, 1955, bronze

 

David Smith, Pittsburgh Landscape, 1954, steel

 

 

Tony Cragg, Subcommittee, 1991, steel

 

Jean Arp, Evocation of a Form: Human, Lunar, Spectral, 1950, bronze

 

Judith Shea, Post-Balzac, 1991, bronze

 

 

 

Beverly Pepper, Ex Cathedra, 1967, stainless steel

 

Henry Moore, Seated Woman, 1956, bronze

 

Sterling Ruby, Double Candle, 2018, bronze

 

Henry Moore, Three Piece Reclining Figure No. 2 Bridge Prop, 1963, bronze

 

Arman, Eros Inside Eros, 1986, bronze

 

 

Barry Flanagan, The Drummer, 1987, bronze

 

 

 

Yoko Ono, Wish Tree, 2007, live tree  I think that’s’ weird you can’t tie wishes to the tree.  I get it to protect the tree but maybe they could have something else on the installation that allows it.  Personally I like interactive art. – Trace

 

Auguste Rodin, Monument to Balzac, 1891, bronze

 

Emile Antoine Bourdelle, The Great Warrior of Montauban, 1898, bronze

 

Auguste Rodin, The Burghers of Calais, 1884, bronze

 

Giacamo Manzu, Self Portrait with Model at Bergamo, 1942, bronze

 

Henry Moore, King And Queen, 1952, bronze

 

Auguste Rodin, Crouching Woman, 1880, bronze

 

Auguste Rodin, Walking Man, 1900, bronze  As much as I love sculpture I am not a fan of Rodin.  I know he’s one of the best but it always makes me feel a bit depressed.  I like uplifting art – Trace

 

 

 

 

 

Lucio Fontana, Spatial Concept: Nature, 1959, bronze

 

Huma Bhabbha, We Come In Peace, 2018, bronze

 

 

 

Henry Moore, Three Way Piece No. 3: Vertebrae, 1968, bronze  That’s super cool imho – Trace

 

I know this was a short one, but there just wasn’t a lot to say. It’s a garden full of sculpture. 

But in the next post, a visit to the International Spy Museum!

 


Supporting our Blog

We very much appreciate your support of our blog.

  • You can purchase the ebook telling the story of how we became full-time RVers.
  • You can purchase our recipe book filled with 80 recipes we have cooked in our RV and taste tested by Lee himself. You can purchase the kindle or paperback version on Amazon or buy the Apple version on iTunes.

Sixth Year – The Emotional Arc

Our sixth year anniversary on the road was an strange year by all accounts, because it happened in 2020, which was an extraordinary year all by itself.  My initial thought when tackling this post was I would have little to write about because we stayed in place for five months, but I quickly realized that from an emotional standpoint whether we were traveling or standing still, one thing the sixth year did not lack was emotion. The year started out well.  We were with our oldest daughter and new grandson in Charleston, SC and I was a month into my new corporate job.  In November I got to take my first work trip and returned to Westminster, MA where I had worked for 13 years.  The opportunity to see so many people that mattered to me and going back to roughly the same job I left when we became full timers felt like slipping on a comfortable old pair of jeans.  It felt a little tight initially, but soon I was very comfortable.  Here’s what I wrote at the time about returning to corporate work.

“This was the feeling that I had been missing.  I know working isn’t always like this, and I still don’t like the politics but these moments are really important to me.  I am so glad that I made the choice I did, and I am really happy to be back… For some reason when we started full timing I felt it was an either or decision.  I know now that it is simply not the case. I do NOT regret taking a break and getting some outside perspective, because I grew as a person and I appreciate these moments so much more now.  That being said I would encourage anyone thinking of quitting a job they love to become a full timer to really think that through.  If you are like me hopefully you can find a way to have both.  Yes, there are compromises, but there will always be compromises regardless of your situation.  I do not know one person who travels without thought of care of other things.  Whether it is family obligations, money restrictions,  or personal preferences of your travel partner no one I know travels the country with no constraints.  The trick is to balance those constraints with what you love and hopefully find a way to make it all work together.”

The next couple of months were largely great ones as we celebrated Oliver’s first Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, and Christmas.  The only thing that marred those events was Lee was having some pretty serious shoulder pain and after we couldn’t find a doctor to give him decent care in Charleston he ultimately drove to Columbus and went to see my brother.  As painful as this was in the short-term, this solved a long-term issue for us as my brother became our primary care physician.  Since he understands our lifestyle, we no longer have to deal with a variety of primary care doctors on the road and more importantly we have continuity in Lee’s care post heart attack.  Healthcare for us has been a huge battle for the previous five years and having a permanent solution in place eased stress in me I didn’t realize I was constantly carrying. While we were in Charleston we also got to see our other two daughters, and we met Kat’s new partner Adrian.  It was a lovely six weeks, and with mixed feelings we headed west to see Cori, Greg, Kelly, and Bill.  (The mixed feelings weren’t because we were going to see those people, they’re awesome. It was because we had to leave our daughter and grandbaby. – Lee) 

As I am sure every new grandparents with a grandchild in another state has, we had several long conversations about whether we should stay in Charleston.  If there were reasonably priced campgrounds near my daughter that conversation might have gone differently, but despite our best efforts that is a difficult area for us to find a place to stay in long term.  Plus Lee was ready to go, and I needed to see how travel was going to work with my new corporate job.  So off we went with both sadness and happiness in our hearts. It helped that we were going to see some of our best friends and had a place to stay.  Cori and Greg had done lots of work to their property in the last year and we couldn’t wait to see it.  Lee was excited about helping them with some work around their new barndominium, and I was looking forward to being with my friends, including new grandma Kelly!

During the last six years the lives of Kelly and I have mirrored each other, with my time table being just a little bit behind.  She sold her house four months before me, went on the road a few months before us, and became a grandmother a few months ahead of me as well.  I knew how hard it was for her to leave her grand baby, but thought (as I often do) if Kelly could do it then so could I. To those who knew me from before it may come as a surprise that I was struggling so much with leaving my grandchild.  I was always a working Mom and although I strove to be a good parent I was never a “baking cookies” kind of Mom.  My intense feelings towards Oliver were a bit of a surprise to everyone and I found it surprisingly difficult to leave him.  Yes, there was FaceTime and social media, but he was only four months old and I was afraid he wouldn’t remember me.  Kelly understood my feelings perfectly and Cori understood the issues I was having with work.  Things were still going very well, but getting back into the corporate mentality was a bit of an adjustment, and after the holidays the workload hit full force.  There have been many times over the last six years I had heavily relied on my friendship with these two women and as always they were there for me in ways I cannot even express.  Love you both and I am so incredibly grateful you are in my life.  Bill and Greg you are pretty cool too!!

The next few weeks were pretty busy when Jo & Ben, Bridgette & Pat, Mikki, and Linda (Kelly’s long time best friend and new full timer) came to visit at we all affectionately refer to as the Center for Mental Wellness. It was particularly fun when Jack got to spend time with Peyton and Sammy (Jo & Ben’s dogs) and those connections helped me enjoy the life I was living, and miss Oliver less.  Jack & Hobie also quickly established a routine where Jack annoyed the crap out of Hobie every day, and Hobie patiently let him.  We had money, friends, and a great place to stay, and this lifestyle really doesn’t get much better than that. At this point in time, nobody had even heard of CoVid.

Hanging out at the San Antonio Riverwalk where we go to enjoy a delightfully cheesy parade of tour boats festooned with lights.

Peyton, Jack, Sammy, and Hobie hanging out at Aunt Tracy’s house.

So happy when I got to see Mikki in person. We originally met at a rally and had stayed in touch over the years.

While I was working and seeing friends, Lee decided to tackle some RV projects he had been putting off.  With a stable environment, Bill and Greg to help, and access to all the stores, he replaced the carpet in the front and back of the RV and added carpet in the middle, and a bunch of other smaller stuff that alone didn’t amount to much but in aggregate was a major improvement. That is Lee’s happy place, and with great weather and money he was able to get lots done.  Our RV was holding up very well, but a refresh was definitely needed and I was grateful he was tackling some of the bigger jobs.  Despite the temporary upheaval in the house,  I loved the look of our new carpet.

Lee did have supervisors checking on his work

All done!! Check out that smile

Making the cuts

I know I keep mentioning money, but it did matter, because instead of us working in an oil field we were able to stay with our friends and do some much needed repairs.  I was also able to send lots of gifts to Oliver and that combined with lots of FaceTime, made me feel a little better about the separation.  Things were going well as we prepped to go north for Lee’s summer work-kamping gig in the Black Hills, and it wasn’t until March 16th that I first wrote about COVID.  It wasn’t like we weren’t aware that it was out there, but it seemed pretty far away from rural Texas and initially it didn’t have much impact on any of us personally.  As I am writing about this I find myself incredibly glad that I write this blog.  I have the advantage of knowing exactly what I was thinking over the next several months and will use that perspective to talk about that time without it being colored by everything that I know now but didn’t know then. Of course in hindsight we all know much more now than we did then, but at the time we took it both more seriously and less seriously than we should have.  Please keep in mind the information coming to us all was contradictory and sporadic. When COVID initially hit many of us full timers were scrambling to figure out where to stay long term.  Almost everyone I know without a permanent address was concerned, and we were so much luckier than many.  At the time there was discussion of travel between states being possibly restricted and many public campgrounds were shut down initially.  Folks with reservations found themselves scrambling and others who were traveling had to find a place to stop.  A hardy few kept going but almost everyone I knew eventually found a place to hunker down for awhile.  As I said we were incredibly lucky because we were with Cori & Greg.  On numerous occasions they said we could stay indefinitely and since we were safe and with people we loved we gratefully accepted.  We had access to all kinds of extras (like a freezer)  while we stayed with them and we all pooled our resources and bought as many groceries as we could to minimize our trips even just for curbside pickup. Again, having money was a huge plus, especially as we saw many gate guards lose their positions as wells shut down.  Our conversations were all about listing the people we knew and whether they were safe and even in our little bubble anxiety was rising.

On March 25th I posted the following, “Just like with our Instant Pots that pressure has to go somewhere and it is interesting how different people are when they are letting it go.  Some spend hours on the internet dissecting every scrap of information and others bury their head in the sand and pretend its not really happening.  Those are the two ends of the spectrum of course and most people fall somewhere in between.  Even day to day I find myself careening between those two extremes and it has been hard to find a balance.  I want and need information, but it is disappointing how difficult it has been to find credible information.  That gets a little easier every day, but even sources I trusted in the past I am not so sure about in today’s world.  I find myself missing the news casters of my childhood.  Where is  today’s Peter Jennings?” “…Yesterday I ran out of conditioner.  It was a stupid little thing and something I had just overlooked in the stock up runs, but for me it was a big deal.  In order to avoid going out I looked online but saw they were charging $15 on Amazon for a $4 bottle of conditioner.  That enraged me, so I jumped in our truck and went to Dollar General where I found it for $4.  The problem was while I was at Dollar General I was exposed.  There is no way to go into any store without running the risk of being contaminated and my competing desires of not getting financially fleeced, not wanting to expose myself, and wanting my conditioner right damn now were raging in my head.” “These are complicated times and people’s true characters come out under stress.  I want to be a person who lifts people up instead of placing blame.  I want to be a person who is selfless rather than selfish.  But it is hard. Because it is scary.  Everyday I see the death count grow and although I intellectually understand that people die every day this is different.  Not just because of the risks to us individually, but because of the risks to us as a species.  Will we survive this, of course.  Will we remain unchanged I hope not. Personally I believe our larger society was in need of a wake up call.  It is a harsh lesson to be sure, but when history looks back I believe this will be a pivotal moment in our cultural development.  One day we woke up and the world had changed and it happened very fast.  How will we respond to those changes?  What will be the long lasting impacts especially for the next generations?  Will this further tear us apart of bring us together?  As an optimist, I am hopeful that long term those changes will be a good thing, but the cost is so very high. As of this moment 19,725 people have died from Covid-19.  Those are the ones we know about.  Many of them would have died soon anyway from other causes, but what is one day worth to a person?  One week, one month?  They aren’t anyone I know personally, but they could be.  The longer this goes on they probably will be.  I can’t stop it from happening, but I will do what I can to slow it down.  I will stay in place, be selfless instead of selfish as best I can, and be ready to help pick up the pieces when this is all over.”

We didn’t all make the choice to stay in place.  After much soul searching Kelly and Bill made a beeline to Pennsylvania where they had booked a seasonal site and would be close to their kids and grandchild.  We were sorry to see them go but understood why they would take that risk.  We ended up staying largely because Lee was concerned about his health.  As long term smokers we were both higher risk, but adding Lee’s heart attack to the equation made him truly believe if he caught it he might die.  I wanted to be closer to Kyrston of course but they were both working in restaurants and were running the risk of getting the disease themselves.  There were no good choices back then, so everyone just made the best decisions they could with the information they had.  Things were complicated by the fact that for the first time in my life I was put on furlough and although I was grateful to still have a job the pressure of doing five days of work in a three day week was very intense. After monitoring the situation closely, and considering it every day for several weeks, Lee finally decided to not go to his summer gig.  There was no way he could avoid the public in the job he was given and after talking to Cori and Greg we decided to stay.  It’s worth saying again that Cori and Greg were amazing.  It can’t be easy having guests for five months, but they were more than gracious and treated us like family.  After that experience they are my family, but my Midwestern sensibility never let me stop worrying about making sure were weren’t taking advantage.  I know its silly, but those of you from the Midwest will understand.  The absolute worst part of that time was Greg and Cori lost Hobie and although I was glad we were able to be with them at such a difficult time it had a deep impact on all of us.  Hobie was a larger than life little figure in many of our lives, and watching him pass, even with dignity and love, was heart wrenching for all of us.  Greg in particular took it hard and seeing his pain was so very difficult. Jack was also very upset for several days and kept looking for his friend which was also very sad to watch.  Brings tears to my eyes just thinking about it.  It was strange that in a world with so many people dying we would all be impacted by a dog, but anyone who is a dog person will certainly understand. Finally in July we headed north, making a conscious decision to try and take our life back.  There was no end in site with Covid but since by this time there was no safe place in the US we decided we would pick up our plans and head north to see our second daughter, Kat. Our original travel plans had us seeing her at the end of the summer, but we reversed the trip and decided to see her instead.  We haven’t spent much time with Kat during the last six years and took this opportunity to spend a month with her and her partner Adrian.  Just getting there was pretty challenging, but thankfully we found a nice place to stay with a decent monthly rate and over the next few weeks really got to know our daughter as an adult in her own environment. Coincidentally she lives very close to where the George Floyd murder happened, and the impact of that event was very strong for her.  The entire world was shaken by the event, but she was involved in the protests and her immediate neighborhood was affected being right in the middle of it all.  Together we had an opportunity to see the memorial on the site where it happened and seeing it in person had a deep impact on me. I was truly grateful I could be with my daughter after this occurred. As with most other people the stress of the pandemic, racial tensions, and work furlough was really getting to me.  Lee and I have been struggling in our marriage since his heart attack and one positive that came out of all of this was we decided to get serious about some therapy. Finding a counselor on the road is incredibly difficult but COVID actually opened some doors.  Many therapists were trying therapy in a virtual environment for the first time and we were able to find a therapist from Florida who was willing to take us on virtually.  Her home state mattered because therapists are only licensed in certain states and since our home address is Florida we started there. Thing were so challenging that we initially we were talking to her twice a week, but eventually we went down to one.  When you have been married for over 30 years there is a ton of stuff to unpack and like many couples we had multiple issues that we had never addressed.  We started working through them one by one and although the process has definitely helped us both it has often been painful.  I am not going to go into details but I will say it took some time for our therapist to really understand the unique conditions of our lifestyle.  Context matters, and we often had to stop and explain why our situation was a little different than that of other couples. One great example of that was when we decided to try a different way of traveling.  For years we had wanted to try moving more frequently, but jobs and family have largely stopped that from happening.  Now we had money and time and wanted to see what it looked like to make shorter hops and move every week or so.  For me, at least, it has been a mixed bag.  I do enjoy being closer to places I want to see and getting so many of my state stickers by staying in different states, but the stress of moving and finding campgrounds has not been fun. Part of that is I always need strong cell signal, and many more people are camping locally than they usually do because of COVID.  Campground availability (with strong AT&T signal) has been challenging and Lee and I spent hours upon hours planning our routes.  Those conversations were not always fun, but we hung in there and learned along the way.  We are also spending a lot more money with this travel style because we are largely unable to take advantage of the cheaper long-term rates.  I won’t rehash all of that here, but I did write a couple of post on trying a new way to travel with the details. It is interesting though that our opinions about traveling are so different than the beginning of the year.  A huge part of that is COVID is everywhere and since the risk exists no matter where you are why not travel.  For us we have tried to stay in rural areas as much as possible and we take everyday measures to keep ourselves as safe as possible.  The riskiest we have been has been when we visited friends and family because it is extremely difficult to maintain physical distance when you are seeing people you haven’t seen for a long time.  So far we have been extremely lucky, although we have had a couple of scares along the way but thankfully our tests came back negative. Lastly, I would like to say to some extent I judge our years based on the people we see and the pictures I get to take.  Despite COVID we have managed to be with people we love and see some pretty incredible things.  I am incredibly thankful for that, and six years of this lifestyle for allowing those moments.  I’ll end by sharing with you a few of my favorite moments in pictures.

Seriously what is better than that! Baby’s first Christmas no where else I would want to be.

Meeting with Richard and Charlotte to talk about full timing.  We love when people reach out to us and we have a chance to talk about the full timing lifestyle.

Hanging out with Cori, Greg, Bill, Kelly (not pictured), Ben, and Jo (not pictured). The eight of us always have a great time together. (Plus this is a rare behind the scenes photo of Greg and Ben choreographing their new hit single, “STOP! In the Name of Love”. – Lee)

Mark and Valeria visited us in San Antonio.

Visiting Jane and her family in Omaha

Hanging out with Kat in the Minneapolis City parks and exploring the best dog park we have ever been in.

Exploring Ohiopyle State Park with Bill and Kelly

Staying a few days with my dad and spending time with my nephew Lex meant so much to me.

My brother Eddie bought Oliver a little Ohio State Buckeye shirt with his name on the back.  LOVED THIS!!!

Jack got to meet Tripp…Cori and Greg’s new puppy!!!

Lee got to spend lots of time with his Mom and Stepdad.

Hanging out with friends at a campfire, including Bryan, Susan and their daughter Sydney, who was rocking her onesie!

Meeting up with Julie and Pruitt in Old Alexandria

Pooped Out traveling puppy


Supporting our Blog

We very much appreciate your support of our blog.

  • You can purchase the ebook telling the story of how we became full-time RVers.
  • You can purchase our recipe book filled with 80 recipes we have cooked in our RV and taste tested by Lee himself. You can purchase the kindle or paperback version on Amazon or buy the Apple version on iTunes.

Sixth Year – By The Numbers

November 14th is the sixth anniversary of when we started on the road, and I will say that  I am happily surprised that we made it this far.  Back when we started I gave us a 50/50 shot of making it five years. As with all full timers we have conversations about coming off the road or going part-time, but for us we have yet to find a lifestyle that works better for us.  The big change this year was my having a full time job again and of course COVID.  I’ll talk more about the impact of those in my second post that covers our emotional arc.  For now let’s start with our travel map. 

 

Travel Map


Like everyone else, this was a weird travel year for us.  We started in Charleston, SC where we spent Oliver’s first Christmas and then headed to see Cori and Greg in Spring Branch, TX.  COVID hit and they were kind enough to let us stay with them for several months and we finally felt safe enough to head north to Minneapolis to see our daughter Kat in July.  We stayed a month and a half there with her and then headed east to see family and friends in Columbus, OH then Kelly and Bill in Pennsylvania.  When that was done we started exploring and the months of October and November were a whirlwind of travel.  We got four state stickers (West Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey, and Delaware), in quick succession and as of this writing are in a gorgeous campground on the Delaware seashore.  We have been so lucky with the weather, an autumn that has lasted almost three months, which has allowed us to see many special things along the way. Like many others our travel plans changed several times throughout the year so I really feel like we worked for this map!

In drawing that line on the map we put 18,116 miles on the truck, and 4,917 on the trailer.

We burned 1,245.8 gallons of diesel, averaging 12.0 mpg, in 419 hours, 24 minutes and 14 seconds of engine time.

And starting in July when we got the TSD Logistics fuel card, we have saved $ 163.27 so far, using it only 13 times, averaging $12 per use. I can’t wait to see what a full year of using this card looks like. 

More Data!

Total number of days moochdocking where we stayed with friends or family:     180 (49%)
Total number of days of paid sites:                                                                        173 (48%)
Total number of days workkamping where our site was provided:                          12  (3%)
Total number of days boondocking where we had no campground fee:                   0  (0%)

Total amount spent on campground fees: $ 5,597

The least expensive site was Prairie West in Appleton, MN at $14 per night. We stayed there two nights but they let us pay the monthly rate because we had already been staying there for a work kamping gig. 

The most expensive site for the year was $ 53.10 for the AirCap RV Park in Wichita, KS. 

Total data used for the year: 5.99 Tera bytes (5,990 GB). Our total data costs for the year were $1,380, which works out to about $ 0.23 per GB. We spend $115 per month and that’s all of our data for phones, iPads, hotspot, internet, TV, movies, EVERYTHING. 

We took 13,775 pictures totaling 75 GB. Here’s how that compares to previous years:

2015 – 24,436
2016 – 28,929
2017 – 20,087
2018 – 15,246
2019 – 16,505

Home and Truck Repairs, Modifications, Upgrades and Improvements

Although I do our actual budget post at the end of the calendar year, I do like to take some time and mention extra or special expenses we had along the way.  I feel we have proven you can live this lifestyle on much less money, but those big ticket items keep happening.  That is why I absolutely recommend having money in the bank when you go on the road, because it helps makes those emergencies manageable!  Some of the items on this list were nice to haves but others were absolute necessities. (If you’re in the process of getting ready to hit the road, and have some control over the timing, and can stand it, wait a few more months and pile up as much money as you can. – Lee)

February – Lee replaced the carpet in all three rooms in the RV and all in it cost around $900.  This was much cheaper than it could have been because we were able to buy remnants at a significant discount off of list price and of course there was labor cost. (I bill in smooches. – Lee)

March – Lee replaced all the furnace hoses and some other stuff in the “guts” of the rig, which cost $219.  He also completed a bunch of miscellaneous smaller projects which ran around $250 all in.  

June – We bought our second ice machine this year and the total for both was around $350.  We love our small ice machines, but for whatever reason they don’t last more than a year. Sometimes less. But from the moment we wake up to the moment we go to sleep we’re using ice. Unfortunately when they go they are not always easy to replace locally and the selection if available is pretty limited. We bought our first one in December and that one lasted only six months and we had to replace it with another one.  This is pretty unusual, but since the first one was bought in Charleston its not like we could take it back. In June we also replaced all of our hard drives which cost a whopping $455.  Before going on the road we made electronic copies of everything (DVD’s, music, pictures, important documents) and when we suddenly lost a drive this was a big deal.  After exhaustive research Lee discovered we needed to replace them all and since he handles all things computer in our house I reluctantly agreed.  The dollar value doesn’t even cover the amount of time he had to spend transferring everything, but thankfully he managed to keep the loss to a minimum. Personally, I couldn’t stand the thought of losing all of our pictures. 

July – Lee built a “baffle box” to go over our air conditioner.  All in this cost around $150 but the noise reduction in the living room is great.  He saw a picture of one online that cost several hundred dollars and decided to make his own instead.  He also replaced our broken Splendide washer/dryer door for $156 and we had to replace our convection microwave.  That was a huge hassle even though it only cost $78 because it was under warranty. We upgraded to a convection microwave last year in October but it only lasted 6 months before we started having major issues.  It was a hassle because although the manufacturer offered a one year warranty the seller only did 120 days.  After tons of research Lee learned that the company we bought it from wasn’t an authorized seller and it took a ton of convincing before he could get the manufacturer to honor their warranty.  He is a persuasive guy though and ultimately we only had to pay shipping. Lee also bought an air compressor and that and the parts was around $250.  Back in 2015 we had gone to a smaller air compressor, but Lee never liked it because it took so long to put air in the tires.  Ultimately he rebought the same one we had given away.  

August – We replaced our hot air balloon spinner which was the very first present Lee ever bought me when we started camping.  The original lasted for 7 years and only “died” when I accidentally rolled it up in the slide.  It was super sweet that Lee made this a priority and we found one exactly like the original just went with a slightly smaller version.  $46 was a steal for keeping that tradition alive. Continuity is very important to both of us. We also replaced our Weber grill which was another item we had used for several years.  I would say 2020 was definitely the year where some stuff “wore out” and since I was making corporate money again seemed like a good time to replace it.  $222 for the grill isn’t cheap but we really like the size and function. Another example of wearing out was when we had to replace our Dyson vacuum cleaner battery for $40.  We got this vacuum when we first got the RV so  the original lasted a long time.  On a more serious note Lee spent $156 fixing the wood under one of our slides.  Ever since our slide floor replacement he keeps a close eye on them and catches problems when they start to occur. And finally we got in our first car accident in years (since 1989!!!)  and although we were found not at fault and paid nothing, Lee spent $207 on a dash cam in case there were future incidents. That could have cost $1K in deductible and a bump in our insurance rate, but we got lucky and the McDonalds had video footage showing we were not at fault. 

September – We had to replace our sheets which cost a whopping $176.  Totally worth it though and if you have ever slept on 800 thread count sheets you will understand why. If you don’t then lucky you, you can sleep on cheaper sheets. We can’t. Lee also finally talked me into buying a Keurig which was $128.  I have to say that I really like how easy it is but the jury is still out on the cost of the pods.  Yes, we also purchased the kind you can use your own coffee, but part of the fun is just popping a pod in.  Not so fun Lee had to do a toilet valve replacement for $52 and we finally purchased a fresh water transfer tank for the back of the truck for $135.  We had been talking about the freshwater tank for years to help us when boondocking and Lee finally found one that both fit in our truck and was reasonably priced. Not so great was the $145 water transfer pump.  We had loaned ours to PGE to help fill water for the camp hosts when the water wasn’t working early in the season and someone had burned ours up by ruining it dry and giving it back to Lee without ever telling him. It went back in the basement of the rig and he didn’t discover it until he needed to use it. Not cool.  We also had to get an oil and coolant change on the truck and Lee decided to do that at the dealer.  Since we bought the truck we have been on a prepaid maintenance plan, but that finally was expired and even though we got a call or two from the company wanting to talk to us about our warranty (hahahahahahahahaha) we didn’t renew it and we had to pay $458 for the two services.  Finally we spent $1520 on replacing all four trailer tires and an additional $540 on two truck tires.  For more detailed information on this repair check out this link.  

October – Lee replaced the fifth wheel lock for $54 and the power inlet for $70.  The power inlet was a huge deal because it had fused to the cable adapter, and when Lee finally got it off he discovered the inside was completely burned on leg #2. Thankfully he removed it in time, but that is exactly the sort of thing that can start a fire.  Lee also had to replace our leveling system remote because the battery died and the battery is soldered to the board and is not replaceable. It was $266 which was really pricey but he learned to not charge the device until the battery was mostly drained and take it off the charger as soon as it is charged. Since this remote makes hitching and unhitching much easier for him and he can do control the jacks from inside the truck, there wasn’t much we could do about that. Speaking of batteries we also had to change our generator battery for $108.  I was super relieved that it was only the battery though when we heard a large bang like a gunshot under the rig.  The battery actually exploded, blowing the entire top and half of one side off the battery, and thankfully once the new one was in place the generator worked just fine! It was sort of an emergency though, because that battery is what powers the trailer brakes, and we didn’t realize that until we were driving away from a campground with the rig. We thought that battery only started the generator. 

November – Lee has been using an Iphone 6 for a loooong time.  We heard ATT was having some deals and Lee was able to upgrade for $400 which was an awesome deal.  We could have done $15 a month but I prefer paying up front so our monthly bill doesn’t change.  We alos had to replace our TV antenna which somehow snapped off.  We are not really sure how but really glad we found it before it came off the RV.  That was $358

As always you can see full timing isn’t cheap, but then again living in a sticks and bricks isn’t that cheap either.  It’s important though that when you are budgeting you keep these types of things in mind because they always happen. 

 

Top 10 Things We Saw (In no particular order)

We finally got to see Savannah and it was Christmas time!

 

And we finally saw Dripping Springs with Cori and Greg

 

Botany Bay was absolutely stunning

 

Visiting Walnut Grove and standing on the banks of Plum Creek where Laura Ingalls grew up gave me chills.

 

The Gold palace and grounds at New Vrindaban.

 

Visiting the 9/11 Flight 93 Memorial was incredibly moving.

 

Great Falls, Virginia was a delightful surprise

 

Marching in a Women’s Movement protest to the steps of the Supreme Court building is a memory I will always carry with me.

 

Touring The Greenbriar including a very special tour of the underground bunker facility.  Something for everyone here.

 

George Washington’s grave and Mount Vernon

 


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